Nick Melone of Port Charlotte, Fla. sat in a big gray cushy chair, a tether running from his nose to a nearby oxygen bottle. He reached for a folded flag stuffed in the top of a blue plastic storage tub of World War II memorabilia. The 89-year-old Marine sergeant shook the folds out of the white cotton flag with a bright red sun in the center – it was a Japanese battle flag signed by members of the enemy soldier’s unit.
“I took it off a dead Jap soldier on Saipan after a banzai attack on our division in June 1944. They came yelling at us in the dark,” he said. “‘Yankee you die! Screw Babe Ruth!’ they screamed as they charged our foxholes.
“I was in George Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division that stormed the beach at Saipan on the first day of the battle. We had to get off the beach because the Japs were trying to blow up the ammo we stockpiled there.
“It was hard moving off the beach. They were hitting us with everything they had. They shot at us with rifles, dropped mortar shells on us and pounded my division with artillery,” Melone recalled. “We built a defensive circle as quickly as possible because we knew they would continue their attack. That night the Japs came at us with tanks. We could hear them coming.
“All of a sudden there was a big flash and a boom right next to our foxhole. It felt like a hot poker hit me in the back, upper arm and shoulder. Me and a guy that was in the foxhole with me were wounded by an enemy artillery shell,” he said. “The next morning a Navy doctor patched me up. As he was pulling pieces of shrapnel out of me, he wanted to know if I wanted to be evacuated. I told him, ‘Hell no! I just got here.’
Possibly the saddest part of this island battle were the 22,000 Japanese civilians on the island who committed suicide by jumping from “Suicide Cliff” and “Banzai Cliff” rather than surrender to the Americans. Scores of Japanese soldiers did the same thing instead of disgracing themselves by surrendering.
Melone and the Marines of George Company spent 25 days helping win the battle for Saipan. His unit moved on from there to Tinian, the next island in the Mariana Island chain.
“We came in to Tinian in the first wave of Marines. We practically walked onto the beach without much resistance from the Japanese defenders,” he said. “It was a cake walk.”
About the only enemy they encountered on Tinian was a Japanese artillery unit firing at the invaders from the other end of the island. For some unexplained reason, the enemy would fire a salvo every three minutes exactly. So Melone and the 2nd Marine Division waited until the enemy firing was over and then they attacked.
The importance of taking Saipan and Tinian was their geographic position. Both islands would become B-29 bomber bases during the final year of the war. These American four-engine heavy bombers would fly from these islands on their way to ravage the Japanese mainland.
It was Tinian Col. Paul Tibbits flew the “Enola Gay” from when he dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Okinawa was the next big battle on the 2nd Marine Divisions list of engagements.
“We had 1,500 ships that attacked Okinawa. It was the biggest island invasion in World War II,” Melone explained. “All kinds of kamikaze planes were bombing our ships. One of them hit the ship in front of us.
“The 2nd Marine Division was used as a feint at Okinawa. We made the Japanese think we were going to land along the southeastern end of the island, but we never went ashore. Even so, we drew a number of Japanese troops down to our area and away from the actual invasion beaches,” he said.
Because the kamikaze pilots were so effective hitting and sinking American ships just off shore, the 2nd Division was sent back to Saipan to escape these aerial attacks.
“It wasn’t long after that we heard that an American bomber had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and destroyed the city. We wondered what kind of bomb could wipe out a whole city.” Melone said. “A couple of days later we were told a second atomic bomb had blown up Nagasaki.”
Right after Gen. Douglas MacArthur signed the surrender aboard the Battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay ending World War II, the 2nd Marine Division was sent to Nagasaki for humanitarian purposes.
“When we arrived in Nagasaki Bay the only American ship there was a hospital ship that was treating the Japanese,” he said. “When we got to Nagasaki we found the city had been wiped out.
“Nagasaki was built in valley surrounded by mountains. It was like a bowl where it was located. When the atomic bomb went off it devastated everything in that bowl. The only things I can remember still standing were the trunk of a tree and the twisted steel and concrete remains of a hospital.”
What about the people?
“Forget it. Anybody that was in Nagasaki when the bomb exploded was dead or close to it,” he said. “The few burned survivors still living we took back to the hospital ship in the harbor.”
After several weeks as part of the occupation force, the 2nd Marine Division headed home.
“When we sailed into San Diego Harbor in December 1945 Peggy Lee and a band was waiting at the pier to greet us. At that time she was a beautiful young girl,” Melone recalled with a smile. “She was belting out a song as we arrived. Everybody ran for that side of the ship to see her and the captain almost had a heart attack.
“‘Get back to where you were. You’re going to capsize this ship!’ he yelled.
“Unbelievable. I’ll never forget that day if I live to be 200,” the old Leatherneck said.
Sgt. Nick Melone of Port Charlotte received the following awards for service in the Marine Corps during World War II: The Purple Heart, World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, Occupation Service Medal and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal.
This story first appeared in print in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Sept. 14, 2009. Republished with permission.
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