Interview with Everett Pope






Interview with Everett Pope

August 4, 2002

Editor’s Note: Everett Pope was born in Milton, Massachusetts on July 16, 1919. He was Phi Beta Kappa at Bowdoin College in Maine. He was discharged from the Marines after the war at the rank of Major. He was awarded the Medal of Honor “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Commanding Officer of Company C, First Battalion, First Marines, First Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on Peleliu Island, Palau Group, on 19-20 September 1944.” Captain Pope’s Medal of Honor Citation is listed under the Marine Medals site.

Although the combined company strength was 400 men, Pope’s original C company consisted of 235 men. Casualties had reduced the unit to 90, and 24 made it to the top of Hill 100, only to realize that they had no support behind them and were surrounded by enemy soldiers. They were attacked in waves resulting in fierce fighting throughout the night. Pope and his men had little ammunition, and resorted to lobbing Japanese grenades back and engaged in hand-to-hand combat, sometimes tossing attacking enemy off the cliffs, and throwing rocks in desperation.

When they fought their way back down the next morning, only eight were left. Pope’s radioman was killed by machine-gun fire as Pope was right next to him talking on the radio. He needed artillery support, but knew more men would have been killed in “friendly fire.” Later during the battle, he received orders to take back a ridge that was lost when he and his men were ordered down from Hill 100. He didn’t have enough men left, and the order was rescinded. Pope was the only commander to hold his post throughout the battle. You will find more information at the Hill 100 monographs page.

The 1st Marine Division commander was Major General William H. Rupertus. Pope’s commanding officer was Colonel Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller. Company commander Pope has commented upon the “straight ahead” attack method. His company was asked to make repeated assaults against the Umurbrogol. He said, “Why he wanted me and my men dead on top of that hill, I don’t know. Don’t know what purpose it would have served.” (U.S. Naval Institute: Proceedings, “The Truth About Peleliu,” November 2002, p. 53.)

This is a transcript of a personal interview with him. Pope was extremely cordial, and you can hear the New Englander in his voice. He repeatedly asked me to pay his respects to my father, as Pope knows more than anyone what it was like for the USMC fighting men in the Peleliu battle, noting that it was unnecessary for so many to lose their lives because of faulty intelligence, and there was little strategic advantage in the final analysis

P. M. Finelli: Thank you for returning my telephone call yesterday evening. I’m sorry I wasn’t here to receive it. I hope I am not interrupting you, but I would like to speak with you if it is convenient. I was able to contact your through the efforts of my sister Chris, who lives in Massachusetts and read Kevin Rothstein’s interview in the Patriot Ledger, October 25th of last year, and obtained your telephone number from him.

Everett Pope: Oh yes, I remember that.

PMF: My father was a Marine Corps combat veteran wounded on Peleliu by a Japanese bayonet. I spoke with him about Peleliu in New England in June, and our family has asked me to create a narrative record of his WWII experiences.

Pope: Is your father still alive?

PMF: Yes, he and my mother are alive and well. They have been married since 1948.

Pope: That’s very good. I’m glad to hear that.

PMF: Anyone who researches the battle for Peleliu soon discovers that virtually every historical account includes what you and your men did to win that ground known as Hill 100, or Walt ridge, now known as Pope’s Hill.

Pope: We’re trying to go back to calling it Hill 100 again.

PMF: One book, The Devil’s Anvil written by James Hallas, says that you were the only company commander in the 1st battalion to retain his post throughout the entire operation. McMillan’s book The Old Breed also has an extraordinary account of what happened up there.

Pope: There have been many other books about the battle, and Hallas’s is one of the best in my opinion.

PMF: I have the utmost respect for what you and your men did to win that ground, and hold it throughout the night despite impossible odds. It is a remarkable story of heroism and extraordinary courage under fire, defending indefensible territory through courage, guts and steadfast commitment to duty. In order to help better understand what happened during that battle, I wonder if I might ask a few questions. If you’d like, I could tell you more about my dad’s experience, but I’m primarily interested in your perspective in my attempt to understand the Peleliu battle.

Pope: What was your father’s unit?

