All for Naught: The Battle of Peleliu: Peleliu Could Have Been Leap-Frogged, as Had Many Other Japanese-Held Islands, but the Marines Were Ordered to Take the Island and Did So with Great Bravery, Skill, and Loss of Life
McGrath, Roger D., The New American
Warning, this article contains graphic descriptions of war.
Studs Terkel called World War II the "good war". If any war could be called good, then the Second World War is at least a candidate. However, it should be remembered that until the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, 70-80 percent or more of Americans in poll after poll said they wanted nothing to do with the war that was raging in the Far East or with the one that had erupted in Europe--and for good reason. By the 1930s it seemed that the death of tens of thousands of American boys during the Great War had been for naught. We were determined not to become entangled in yet another war overseas serving the interests of other nations.
All that changed when we were sucker punched by the Japanese, although many have argued the sneak attack was not a surprise to President Roosevelt. It certainly was to the American people, though, and "Remember Pearl Harbor" became the rallying cry that mobilized the nation and propelled our troops into what became the greatest conflict man has ever seen. We sought no territorial aggrandizement, liberated millions from tyranny, and brought about the downfall of Tojo, Mussolini, and Hitler. The "good war."
There was much that was not good about WWII, however, especially the well-known abandonment of Eastern Europe to Soviet Communism as the war drew to a close. There were also less well-known blunders in the Pacific, including fighting battles that were entirely unnecessary and cost Americans dearly. The Battle of Peleliu was such a battle. Not only was it unnecessary and horrific but, adding additional insult to those who fought so bravely there, it has generally slipped from our historical consciousness. Few know of the battle or have even heard of Peleliu, a speck of an island in the southwest Pacific. Only six miles long and two miles wide, Peleliu is part of the Palau group of the Caroline Islands, a vast archipelago stretching for 2,000 miles across the Pacific. Peleliu lies 550 miles southeast 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.
The first Europeans to see the Caroline Islands were Portuguese sailors under the command of Diego DeRocha, who chanced upon the island of Yap in 1526. Portugal did nothing about the discovery, and it was Spain that named the archipelago in honor of Spanish King Charles II and made it one of its holdings. The inhabitants of the islands, who could be Polynesian, Melanesian, or Malayan, were left undisturbed. Ships rarely visited the Carolines and for several hundred years few white men set foot on any of the islands.
One of the few to do so was David O'Keefe, as wild a character who has ever lived. Born in Ireland in 1828, he rebelled against British rule and was forced to flee to the United States in 1848, landing in Savannah, Georgia. Shipping before the mast, he sailed the high seas, quickly rising through the ranks to command his own merchant ship. His intelligence, good looks, courage, strength, and explosive temper made him a legend among sailors. In 1871, he found himself commanding Belvedere, bound for Manila. Caught in a typhoon in the southwest Pacific, the ship foundered in 50-foot waves and broke apart. O'Keefe managed to hang on to a piece of flotsam and miraculously rode out the storm. Days later he washed ashore on Yap. The natives marveled at the sight, thinking he must be favored by the gods. A chief took exception and challenged O'Keefe to a fight. O'Keefe beat him to a pulp.
Hitching a ride on a German ship, O'Keefe made his way to Hong Kong and managed to gain command of another ship. In 1872, he was back in Yap, determined to profit from the copra trade. The Germans had tried to do so, even establishing a small trading station on Yap, but were unable to get any work out of the natives, who lolled about eating coconuts and spearing fish in the lagoon. …