An upstate county has honored a local World War II veteran who survived a Pacific island attack that claimed the lives of hundreds of Americans, including scores of New Yorkers.
Albany County paid tribute to the late John Goot of Cohoes on Monday, the 70th anniversary of the mass suicide attack Japanese forces launched on Saipan against the Army’s 27th Infantry Division, a former New York National Guard unit.
The attack by more than 3,000 Japanese soldiers and sailors hit the division’s 105th Regiment, which lost more than 400 men and another 500 were wounded. Many of the casualties were from the Albany region as well as other upstate areas, New York City and Long Island.
Goot, who was wounded at Saipan, died last November at age 91. He was honored at an American Legion post in Albany.
Even after seven decades, Wilfred “Spike” Mailloux won’t talk about surviving the bloody battle unless longtime friend John Sidur is by his side. It was Sidur who found the severely wounded Mailloux hours after both survived Japan’s largest mass suicide attack in the Pacific.
“He found me in the mud,” Mailloux recounted during a visit to the New York State Military Museum to attend a presentation on the battle’s 70th anniversary.
Mailloux and Sidur are among the dwindling ranks of WWII veterans of the Army’s 27th Infantry Division, which endured some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific, only to have its reputation besmirched by a volatile Marine general in one of the war’s biggest controversies.
In the Mariana Islands, 1,400 miles south of Tokyo, Saipan was sought by the Americans as a base for bombing raids against Japan. U.S. forces landed on Saipan on June 15, 1944, losing some 2,000 men on the first day alone.
The commander was Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Holland M. Smith, dubbed “Howling Mad” for his volcanic temper. A week into the battle, he relieved the 27th’s commander, Maj. Gen. Ralph Smith, after the division lagged behind the Marines. The Marine commander not only blasted the 27th’s leadership, he also openly criticized its soldiers in front of war correspondents, who later reported on the rift that became known as “Smith vs. Smith.”
On July 7, after three weeks of fighting and with the island’s 30,000 defenders down to a few thousand starving, ill-equipped soldiers, Japanese commanders ordered one last charge.
The battalions’ 1,100 soldiers bore the brunt of what became known as the banzai attack. Many of the attackers were armed with samurai swords.
“I was scared,” said Mailloux, then a 20-year-old corporal. “When you hear that screaming — ‘banzai’ — who wouldn’t be?”
The 105th’s positions were overrun. Firing their rifles until they ran out of ammunition and their machine guns until the barrels overheated, the Americans fell back as the attack became a running street brawl. They set up a second perimeter along the beach and, with their backs to the water, fought for hours before the attackers were all but annihilated.
Mailloux was stabbed in the thigh by a Japanese officer wielding a long knife. Unable to move, he lay in a ditch for hours before Sidur, a 26-year-old sergeant also from Cohoes, found him in a ditch.
“I didn’t know who it was,” Sidur said. “I just thought, ‘Boy, he looks familiar.’”