A U.S. Marine who fought in Iwo Jima, Tinian, and Sipan, Bill Nuttle discusses the many survival strategies he employed when in combat along with a near-death experience on Iwo Jima.
Interviewee: Bill Nuttle
Interviewers: Simon Belcher, Nicole Curtin, Emily Holt, Joseph Swit
Date of Interview: June 13, 2016
The Golden Rule of Beach Landings
Well, if you’re smart, you get up there first. The golden rule of any kind of landing is get the hell off the beach. This is where all the artillery and mortars are concentrated. Of course, on Iwo you started running up the beach, and it was almost impossible. No wheeled vehicle could maneuver on there. The tanks often got bogged down. Trying to run on that stuff was damn near impossible. You had an incentive to get the hell out of there. Tinian was the damndest landing I ever saw. We just came in in a column with nobody firing at us. I don’t know how they do it, but the Marine Corp and perhaps the Army, would psych you up so you were ready to go. A friend of mine said, “What keeps you going up the beach?” I would say, “You’ve got everybody behind you and the whole Pacific Ocean. Where you going to go?” Your best bet is up and as quick as possible.”
Tracking Japanese soldiers
Word got out that there was a regimental hospital set-up; of course, it was just a tent, no floor or anything like that – but it was in a certain place. And they were being harassed by Japanese at night. And so, go down and get them. The lieutenant looked over at me, and he said, “You pick a couple men that’ll come with you.” So we split up there at the hospital. There was a little stream,which was highly unusual, and there was sort of a grassy plain on the other side. The hospital was in the middle; there were trees all around. So, I took two men, and I waked the stream. One of them walked in the woods opposite me; the other one was up in some of the caves up there. So, we walked down, and all of a sudden I look down, and here was a wet print on a rock. And I can remember, just before the war, there was a motion picture that came out. It was about somebody that was going to be on a sporting hunt, and he was trying to overlook Hitler and the wolf slayer. But it started out for the first five minutes, all you saw was a little bent grass here and there. And then, finally, there he was laying down. Ready to shoot Hitler. That’s what came to my mind, that there was somebody up there. So, I told the guys on the other side of me that there was somebody coming down ahead of us. So we got down. We used to use a smoke grenade. You toss them into a cave or something, and it didn’t kill them but they had to come out. So we got down to a point where we could toss a number of these grenades in. There was this little opening and a little hill that went up. There was a hole in it, and we tossed a smoke grenade in there. Well, some guy came out perfectly naked and coughing. He looked around, and then he went back in again. We thought ah, ok, well we can save this guy. You don’t want to kill anybody. So one of the guys went with me around on top of the little hill. There was some palm leaves over the opening, and he picked up these palm leaves. We tried to get him out, and so finally he rose up from in there. He rose up, and someone yelled, “Grenade!” He tossed out two grenades, and I went up the hill and my buddy went down the hill. He got some [of the grenade blast] in the back of his head, and I got just a little bit along here (motions to his leg). Then we weren’t trying to save prisoners. So we tossed in a grenade, and there was a guy inside who had some sort of machine gun. One of the boys with me in my squad, he stood up and got shot. It was getting dark and you don’t want to be out of a hole when it’s dark. The next day they sent up somebody with a bazooka and spaced the whole thing up.
Chasing Chickens to Eat
I remember, we lived on rations the whole time, and so, around some of these farm houses there were chickens around. Of course, the farm houses were demolished in the course of events, but there were chickens all the way around. We would try to go out and try to catch these chickens. Well, they were fast. And finally we came up with a way of going out with three guys, and you’d catch one chicken out from the rubble. You’d put two guys there at the rubble, and you would shoo [the chickens] away if they came in, and the other guy would just run at them. You’d run and run and you’d take turns, and the next guy would go out. And finally you’d just run the chicken down. I think we had 17 of them one day. We found an old throw net, the same circular net they throw [out of boats]. Well it makes a good pen for chickens. You hang it up at the center, and it’s net that goes down around them, like that. So we kept them there. We got these 17 chickens and had somebody there knew something about cooking. He had a big, big can that something came in. Anyway, we all took turns and killed the chickens, and picked the feathers off of them, and cut them up, and put them in. After we cooked it for a while, then we all dipped our canteens in there and took this chicken soup. We also had to take feathers out of our mouth because we didn’t pick them too clean. And after that, they had done something to make a fire and fried these chickens. Well, they were delicious! And we were low on rations for a length of time. I got sick, not because of the chickens, but the fact that you go from rations to making a glutton out of yourself with chicken soup and then the fried chicken. But it was delicious.