Man connects with World War II veterans, gives the Photos

Cynthla Beaudette of the Muscatine Journal

MUSCATINE, Iowa - The lush green island of Peleliu, pel-a-loo, rises above the dazzling aquamarine Pacific Ocean with a deadly history imprinted on its sandy shoreline. One of the deadliest battles of World War II took place there from Sept. 15- Nov. 27, 1944,. when the United States and Japan fought for control of the tiny Island and its modest airstrip.

Part of that battle was captured in 118 pictures which deliver a silent black-and-white testimony to i the tragedy and survival that took place on the tropical island which is part of lite Palau island chain southeast of the Philippines. Those photos have been reproduced by Gabriel Ineichen of Davenport, who's made it his goal to reach U.S. veterans who fought at Peleliu and give them free copies of the photos.

Ineichen said the pictures belonged to a discouraged U.S. veteran who fought in the battle of Peleliu. The veteran left them behind in the Davenport apartment he once rented from Ineichen's grandfather in the 1970s. Ineichen said the veteran was unhappy that he was going to live in a nursing home and said he didn't want many of his belongings. The pictures were taken by professional military photographers as well as members of the Navy, Army Air Force and Marines who served in the battle at Peleliu. Ineichen said at least one of the photos appears to be taken by an Associated Press photographer as well.

About five years ago, Ineichen, now 34, came across the photos again and he said age had given him a new appreciation for what they symbolized. There is the tender impression of an U.S. Marine pressing a canteen to the lips of his fallen comrade. Then, the gruesome shot of an American soldier holding the dismembered head of an enemy soldier. A few shots reveal rare moments of relaxation, such as young Marines gathering at a makeshift swimming hole.

In one poignant shot, a weary, young Marine sits alone, his head resting against his palm. Ineiehen has since learned the identity of this man is Frank Pomroy, then 19, who now lives in Boxford, Mass. Pomroy said he was alone and wounded out in front of a battlefield when an amphibious tank came by with supplies and a news photographer on board. I was completely out of water and food, but I had plenty of ammunition, said Pomroy, 82. "I had two machine gun builds through my right leg and a bayonette stuck through the side. I had lost a lot of blood. We were so thin and I knew we weren't going to get any reinforcements. The photographer took Pomroy's photo at that sad hour and Pomroy said it has become a famous image of World War II. Pomroy is one of the many U.S. veterans Ineiehen has spoken with in person or oyer the plume since he began searching for U.S. service people who were in the battle at Peleliu.

When he isn't working for Graphic Images in Davenport, Ineiehen contacts World War II veterans and gives them free CDs that contain copies of the images. So far, he's contacted 290 veterans and he's hoping to find more in the Muscatine and Louisa County region. Ineiehen connects with veterans using a variety of methods, including contact with armed service organizations, by introducing himself to veterans he meets, by chance, in public places and by networking with veterans he knows who lead him to their comrades. He doesn't have family members who were in World War II, but each veteran he speaks with strengthens Ineichen's resolve to continue his quest.

 "These veterans are dying off at a rate of 1,100 a day," he said. "Some estimates put that at the higher rate of 1,800 a day and that ratio is pretty fast." There are some graphic pictures," said Jonathan Skinner, 83, a member of the U.S. 1st Marine Division who fought at Peleliu, and one of the veterans Ineiehen has contacted. "But I wouldn't want anyone else to have to go. You had to be there to really appreciate what happened." The battle Ineiehen has done a great deal of research on the battle of Peleliu and said there are a number of theories as to why it was fought.

According to The World War II Multimedia Database, U.S. Army General Douglas ; MacArthur planned to prevent attacks in his rear area as he attempted to conquer the Philippines a second time by taking the Morotais and the Palaus. Peleliu was the most heavily defended island in this territory. U.S. Navy Vice Admiral William Halsey argued that the Palaus Islands were not required to take the Philippines, but MacArthur sent the first waves from the U.S. 1st Marine Division. At that time, the only maps of Peleliu were from 1923 and didn't show the dense jungle or tremendous number of caves on the island, the 1st Marines suffered so many casualties that the U.S. Army 81st Division was called in for reinforcement. Both units, suffered more Hum 50 percent casualties, the World War II Multimedia Database states.

Ineiehen said a total of 10,403 U.S. Marines, U.S. Army Air Force soldiers and U.S. Navy Seabees people were wounded at Peleliu and approximately 2,000 of them died from their wounds. In addition, Ineiehen said only 34 of the 11,000 Japanese forces who fought at trie battle at Peleliu survived. Veterans of Peleliu Harold Gunnerson, a veteran of the 1st Marine Division, remembers arriving in Peleliu around 8:30 am. on Sept 15 and being wounded around 8:30 a,m. on Sept 20. ' "I still got that hole through my leg," said Gunnerson, 82, of East Moline, Ill. "I still have the piece of shrapnel that was in it.” Gunnerson said his Division lost 60 percent of its men. "You never forget if," he said. "It's embedded in your mind."

Gunnerson, who still flies the Marine Corps flag outside his home, said he is pleased  Ineiehen takes an interest in the battle. "It was the forgotten battle of the South Pacific," said Gunnerson. "McArthur was going to battle in the Philippines at the same time, and the news focussed on that" Return to Peleliu In 2004, Ineiehen flew to Peleliu to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the battle. He said approximately 600 people now call the island home : and fisliing is a major industry there. Ineiehen took photos of the island as it appears in the 21st century and includes a CD of those present-day photos with the historic set he gives to veterans.

"I wouldn't give a nickel to see that g damn island again," said Skinner of Bettendorf. "But I guess he (Ineiehen) went there. I think it's great he's very interested in Peleliu, but like I say, kids today would never understand it." Although he's never been in battle, Ineiehen said listening to the Peleliu veterans gives him a new appreciation for the men and women who-serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and for the veterans of World War II. "When I meet these guys, they are so moved that someone knows and cares about that battle at Peleliu," said Ineiehen. "That's why I never will stop."


Testimony in Black and White