Posts Tagged With: #Pacific War

MAG-45’s War in the Pacific Backwaters

The strip at Falalop Island, Ulithi Atoll, home to Marine Air Group-45. This photo was taken at the end of April 1945. In the photo can be seen several F6F-5N night fighters, a line of TBM Avengers, a few SBD Dauntless dive bombers, an SB2C Helldiver, and an unusual array of Culver TD2C Turkey target drones (at right)

The strip at Falalop Island, Ulithi Atoll, home to Marine Air Group-45. This photo was taken at the end of April 1945. In the photo can be seen several F6F-5N night fighters, a line of TBM Avengers, a few SBD Dauntless dive bombers, an SB2C Helldiver, and an unusual array of Culver TD2C Turkey target drones (at right)

In the fall of 1944, Marine Air Group-45 set up shop at Ulithi Atoll and received the task of suppressing the bypassed Japanese bases in the Carolines. MAG-45’s biggest and most important target was Yap, which included a large airfield capable of handling twin-engine bombers. The air group’s Avenger squadron, initially VMTB-232 and later VMSB-245, also provided anti-submarine patrols around the fleet anchorage at Ulithi. In November, two Japanese submarines launched five midget subs which succeeded in sinking a U.S. Navy oiler. Marine Avengers sank two of the midget subs.

In the months that followed, the air group flew night intercept operations with VMF (N)-542’s F6F-5N Hellcats, carried out ceaseless attacks on Yap, Fais and Sorol Islands. Though they encountered only occasional Japanese aircraft, the flak over these targets was often intense and so dangerous the crews were told not to drop below six thousand feet during their attack runs.

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VMSB-245’s parking area in May 1945. ‘245 arrived at Ulithi in March and flew until the end of the war. It had previously flown a tour from Midway and a second in the Marshall Islands prior to arriving at Ulithi. TBM Avengers, SB2C Helldivers, F6F-5N Hellcats can be seen along with what looks like a USN variant of the Beech 18 and an air rescue float plane.

MAG-45’s job was a thankless one, their efforts and missions lost to the American people as the tide of war advanced ever closer to the shores of the Japanese Homeland. Yet, it was in these grinding, attritional missions that the Marine aviators demonstrated a supreme level of dedication to their craft and cause. Day in and day out, the struck the same targets to ensure the strips at Yap could not be used to launch surprise raids against the U.S. warships at anchor in Ulithi, which had become a key forward replenishing base for the fast carrier task forces. There was little chance to participate in a major battle that could make headlines and history, and almost no opportunity for the fighter pilots to score aerial kills. Yet they were steadfast and carried out their missions with deadly effectiveness until the Japanese surrender in August 1945.

In honor of their all-but unknown efforts, here are some photographs from that backwater campaign.

VMSB-245 crews receive a target briefing prior to a mission against Yap Island on May 1, 1945.

VMSB-245 crews receive a target briefing prior to a mission against Yap Island on May 1, 1945.

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LT. Col. Hurst and Colonel Robert Mangum chat with and congratulate two young fighter pilots, Lt. Hill and Lt. Hungtington, after they shot down a Japanese plane. April 28, 1945.


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Ulithi Interlude

USMC Series WWII MAG-45 gunners and monkey vmsb-245 Ulithi Atoll 05145-1

Memo: Before bombing Yap Island, always remember to feed your monkey.


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The Fate of the Oklahoma

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Righting the Oklahoma took almost 3 months. At bottom of the photo is the wreck of the Arizona, still leaking fuel. May 1943

During the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, Japanese B5N “Kate” bombers scored five torpedo hits on the USS Oklahoma’s port side. The massive damage to this aged battleship prompted her to begin listing to port. Within minutes, she had turned turtle, trapping hundreds of sailors in her hull. In the hours and days after the attack, civilian shipyard workers and other sailors worked furiously to cut openings in the Oklahoma’s exposed keel in order to rescue the men still alive inside the ship. The effort saved thirty-two men. Stephen Young, one of those rescued, later wrote a gripping account of what he and his fellow sailors endured during those horrific hours after the ship turned turtle. Find his book here:

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The cable system employed to right the Oklahoma had to be reset every few days as the ship began to roll. It was slow work and took months to complete.

Four hundred and twenty-nine men died aboard the Oklahoma. Only the Arizona‘s destruction cost more American lives on December 7th. Most of those sailors died within her hull, and as salvage work began on her in mid-1942, one of the first tasks was to recover those remains. For the sailors, divers and civilian contractors assigned to the vessel, the work was gruesome, dangerous and emotionally taxing to the utmost.



