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April 6, 2007

This Oroville Mercury Article was among many given to me by Helen Caswell.

Don Casagrande Writes Vivid Account of Marines at Palau
Grounded on a coral reef in the Pacific during the early moments of the Palau Islands invasion, Marine Cpl. Don R. Casagrande of Oroville lived through a nightmare of suspense and dread as Japanese mortar shells dropped closer and closer to his stranded boat. Casagrande, who was attached to the first division going in, tells a graphic story of moments preceding the invasion and the battle itself. The account is contained in a letter sent to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. L. A. Casagrande of Robinson street. “All the guys feel pretty damn good before the boats come up to take them into the beach.” He writes. “But when they get into the boats they all look at each other and say ‘goodbye.’ They don’t know whether they are going to get killed or not. “We all joked while we were going in but when we got close to the island everybody just sat still and looked at the beach. There were Japanese mortars all over the beach. First they would start at the end of the island and then they would start coming right down the island beach. They did that all day. The boat we came in on got stuck on a coral reef and the Japanese were getting their range on us. There were five mortars that hit within 10 and five feet of our boat and we were just about ready to start swimming in. Every time a boat came by we’d holler at them to stop and get us out of there. Back would come the answer that they were taking wounded men back or that they were going after more ammunition. They couldn’t stop. Finally a boat stopped and we got into it. They took us back out and then we got into another boat and started in again. In our rush to get off the reef, we had left our radios in the boat. Well, the officer sent us back to get them and boy did we really get them quick. One guy would get in the other boat and just toss the radios over and where they lit nobody gave a damn. About three of them and a roll of wire I was to carry went into the ocean."

"Soon as we got ashore we had to run about 30 or 40 yards up so the mortar shells wouldn’t hit us. Then we dug in and I really mean dug in. I think my fox hole was nearly six feet deep. There were a lot of guys that didn’t even get to the beach. I guess when your number is up its up and there isn’t anything you can do about it., There were about 75 or 85 landing barges that made the first wave and 40 of them were blown out of the water. It took all day just to get the assault troops on the beach. The Japanese were really laying the mortars in and were hitting their targets pretty well."

"All day on the beach the snipers were firing and they were really taking a lot of our men. There was one of our guys that wanted to go out and get one of the snipers so he did. He hadn’t been out ten minutes when he had a bullet in his head. I saw a lot of dead marines. I saw one of our own men and he looked awful. He was lying right by his radio and had a hole in him as big as a wash tub, no legs and one arm. I think a mortar must have hit right in his lap.”

In the action that continued Casagrande was wounded. He was hit in the back by shrapnel as he was attempting to make a run across the air field. With him was a companion of whom Casagrande wrote. “He was my buddy. We had stayed in the same fox hole and had eaten chow together at least what chow there was to eat. We got half way across the air field and heard some mortars dropping. They were pretty close but we didn’t think they would hit us. After we got nearly across we saw that one of our planes had been forced down and a little way away from the plane, four of our tanks had been knocked out. Then a mortar dropped right behind us. My buddy fell and just as I turned around something hit me and I fell. I tried to get up but couldn’t so I started crawling. I got about five feet and another mortar dropped but it missed us. I turned around and started after my buddy. When I got to him I saw that one of his legs was blown nearly off. There was a SeaBee with us and he hadn’t been hit. He ran after a corpsman and in about five minutes we were in a first aid station getting the best of care. They had wrapped my buddy’s leg with a rifle for a splint. I saw him on the way over to the hospital ship and he told me they had cut his let off. There wasn’t anything I could say.”

Casagrande concludes his letter with a little ribbing of his brother Sgt. Gene Casagrande of the 61st marine air group in the Emirau area. “I hear Gene is up there now,” he writes “You don’t have to worry about him. We killed all the Japanese so that it would be safe for the pilots to come in.”

Stu Notes: The above story was quite graphic but that is what war is. Don and Gene, Oroville Heroes of long ago. I think they have both passed on. Committee member and Chaplin, Ted Grainger is very ill. We wish him well.