James Fee's Peleliu Project
August 21, 2005 12:02 PM   Subscribe

The Peleliu Project. The tiny Micronesian island of Peleliu was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. The U.S. invasion of the Japanese occupied island began in September of 1944, and was expected to last only a matter of days. Casualties on this 5 square mile island reached 20,000 by the end of the two-month struggle. U.S. soldiers were forced to pour aviation fuel into caves and ignite them in order to end the standoff of those who refused to surrender. One determined group of 34 Japanese soldiers remained in hiding until they were discovered in April of 1947.
Pharmacist Mate 3rd Class Russell Fee returned from Peleliu with a fierce, uncompromising vision of America which would have a profound impact on the life and work of his son. Fifty-three years later, armed with his father's snapshots and diary which he had just uncovered, James Fee went to Peleliu to see with his own eyes the place where his father's vision had taken shape. The result of his five year quest is The Peleliu Project. more inside
posted by matteo (13 comments total)
Russell Fee never spoke with his son about the battle. In 1972, he hanged himself.

From Russell Fee's diary:
"I spent the first day going from shore to ship with the wounded," Russell Fee wrote in his diary. "I saw a fellow without his legs. He and I played cards on board ship... it's funny to see these men on shore they sit next to dead men and eat."
James Fee's book about Peleliu.
posted by matteo at 12:05 PM on August 21, 2005

Some amazing photography. Thank you very much.
posted by brundlefly at 12:23 PM on August 21, 2005

Outstanding post matteo.

What an awful thing.
posted by three blind mice at 12:28 PM on August 21, 2005

Grandfather survived Peleliu, as a rifleman in the 7th Marines.

But he said Okinawa was worse. He joined the Marines later in life, age 32, in mid-1943 after my mom was born (sorta makes sense in the scheme of things).

Not many Marine infantrymen got through both battles without death or serious injury. It was a living hell for him that messed him up mentally for a very long time.

Didn't help matters that later it became conventional wisdom that the Peleliu battle was completely unnecessary; we didn't need that airfield and the Japanese couldn't really use it; but the plans had been made, the Marines were free, so in they were thrown.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:47 PM on August 21, 2005

Numerous books, several TV documentaries and lots of web pages have been produced about Peleliu. Here's additional info: Taking Peleliu necessary?
posted by X4ster at 12:59 PM on August 21, 2005

I was fortunate enough to see a travelling exhibition of these photos in San Diego a few years back. Seeing these photos enlarged and in person really added impact to them, and put the viewer face to face with the utter futility of the blood and anguish expended.

Great post Matteo.
posted by AspectRatio at 2:05 PM on August 21, 2005

American combat artist Tom Lea landed with the Marines at Peleliu, and his paintings Two-Thousand Yard Stare and The Price speak volumes:

Lying there in terror looking longingly up the slope to better cover, I saw a wounded man near me staggering in the direction of the LVTs. His face was half bloody pulp and the mangled shreds of what was left of an arm hung down like a stick, as he bent over in his stumbling, shock-crazy walk. The half of his face that was still human had the most terrifying look of abject patience I have ever seen. He fell behind me, in a red puddle on the white sand.

More accounts at Bloody Beaches: The Marines at Peleliu.
posted by cenoxo at 2:09 PM on August 21, 2005

Great post matteo. My father was there, although he didn't talk about it much.
posted by Daddio at 2:10 PM on August 21, 2005

Dad was an technical sergeant in the ETO, fixing big guns. For all of my life at home with him until he died, he rarely slept through the night -- I'd get up to pee, and down the hall in the kitchen at the table, I could see that cigarette coal glowing in the darkness. Toward the end of his life, he told me a few stories that I'm very glad I only heard.
posted by alumshubby at 5:25 PM on August 21, 2005

Eugene Sledge's account.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:02 PM on August 21, 2005

No content to add other than thanks Matteo for a great post.

My Uncle was there, and never talked about his experiences. Survived and ended up being a methodist minister, who was one of the most gentle men I've ever known, never raising his voice no matter how frustrated.
posted by pandaharma at 7:00 PM on August 21, 2005

Good post, and interesting images. I've always wondered if there are any similar information done by the "other side" in these battles, and attempt to link them together for a more complete picture?

It could be my inability to read Japanese I suppose
posted by lundman at 7:24 PM on August 21, 2005

I came across this exhibit on a random visit to the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego while I was visiting down there a couple years ago. Fee's pictures were blown up to the size of a wall in most cases. The snapshots were posted next to them. I found it extremely compelling, and looked at them for quite a long time. If anyone reading this is in Philadelphia or nearby, I'd urge you to go to the gallery in the link above and look at these pictures in real life - it's one of those things the web just cannot capture.
posted by matildaben at 12:31 PM on August 22, 2005

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