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From the spring of 1942 to the summer of 1943, the salvage operation continued. Patches needed to be welded to the hull to cover the torpedo damage and make the ship watertight again. Teams of divers and workers cleared out ammunition, cut away damage and pumped out the thousands of gallons of fuel still remaining in the battleship’s tanks. As that work continued, other teams emplaced twenty-one massive winches on Ford Island. The salvage team rigged cables between the ship and the winches, and these were used to gradually pull the Oklahoma upright. It was a slow task that required intricate engineering work. After three agonizing months, the winches finally righted the wrecked battleship.

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A civilian salvage worker aboard the Oklahoma in 1943. This was grueling, dangerous work which included having to recover the remains of hundreds of fallen sailors who’d been trapped aboard the battleship when she turned turtle.

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Almost righted, May 1943.

Once back on an even keel, the work to make her watertight was finished. Machinery, the rest of her ammunition and weaponry were pulled off and she was basically stripped to await scrapping. She was eventually towed to drydock where the work was finished. She spent the rest of the war moored in the harbor as a silent reminder of that terrible day in December 1941.Oklahoma Salvage May 43 937raising the oklahoma252

She was sold for scrap after the war, but while under tow to San Francisco in May 1947, she and her two tugs encountered a heavy storm. The battered old battlewagon couldn’t take the rough seas. She began to take on water, and a dangerous list developed. As she began to sink, the Oklahoma nearly dragged both tugs down with her. Fortunately, quick action on the part of the tugs’ crews prevented such a disaster. Oklahoma went to the bottom some five hundred miles east of Pearl Harbor. Her hull may lay in an anonymous Pacific grave, but her heart was torn out on Battleship Row in 1941.

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Warrior Adversary: Saburo Horita’s Story


The Imperial Japanese Navy heavy cruiser Tone. Saburo Horita was assigned to a 25mm anti-aircraft gun crew located near the ship’s bridge.

Saburo Horita grew up on a five acre plot of land his father farmed in Toyama prefecture on the west coast of Honshu. They were a poor family that included three sons (Saburo was the youngest). When Saburo was fourteen, his oldest brother died. Not long after, his mother died as well. He and remaining brother, who had been a porter in a Tokyo bath house until their mom’s death, worked the land together, raising vegetables and rice.

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Japanese pre-war flight training was among the most rigorous in the world, but as the war continued and losses mounted, the Japanese were forced to cut their program short in order to get pilots into the field as quickly as possible.

In June, 1939, Saburo joined the Imperial Japanese Navy, and after six months of training at Yokosuka, joined the complement of the heavy cruiser Tone. He served as a 25mm anti-aircraft gunner and part of the deck crew for the next year. In January 1941, he decided to try and become a naval aviator, hoping he’d be able to fly bombers someday. He passed his physical and all the necessary exams, and received orders sending him to flight school Kasumigaura. He learned to fly on the venerable Type 93 “Willow” biplane, and then later got stick time in a Type 95 “Dave” two-seat biplane.

After he graduated from flight training, the Imperial Navy sent Saburo to Takao, Formosa, where he joined the 3rd Air Group as a reserve pilot. He’d had no time in advanced fighters, so the group put him through an intensive, crash course on the Mitsubishi A6M2 “Zero” fighter they had been flying in combat against the USAAF units in the Philippines. Horita arrived in January 1942, just as air campaign over Luzon was drawing to a close.

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Saburo Horita trained on Type 93 and 95 biplanes before graduating to the legendary A6M2 Zero fighter, which he first flew when he arrived on Formosa in early 1942.

After ground instruction, he and his fellow replacement pilots were strapped into Zeroes and sent aloft to get familiar with the aircraft. On those early training flights, the fledglings were told to leave the landing gear down, as none had ever flown a craft with a retractable undercarriage. Saburo and others found the Zero tricky to land, and often they would “kangaroo” across the strip at Takao, bouncing the Zero on and off the runway as they tried to execute a touch-and-go.

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A Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter with Mt. Fuji in the background. When questioned on the Zero’s performance, Saburo told his Japanese-American interrogator that its top speed was 340 mph and could climb at 3,000 feet a minute.