PMF: He had a temporary pre-invasion assignment with the UDT-6 beach recon team from September 1 until the 16th, when he was re-assigned to the 3rd. Bn, 1st Marines, K company on Umurbrogol to clean caves, pill boxes, mines and duds. On the 21st he spent another five days supporting 2nd Bn 7th Marines “K” Co. On the 26th of September, he was bayoneted by Japanese in hand-to-hand combat while sealing caves with satchel charges and Bangalore torpedoes on Bloody Nose Ridge.

Pope: Please give my deepest respects to your father. It has been very difficult for many of us who have lived happy lives since then, but cannot forget what happened back then.

PMF: Thank you, I will convey your words to him. Evidently the Navy, under Admiral Oldendorph, shelled the beach for a couple of days on the 12th and 13th, supposedly “softening up” the enemy. He claimed they had run out of targets, but an area called “The Point” was never targeted, and many ships left for the Philippines. What was your impression of the effectiveness of that pre-invasion shelling on the enemy’s defenses when you and your unit went into battle?

Pope: I have a very low opinion of the effectiveness of the Navy’s bombardment. They did a bad job, practically useless. The enemy was entrenched in the protective cover of jungle and had reinforced cannon and machine guns in stone bunkers in the hills and mountains.

PMF: Where exactly was Hill 100 in relation to Umurbrogol?

Pope: It was at the extreme right of Umurbrogol as you look at the battle map and we saw no effect of the shelling in that area at all.

PMF: Could you tell me about your own unit’s pre-invasion preparation and briefings? What did you know about what to expect once you landed on the beach?

Pope: As Marines, we were well-prepared in the combat sense. We were trained for battle and ready to fight. The failure was with intelligence, and the briefings were incorrect. We were told it would be a walk-through with little resistance. It was quite the opposite.

PMF: Were you aware of any Marines involved in pre-invasion beach re-con in the water with the UDT units?

Pope: Not at the time, but we learned later that Marines had taken part in the beach reconnaissance with the UDT Teams.

PMF: My father was in the water for three days, between September 12th and 14th. He kept a journal in which he relates that on the 14th there were anti-ship mines laced to horned scullies and coral cairns set out about 100 yards from the beach. Some of them were not armed, the safety pin wasn’t pulled and they were not there the day before. He said that the Japanese had to have their own swimmers. Amazingly, they had also buried some aircraft bombs in the beach with pressure fuses. They also found fuel drums laced to the fringing coral. He said the Japanese had to work like hell to get that done so quickly.

Pope: The Japanese had done a lot to make our landing difficult. As it turned out, Peleliu was heavily defended by the enemy. We took the island with heavy casualties. After all, the battle wasn’t necessary in a strategic sense.

PMF: Macarthur was already on his way to Leyte where he landed in October, 1944.

Pope: Yes. We didn’t have to take Peleliu, but we did what we were asked to do.

PMF: Did you retire from the USMC?

Pope: Oh no, I was discharged at the rank of Major, put down my sword and went home.

PMF: I’m sure you are asked for interviews about Peleliu quite often. This is a personal question, but it has a lot to do with how brave men like you have handled those horrific combat experiences. What has it been like for you after all of these years, and how do you handle those feelings and memories?

Pope: I have had a happy and satisfying life. We did what needed to be done during the war. I have no regrets, no sense of recrimination. I sometimes question the tactics. Mrs. Pope and I went back to Peleliu for the 50th anniversary of the invasion to pay our respects. We shed a tear or two and remembered those men who lost their lives. The island has changed. It was denuded during the battle and the vegetation has grown back. Now it is a prime destination for scuba divers. As a matter of fact, I’m watching television right now wearing a t-shirt someone sent me from Peleliu. It mentions a paradise for scuba divers, but nothing about the battle. There is a small village there now. There were no villages on the island in 1944. The people do things like fishing, growing small crops, including marijuana, and tourists come and visit to see and explore the battle sites. It is now part of the Republic of Palau.

PMF: My uncle, who was an Air Force pilot, is the only one in our family who has seen the island, having flown over it many years ago on his way to Vietnam. I would like to visit and see the island where my father served and was wounded in combat.

Pope: When you go, give me a call and I will give you some names of people on the island. They can help you.

PMF: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk about Peleliu with me.

Pope: You are welcome. Please don’t forget to give my respects to your father.