Sins of Omission

Epic But Forgotten: Peleliu

Few Americans today know of Peleliu, a speck of an island in the southwest Pacific.  A part of the Palau group of the Caroline Islands, Peleliu is only six miles long and two miles wide.  It lies 550 miles due east of the Philippines in splendid isolation.  Covered with dense green vegetation and surrounded by turquoise-blue water lapping against white sandy beaches, Peleliu appears to be a tropical paradise.

Of all the unnecessary U.S. operations of World War II, Peleliu was both the most unnecessary and the costliest.  During the summer of 1944 our high command decided that Gen. Douglas MacArthur would finally return to the Philippines with a landing on Leyte Island, scheduled for October.  To protect his flank it was thought that Peleliu, with a large Japanese airfield, must be secured.  Adm. William “Bull” Halsey argued in vain that the operation was unnecessary, that Peleliu should be leapfrogged.

The Marine in command of the operation, Maj. Gen. William Rupertus, estimated that it would require only two or three days to secure the island.  A 55-year-old career officer and veteran of the Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester campaigns, Rupertus understood the tenacity and fanaticism of the Japanese.  Neither Rupertus nor U.S. intelligence, though, knew the Japanese had turned Peleliu into one big pillbox.  In hundreds of underground caves and tunnels, some with steel doors, they...

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