Palau Day 12: Peleliu

At the same time Pearl Harbor was being bombarded by Japanese soldiers so was the Philippines (even though they are past the International Date Line so historically, the Philippine invasion is recorded as being December 8th). When Commander Douglas MacArthur left the Philippines he claimed, “I shall return.” Part of MacArthur ‘s return was to take control of a small Palauan Island, Peleliu. The Marines landed at 08:32 on September 15, 1944; the 1st Marines to the north on “White Beach”, and the 5th and 7th Marines to the center and south on “Orange Beach”. A siege began that was supposed to only last 3 days, but instead lasted close to three months in what has been called one of the bloodiest battles in history. Today we visited Peleliu, an hour’s boat ride away from Korror, hailing a population of under 500 people; Peleliu today is a lush, quite island with whispers of the past.

Peleliu is hot and humid, much more so than the other parts of Palau that we visited. Vegetation is quite thick on Peleliu, so it is hard to imagine the island with 85% of its greenery burned to the ground as it was in 1944, and how unbearably hot that would make things. Many of the people that died in the battle of Peleliu did not die from combat, but heat exhaustion and lack of drinking water. We did a short hike through the interior of the island, high arching trees created a leafy canopy letting small rays of sunshine cross our paths, protecting us from frying in the direct heat of the sun and still it was H-O-T. I can only imagine soldiers in full combat-gear, clothed from head to toe, toting heavy weapons. I drained 4 water bottles after a 45 minute hike wearing shorts and a “quick-dry” t-shirt.

Today was intense, this was day 12. I find in long trips abroad, once you hit about day 10 adrenalin begins to wane and tiredness begins to set in. In group trips this is when the “honeymoon” period begins to wear off and people start to get a bit snappy. However, the Otis students again impressed me. It didn’t matter how hot it was, what we were stung by, how little sleep we got, everyone rallied to experience Palau. This being said, there was a definite difference in everyone’s mood today. Our main objective for coming to Palau was to build a Freedom Memorial and today we crossed the long ago paths of soldiers who had lost their lives in this pursuit. An appropriate somberness was felt as throughout the island as we saw vestiges of this battle, tanks along the side of the road, memorials to both the American and Japanese soldiers and markers where mines were recently unearthed. To this day they are still finding remains of soldiers and live mines. The pathway we took through what I called the jungle was only just recently cleared and you had to make sure you stayed on the trail as off the trail is still not safe. The yellow and red markers note places where mines were recently found.

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