Duane “Swede” Nelson served in the Marines from 1943 to February 1946, and he participated in some of the biggest and bloodiest battles of the Pacific theater. He kept three small diaries documenting his experiences. Here are some excerpts from the diary, covering time on ships and on various islands. The excerpts are unedited, and Nelson uses terms for Japanese soldiers that were common at the time, but he and his family emphasize that he never harbored antipathy toward the Japanese or others in later years.
Later, Nelson also was a longtime reservist in the Army, serving during the Korean War and eventually reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Mon March 27, 1944: Boarded ship at 9:30 am and pulled out at 3pm. The name of the ship is the SS Azalea made in Mobile, Alabama in 1943-just freshly painted, and a very nice ship. I set my watch ½ hour back.
Tues Apr 25: We are still out at the firing range. I wrote 2 letters while I was waiting to fire rapid fire. We finished at noon and went swimming and one fellow drowned.
Mon July 24: … We got up early and took off in the rain to fire the mortars. It sure was a mess but quite a bit of fun. We had gun drill today and while we were at chow Rodriquez shot himself. He died on the way to the hospital. I was on the firing squad that went over to Bentic to have a burial for Rodriquez. It rained most of the time we were going over and part of the afternoon. Got to see some Red Cross girls! We got 2 hours of liberty.
Mon Aug 7, 1944: We fired our carbines and spent the day at the range. I fired Raven’s pistol and didn’t do that bad. Bob Hope’s USO Show performed on a stage on our island and entertained all of us Marines. Other performers included Jerry Colonna, Patty Thomas and Francis Langford. They performed for 2 hours. They flew in by Piper Cub from Binika to the Russell Islands. Old Hope cracked some pretty dammed good jokes. Patty Thomas was built like a streamline train ready anytime to make fast speeds out of. When it was over Palmer and I dashed off to the plank and went along the beach until we got to where the planes were. We waited for them to drive and take off. We succeeded in getting their autographs: Hope, Langford and Thomas. I believe we were the only ones in the 1st Division that were lucky enough to get them.
Sat, Sept 16: We tried to go ashore (at Peleliu) late Friday the 15th but mortar fire was pretty heavy, so half of the fellows transferred to the L.S.T. for the night. Several wounded men were loaded onto our boat that night. Before chow I went upstairs to try to help with the wounded. They brought in a rack of 9 soldiers. When I reached out to help, I found that all 9 of them were dead. A cold shudder went over my body because they were like brothers to me. We got into the L.C.M. about 5:30 am and took off to find the rest of our group. We had to wade about 400 yards in the water up to our chest with mortar fire landing close.
Sun April 1, 1945 D Day: April 1st, Easter Sunday, April Fool’s Day and the invasion of Okinawa. Our landing met no resistance, not like Peleliu. … Last night we got a glimpse of Okinawa from the ship. We had a very wonderful breakfast: real fried eggs and some swell steak. Boy, I really ate heavy since it might be my last time I have plenty to eat. Along about 5:30 the battle wagons and cruisers started opening up. Some Racket! At 0610 I saw my first Jap plane shot down. Boy, they got him in a cross fire and then he burst into flames. He tried to crash into a ship, but the plane just landed in the water. … We landed on the wrong beach but it was a successful landing in the Amph. Quickly we got to our original beach and found the line company was way up at the airport. So we went up to where they were. We passed by some burial vaults that had been bombed open. These people buried the dead sitting up. After 3 years they take them out, cremate them, and put them in a little box. The first part of the morning was spent going through the village of Sobe. The funny part was that no one gave us any resistance at all. We reached the airfield at about 14:00. We caught, butchered and cooked a pig for our first meal. … Everybody was really tired, especially the fellows carrying the heavy Army type ammunition. Later this afternoon we went through the town of China. The villages look like the natives are just a wee bit more advantaged than the ones down at Guadalcanal. The place in general is very pretty country. Raven said it reminded him something of Kentucky. When they raise anything like barley, wheat, onions, parsnips, and sweet potatoes, they have a lot about 30’ square. The land has rolling hills and some nice valleys in which the gardens are. We stayed in a horseshoe shaped valley the first night. … The watch that night was Raven, Ski, Ronzino, me, Plebanic, Zito, and Molle. … At about 10:30 Raven and I hear something but never did see anything. Later on Stinette shot the Jap with his Tommy gun. The weather during the days is very nice and golly darn cold at night. The mosquitoes are really bad and Blasco Molle had his eyes swollen shut the next morning from them. What a sight he was.
May 3: … Today we moved to a position the men called the tombs. Before we can get the mortars ready to fire, we are hit and 4 more of our group are killed and 3 wounded.
May 5: Well things really started happening about 0400 this morning and we are near the sea. … The Nips made a landing about 2,000 yards from our position and all hell broke loose with machine guns, the destroyer and amphibians. We got our gear ready again and pulled out at about 4:30 to a place about 1,000 yards from the beach. We are still having heavy fire and it was rugged going. Getting close up you could see the tracers going every which way. At approximately 0600 we got shelled by Jap artillery. So many of their shells were duds and boy our fellows were sure thankful of that. …
June 21, 1945: The surrender of Okinawa.
August 6th and 8th: On August 6th and again on August 8th we hear of an atomic bomb being dropped on Japan. What this would mean none of us is sure.