After they worked through getting his Zero back on the ground consistently, Saburo underwent formation flying and aerobatics instruction with more senior 3rd Air Group pilots. But all too soon, the pressing need for combat pilots forced this first contingent of replacement pilots into battle. Along with six other aviators, Horita boarded a Type 96 “Nell” bomber in February 1942 and flew down to Mindanao. From there, they made the jump to Kendari Airdrome on the Celebes Island in the Dutch East Indies. From there, the 3rd Attack Group had been operating against the Allied air units fighting in the Java campaign. Once Java fell to the Japanese, the 3rd Air Group, based now on Timor, escorted G4M “Betty” bomber raids against northern Australia.

It was during those attacks that Saburo Horita first flew in combat. He took part in at least one raid on Port Darwin in June 1942 before being transferred to Rabaul in November 1942. At Rabaul, he joined the freshly redesignated 582nd Kokutai, which had been the 2nd Air Group up until that time. Before he had a chance to fly in the Guadalcanal campaign, he was stricken with malaria and spent about six weeks recovering. While in the hospital, some of his comrades were posted at Lae and thrown into the fight against the 5th Air Force while others stayed at Rabaul to fly missions against the Allies in the Southern Solomons.

After returning to flight status, Horita had between 300-400 hours in Zeroes, Type 93’s and 95’s. He’d been promoted to lead a three-plane formation, known as a Shotai. It was as a Shotai leader that he flew his final combat mission on January 31, 1943.

Sec 4 IC F A translated document detailing the Japannese side of the sinking of the USS Chicago in January 1943

A translated intercept of a Japanese message detailing the loss of the Chicago during the Battle of Rennell Island.

On that day, the 582nd received orders to escort a squadron of bombers against Allied warships at Tulagi Harbor. The previous two days had been furious ones over the Southern Solomons. Japanese airstrikes had sunk a destroyer and the heavy cruiser Chicago in a debacle later known as the “Battle of Rennell Island.” On the 31st, IJN reconnaissance had detected three warships near Tulagi, and they would be the raid’s primary targets.

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During his interrogation, Horita was shown a drawing of a new Japanese twin-engine fighter that the Allies knew little about. This was probably either the Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu (Nick) (pictured here), or the Nakajima Gekko (Irving) night fighter. Horita had known nothing about the new plane, and while admiring the sketch he muttered that he would have liked to have had a chance to fly it.

Over the target area, the Japanese strike failed to locate any Allied ships. Without radios in their Zero fighters, the 582nd could not converse with the bomber crews, so they simply stayed with them and followed wherever they went. In this case, they began searching to the south of Tulagi and Guadalcanal. The search yielded results: two destroyers were soon sighted, and the bombers dove to the attack.

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F4F Wildcats airborne over the Southern Solomon Islands. The F4F was the primary air defense aircraft during the bitter struggle for Guadalcanal 42-43.

A squadron of F4F Wildcats was overhead that day, protecting the Allied vessels. The 582nd locked horns with the American fighters, and a dogfight raged over the ships.  At fifteen hundred feet, Saburo’s Zero was attacked by four Wildcats and shot up. He turned north and limped his crippled Zero for home, but over Russell Island, his engine seized. He ditched the Mitsubishi in shallow water right off the beach and waded ashore. Five foot four, one hundred and twenty pounds, Saburo Horita was now hundreds of miles from home, with no way to get back to Japanese lines.

He thought through his situation, and concluded his only hope lay in trying to steal a boat or canoe from the local natives. Exactly what he hoped to do with it is unknown, but perhaps he thought he could paddle the 30 miles to Guadalcanal where he could link up with the Japanese garrison there before it was evacuated.

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Saburo Horita’s office–the cockpit of an A6M2 Zero. On long flights, he and his fellow pilots would carry a lunch composed of rice balls wrapped in seaweed.

Whatever his intent, he acquired a canoe from the natives at gunpoint, which earned him no friends. The natives eventually got the drop on him and took him prisoner. He was quickly delivered to Allied authorities, where he was interrogated by Colonel Sidney Mashbir’s  Allied Translator and Interpreter Section, SWPA (ATIS/SWPA). The Japanese-American who conducted the interrogation found Saburo Horita to be intelligent but poorly educated. His answers were cautious, and unlike many other POW’s, he was security conscious and did not reveal a lot of information. However, what he did say generally was believed to be accurate.







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The Last Jump: Task Force Gypsy at Aparri

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General Walter Krueger with men of the 511th Parachute Infantry, seen in the Philippines 1945.


