The story of Kenneth Black - Bayoneted in a Foxhole
Tinian, July 24, 1944.
Cpl. Kenneth Black, 24, fingered the trigger of his M1 Carbine and squinted into the night, his brown eyes searching for movement in the sugar cane field just beyond. In the same foxhole, his number one gunner crouched near a .30-caliber machine gun, his carbine at ready. Dug in on the left was Eugene "Turk" Turkowski, Newton, N.J., with a B.A.R. (Browning Automatic Rifle). The ammo barriers and other men were dug in on the right flank.
Somewhere out there in the darkness lurked 9,000 Japanese soldiers, veterans of Manchuria, aching to die for their emperor. And Black, leader of a nine-man machine gun squad was ready to oblige the
It was past midnight and Black, who was pulling watch, was tired. He hadn't had a decent night's sleep in days. The night before, he had attempted to sleep on the deck of an LST, but it had rained and he got soaked. He and the hard bitten Marines of the 4th Division had started landing on tiny Tinian Island just before 8 a.m. and, after slugging it out all day with the Japanese, had finally hammered out a beach head about 4,000 yards wide and 2,000 yards deep.
The Japanese had braced for an amphibious landing at Tinian Town, where they had fortified and mined the beaches, but the Marines had tricked them and landed on the northern tip of the island on two beaches 65 and 130 yards wide. A counter attack was coming from the Japanese, that was for sure. But when? The waiting was the worst part.
Black had survived a Banzai attack on Saipan only weeks before. The Japanese had charged forward, bayonets fixed, hollering the few English words they knew - "M-A-L-I-N-E-S YOU D-I-E!"
Suddenly, movement out front!
"Bunch of 'em coming down the road," Turkowski whispered.
Black tensed and cocked an ear. He could hear them too. He squinted into the darkness. Hundreds of shadowy figures moved toward the Marines.
"MALINES YOU D-I-E-E-E!" Then the hoard charged forward wildly, yelling, firing and tossing grenades.
Turkowski opened up with a B.A.R. and Japanese soldiers crumpled and pitched forward like dominos. Black shouldered his carbine and started firing, not counting his rounds. The number one gunner jumped to the machine gun and in a flash it was rattling like some giant rattlesnake, lacing the night with red tracers.
Black swore to himself and kept firing, wishing the machine gunner hadn't opened up. As soon as the Japanese located the automatic weapon they would go for it. By now the entire line of entrenched Marines was firing everything it had, heating up their gun barrels, their tracer bullets weaving a tapestry of red in the night.
Still the Japanese came. Then something went wrong on the left flank. Japanese soldiers started pouring through the line and came up behind Black. His carbine stopped firing.
"I don't know if I had used all my ammo or it had jammed," says Black. "I was on my knees. Just about the time I reached to pull the bolt back and check it, a Jap dived right on top of me."
Black reached for his knife, but it was gone. And his machete was on his pack out of reach. Every primitive instinct for survival kicked in and there was no one to help him. "My number one gunner was gone." He didn't know what happened to him, but heard later he died on Iwo Jima. "The other two guys were right over there and they didn't make a damn move."
Black grabbed the helmet chinstrap of the charging Japanese soldier and threw him to the ground and held him down and gouged out his eyes. He could smell the soldier’s breath and it smelled "like a struck match that had fizzled out."
"TURK HELP ME!" he yelled to Turkowski. "SHOOT THE S.O.B!"
"I'M OUT OF AMMO!" replied Turkowski.
"THEN BEAT 'EM,"
"THE BARRELS TOO HOT!" said Turkowski
"GRAB THE STOCK AND HIT HIM WITH THE BARREL!"
Black gripped the thrashing soldier. Turkowski scrambled over to help, but Black didn't need help. The Japanese soldier was already dead. Black had killed him with his bare hands.
Just then another Japanese soldier charged out of the darkness, bayonet glistening, and thrust it into Turkowski's side.
"I pushed the dead Jap out of the hole and turned back on my elbows and looked up and there was another damn Jap," says Black.
Turkowski had been bayoneted, perhaps dead. Looking up, Black saw a Japanese soldier standing over him, bayonet at ready. Black couldn't move, he didn't have time. He saw the shiny blade coming toward him, then he felt it tear into his stomach.
“I couldn't do a thing. I eased back and didn't utter a sound," says Black. "I made him think he had already killed me. He took the dead Jap and carried him with him."
A corpsman came up later that night and put battle dressing on Black and Turkowski. "I told the corpsman to take Turk out first."
"No, Black you go first," Turk said.
"No, I outrank you."
They carried Turkowski out on a poncho and returned later with a stretcher and took Black to an aid station where he was deposited on top of ammo boxes and administered morphine.
"I was soaking wet and chilly," remembers Black. "They put a blanket on me and I dozed off."
He awoke and asked corpsman for a rifle or pistol. In the event Japanese overran the aid station, Black wasn't going to die without a fight. "I knew a stomach wound was real bad and I figured I wasn't going to make it -- so that was it." He felt around and found a carbine on the ground, but it didn't have a magazine in it.
When morning came, Black and Turkowski were evacuated to a hospital ship where both underwent surgery. Turkowski asked the doctor about Black's condition. "He's got a pretty slim chance," the doctor said.
Black, his lung almost collapsed and diaphragm punctured, woke that night aboard ship. "First thing I heard was 'smoking lamps out and batten down all hatches.'"
He was transferred by basket and cable to another ship at sea and carried to a hospital on New Hebrides Island. His weight dropped to 112, a loss of 50 pounds and he was so weak he couldn't do an about face when he received his Purple Heart.
Before the war ended on Sept. 2, 1945, the 4th Division would engage in some of the bloodiest combat in the Pacific and suffer the highest casualty rates of any marine division. Of the 81,718 men who saw actions one or more times, 17,722 were casualties, a total of 21.6 percent.