View Full Version : Over four invasions, vet earned 3 Purple Hearts

08-09-07, 07:19 AM
Over four invasions, vet earned 3 Purple Hearts

August 9, 2007

Marine Bill Mancke, of Manhattan, remembers his time served well while assigned to the 4th Marine Division during World War II. During his career, he was involved in the second invasion wave at Roi-Namur island, the first invasion wave at Saipan, first invasion wave at Tinian and the second invasion wave at Iwo Jima, island-hopping to Japan's doorstep.

During those four action-filled invasions, Bill received three purple hearts for wounds inflicted by Japanese gunfire. Only 70 of the original 340 Marines in Mancke's company that landed at Iwo Jima were able to walk out on their own two feet. Of the original 340, 270 were killed or wounded in action.

"I was very fortunate that every time I came back from my injuries, I was able to return back to my original company, which was the 4th Marine Division," Bill said.

Day 1

Following are a few memories from Bill's first few days of the battle on Iwo Jima. While Iwo Jima is better known, "the fighting was just as intense and deadly" in the battles on Roi-Namur, Tinian and Saipan, Bill said.

Coming from Maui aboard the U.S.S. Mellette troop ship, Cpl. Peter G. whiled away time by playing cards, as did so many other G.I.s. "While waiting to fight another battle on another island we couldn't pronounce," Bill remembers Peter holding up a big wad of newly won greenbacks and asking, "What am I going to do with all this?" Bill later watched as Peter was hit by a knee mortar, sending the money flying every which way. "I could see it flying all around," Bill said. "Pete didn't have to worry any more."

"What I hated most about the invasions," Bill said," was bobbing up and down on the ocean waves, circling in holding patterns until we were ready to storm the beaches. It may seem strange to most people, but I always feared drowning before reaching the beach. I saw too many dead Marines in the water and didn't want to go that way. There was always a tremendous sense of relief when I finally stepped on dry land. Iwo Jima was no exception."

The division landed on Yellow Beach 2 to little resistance.

"I remember thinking to myself that we were finally going to get a break and have some easy clean-up duty for a change" Bill said. "Boy, was I wrong!"

"After strolling inland a little ways, all hell broke loose," Bill recalled. "The Japanese let us get closer to them so our battle ship guns and air support couldn't be used for fear of hitting our own troops."

With no other support, the Marines were left to fight with only the weapons they carried.

"It quickly became a 'kill or be killed' struggle for survival," Bill said. "Even though there were thousands of G.I.s fighting for one objective, and that was to capture the island, each one of us also fought our own individual battle to stay alive for the next minute, which became an hour and then if you were real lucky you survived through the day only to start all over again the next day. I remember many instances of living just one moment at a time. The fighting was so intense and confusing, sometimes I didn't even know who was in the hole next to me. And sometimes I didn't want to know because it was either a Japanese soldier who wanted to kill me or a killed buddy who's memory haunted me forever.

"Being afraid was a constant. It was something you just learned to live with. Lots of luck and fear was what kept me alive. Those that couldn't cope just retreated into 'shell shock' or what the doctors liked to call 'battle fatigue.' In any case it wasn't anything you had any control over. It just happened. Your mind and body would just shut down due to the constant strain of fighting to stay alive and experiencing so much carnage and mayhem in such close quarters and in such a short period of time."

He also remembers one of several 1,100-yard trips to the aid station. Under fire, Bill was so exhausted he lost his grip on the stretcher and dropped his buddy. Several years later when he met his friend at a reunion, he was finally able to tell him that he always felt ashamed and sorry for having dropped him. Bill's friend received the Bronze star for his gallantry on the field that day. He also finally found out that it was Bill that helped save his life. Stories like these explain the strong lifelong bonds created between comrades in arms during times of conflict.

"I've made four landings," Bill said. "I know what it was like first-hand. Guys were running and getting shot and didn't know they were hit until their legs gave out. I know because when I received my shrapnel wound at Roi-Namur, I didn't know I was wounded until I tried to get up and couldn't. I ended up crawling back to the aid station to get medical help. It's amazing how your adrenalin takes over during critical times."

Bill recalls machine gun fire from both sides of an airstrip. "Quite a few guys got hit trying to cross that strip," including his platoon leader.

The men crossed the strip, a squad at a time, "like a covey of birds," with only their buddies' fire to give them cover. "Many didn't make it," Bill said.

"I remember trying to move forward but meeting stiff resistance and then being forced to pull back and digging in for the night." Bill and members of his platoon were in a bomb crater, waiting for their platoon leaders to get back from a briefing, when they received a direct hit with an artillery shell -- but it didn't explode. The only explanation we could come up with was that it was an act of God, nothing more, nothing less. It just wasn't our time yet," he said.

End of Day 1: Total advance, 300 yards (equal to three football fields)

Day 2

The Japanese soldiers were everywhere.

"I remember having to go into those caves and trying to extract them," Bill said. "The most difficult part of the operation was to make sure we only killed the Japanese soldiers and not the civilians they would use as shields."

Bill also remembers a skirmish with a grenade-throwing Japanese soldier and a just-as-determined Marine buddy who had exhausted his supply of grenades. Bill gathered as many grenades as he could and tossed them to his buddy, who in turn pulled the pins and threw them at the Japanese soldier.

This went on back and forth for a while until the Japanese soldier was silenced. If the situation wasn't so deadly, it would have been humorous to watch these two guys exchanging live grenades.

End of Day 2: 225 yards gained (barely two football fields)

Day 3

"Just before 5 a.m. on Day 3, Japanese soldiers climbed up onto the air strip and began throwing hand grenades into our lines. Those that didn't detonate right away were thrown back," Bill said. One fellow Marine woke up on the beach among the killed in action. It took almost a full day before his moans alerted the corpsmen that he was alive.

"It was mass confusion that day," Bill said. "It all came down to, if someone shot at you, you shot back."

End of Day 3: Not sure if any ground was gained.

Battle and beyond

And so it went on for 13 days.

"On the 14th day, I was wounded and evacuated for medical treatment," Bill said.

After healing, Bill went back to his platoon. His newly organized and reinforced 4th Marine Division was part of another invasion task force waiting to invade mainland Japan.

In August, 1945, the Enola Gay B-29 bomber, armed with atomic bombs, flew out of Tinian Island (which Bill helped to capture) and ended the war before Bill could add a fifth invasion to his resume.

Bill attends reunions with the guys he served with. He attended one in September in Atlanta, Ga., and will go to another this September of this year in Louisville, Ky.

Bill served two years of active duty, from 1943 to 1945. His last rank was corporal.

He has been an active member of the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Squad since December 1999 as an honor guard.

Bill is married to Nancy and they have two daughters, Stacy (Bill) Johnston and Kelly (Jim) Dobranski; a son, Scott (Vicki) Mancke; 15 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Know current or retired soldiers who would like to talk about his or her experiences in the U.S. armed forces? Contact Jean Edwards, staff writer, at (815) 729-6049 or jedwards@scn1.com