During the bitter fighting for Northern Luzon, Philippines in the final months of World War II, the 37th Infantry Division (Ohio National Guard) was tasked flanking the main Japanese positions and seizing the coastal town of Aparri. This was the scene of one of the first Japanese amphibious landings in the 1941-42 campaign.  General Walter Krueger decided to commit elements of the 11th Airborne Division to the attack, which he hoped would ultimately surround one of the last major Japanese army formations on the island (Shobu Group with about 50,000 men).

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The 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 11th Airborne, landing on Corregidor, February 16, 1945.

The storied 11th Airborne Division was the only air assault unit available to General MacArthur’s Sixth and Eighth Armies. The men of the 11th had executed airborne landings at Nadzab, New Guinea, Noemfoor, New Guinea and had dropped on Corregidor Island right atop a garrison that significantly outnumbered them. Elements of the division at taken part in the Los Banos Raid, the liberation of Manila and had fought on Leyte and Negros Islands as well.

The 1st Battalion, 511th Parachute Infantry formed the core of the task force assembled for this new mission, but men from the 187th Infantry, the 127th Engineers and the 457th Parachute Field Artillery also joined what would be known as TF-Gypsy. The plan called for a drop and glider landing on an airfield just out side of Appari. Once on the ground, the task force would push south while the Ohio National Guard advanced north to effect the link up.

The operation began on June 21, 1945 when a small group of Pathfinders air assaulted onto Camalaniugan Airfield to prep the LZ. Two days later, on the morning of June 23rd, the men of Task Force Gypsy climbed into sixty-seven C-47’s and C-46 transports for the short flight to the LZ. As the aircraft arrived overhead, the Pathfinders on the group popped colored smoke to mark the drop zones.

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Four of the six Waco CG-4’s that took part in the Aparri landing are seen here in the LZ. June 23, 1945.

Heavy winds hampered the parachutists. Two were killed and at least another seventy suffered injuries as they were buffeted by the winds and thrown into trees or other terrain features on the ground. The airfield itself was poorly developed and the uneven ground proved treacherous.

A half dozen Waco CG-4 gliders landed after the parachutists got on the ground. They carried the task force’s heavy weapons and jeeps, giving Gypsy a bit of mobility.

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Task Force Gypsy jumps at Appari, 0900 June 23, 1945

The task force quickly assembled and began patrolling south of the airfield, where the paratroops ran into determined resistance. For three days, the men of the 511th and 457th Parachute Field Artillery Bn (attacked to TF Gypsy), burned out bunkers with flame throwers, destroyed pillboxes with 75mm pack howitzer fire and waited for the 37th to reach them. It took until June 26th for the two American elements to link up, but when they did, the Shobu Group’s escape route to the coast had been cut off. The Japanese troops faced a grim fate: starvation, death or surrender.

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TF Gypsy forming up and moving south from the LZ, June 23, 1945.

The Aparri operation was the last American combat air assault operation of WWII. A number of combat cameramen joined the mission, taking extensive film and photographs while in the LZ. Below is one reel of uncut, unedited footage shot by one of those men on June 23, 1945.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Everett “Smitty” Smith, 187th Infantry, who was part of TF-Gypsy that June. His son has a fantastic blog that chronicles his father’s experience during the war. Find it at:






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Saipan Beach H-Hour, in Color

USMC Series WWII Saipan 1st wave hits beach LVT 061544  (1 of 1)In just two hours on June 15, 1944, three hundred amphibious tractors (LVT’s) carried over eight thousand heavily armed U.S. Marines onto Saipan Island in the Marianas Chain. It was a masterful display of amphibious warfare tactics and doctrine, but it also set the stage for a brutal, close range battle for control of Saipan’s sandy west coast. In places, the Marines found themselves pinned down by intense mortar, artillery and automatic weapons fire, and it took hours just to claw a foothold ashore. But by nightfall, the Marines had established themselves enough to repel the first of many Japanese counter-attacks.Marines struggling on the beach at saipan 5x7

This short film clip is raw footage shot by one of the Marine combat cameramen who went ashore with one of the first waves. It is silent, as was most of the footage shot, but that only adds to the poignancy of these scenes. The images are striking, not only for the chaos and carnage they reveal, but also for the film’s clarity. Much of the Marine Corps color footage has deteriorated over the years so that they are predominately reddish or blue. It makes for muddy looking scenes, and in many cases the more common black & white film has stood up better over the years. This clip is stark, clear and the colors have survived the decades in remarkably good shape.




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Saviors: Flying Dutchmen B-17’s

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A Flying Dutchman B-17 awaiting its next mission at Ie Shima in August 1945. 5th Rescue Group.


The 401st Bomb Group over Germany, December 30, 1943.


As the war ended in Europe and the air offensive against Japan became the focus of the USAAF’s last efforts in WWII, the B-17’s day as America’s work horse bomber came to an end. Most of the Forts still remaining in service with the 8th and 15th Air Forces would soon be scrapped or sent to bone yards. A few dodged that fate when the USAAF converted about 130 to perform a much needed and unheralded role in the Pacific.

The vast distances between targets in Japan and the B-29 bases in the Marianas assured that many crippled Superforts would end up in the Pacific.

b29 tail t 4x6Submarines were posted along the strike routes to help save the crews that went into the drink, but the USAAF needed their own Search And Rescue squadrons to help find those men. A number of air rescue squadrons were already in service in the Pacific, mainly flying the venerable PBY Catalina. In the final months of the war, the USAAF began employing modified Forts in the SAR role.




A 5th Rescue Group B-17H at Ie Shima, July 27, 1945


Dubbed the B-17H “Flying Dutchmen,” the planes carried an A-1 Higgins lifeboat under the fuselage. Twenty-seven feet long, self-bailing and self-righting, these boats could be dropped by the Forts to downed crews bobbing on the Pacific swells. Three parachutes would deploy and help ensure the boat landed in the water safely. Once aboard, the wet airmen would find blankets, provisions and survival gear waiting for them, all carefully stowed in the A-1.

The Flying Dutchmen also carried search radars in place of chin turrets. Operating from Ie Shima Island in the final weeks of the war, the Flying Dutchmen of the 5th Air Rescue Group saved a number of B-29 crews before the Japanese surrender. They continued in USAAF and USAF service, performing their vital duties in the Korean War and beyond until 1956. After 1948, they were redesignated SB-17G’s.



Professor Edward Mooney has shared a link that shows how the Higgins Boat was deployed. Thank you Dr. Mooney!


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The 5th Rescue Group’s B-17H’s at Ie Shima Island, near Okinawa. Seen in August 1945.



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Thanksgiving on Amchitka

Thanksgiving on Amchitka, November 25, 1943.




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The Japanese did not oppose the American landing at Amchitka in January 1943, though the rough waters and dangerous shoals around the island claimed the USS Worden (DD-352). Fourteen of her crew died as their ship broke apart and sank on the rocks.

Amchitka was easily one of the most remote and inhospitable U.S. military outposts of World War II. It was so remote that during the Cold War, the U.S. detonated three nuclear warheads on the island in various underground tests. Located about 80 miles from Kiska Island in the Aleutian chain, American forces landed there unopposed in January 1943 and quickly built an airfield there to support the final stages of the campaign in the far north. Once the Japanese had been driven from Attu and Kiska, Amchitka-based Navy patrol bombers and 11th AF aircraft began periodic attacks on the Japanese Kurile Islands.

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A PBY from Fleet Air Wing Four operating from Amchitka’s mud and Marston Matting strip.


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A squadron of PV-1 Venturas at Amchitka in late 1943.

It was a dreary place to be stationed. The weather was awful, accidents frequent, mud or frozen snowdrifts the polarities of daily living. Yet, the men exiled to Amchitka did their best to make the place home. This included their own version of an American tradition–the Thanksgiving Day football game.

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The Thanksgiving game on Amchitka, 1943.



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Photo of the Day: Marine M5 Stuart Tank Crew 1944

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1st Marine Division M5 Stuart light tank crew taking a short break during the brutal fighting at Cape Gloucester, New Britain. January 16, 1944.


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Happy Birthday, U.S. Marine Corps

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4th Marines on Corregidor, early 1942.


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1st Marine Division fighting on Peleliu, September 1944.


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Private First Class William Purcell, A Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, checks out the hole in his helmet after he was hit by a North Vietnamese sniper during the fighting for Hue City, February 1, 1968.

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Marine M3 Stuart crew, Guadalcanal Campaign, fall 1942.



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First morning on Saipan. June 1944.


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Marine night fighters, Korea 1953.

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1st Marine Division crossing the Han River at Haengju, Korea, September 21, 1950.

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Mount Surabachi, Iwo JIma, February 1945.

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