When military history author Bill Sloan sought inspiration for his new book on World War II in the Pacific, he found it in a then-96-year-old combat veteran from upstate New York who survived one of the war's bloodiest battles.
John Sidur rescued two hometown buddies during Japan's largest banzai attack of the war, near the end of the Battle of Saipan in July 1945. Sidur's Army regiment, part of the New York National Guard, was nearly wiped out in the attack.
"If one person could be identified as the reason I wrote this book, John Sidur of Cohoes, New York, is that person," writes Sloan at the end of "Their Backs Against The Sea: The Battle of Saipan and the Largest Banzai Attack of World War II."
The book, being published this month by Da Capo Press, tells the story of the fight for Saipan in the Mariana Islands that began June 15, 1944. The latest in a series of American island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific drew less attention back home because it started just nine days after the D-Day landings at Normandy.
The U.S. plan had the Marines landing two divisions, with the Army's 27th Infantry Division held in reserve. But as the Marines met tough resistance from the 30,000 Japanese defending the island, the mostly inexperienced troops of the 27th Division were sent in on June 17. It was the first time in the war that Army and Marine divisions would go into a campaign fighting side-by-side at division strength. Problems between the services began nearly from the start.
"The Marines thought the Army was cautious, too slow, too plodding," said Tom Kelly, professor emeritus of history and American studies at Siena College. "
For his Saipan book, Dallas-based Sloan researched official U.S. combat reports, including a trove of 27th Division documents at the New York State Military Museum. The lone 27th Division member he interviewed was Sidur, who lived near Albany before his death in 2015.
At dawn on July 7, 1944, more than 4,000 Japanese launched a banzai attack against the division's 105th Infantry Regiment. Outnumbered by more than 3-to-1, many of the Americans died in their foxholes. Survivors of the initial onslaught were driven back to the beach, where they literally fought with their backs to the ocean while annihilating the Japanese attackers.
When it was over, more than 400 American soldiers were dead and another 500 wounded. Two days later, Saipan was declared secure.
Among the casualties were scores of New Yorkers, including two from Troy who would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The wounded included two soldiers from Cohoes rescued by Sidur. One of them, Wilfred "Spike" Mailloux, remained close with Sidur after the war, and the two veterans met for breakfast once a month until Sidur's death.
"I sit in my chair and think about it all the time," said Mailloux, 93, one of the last living survivors of the attack that left him with a severe leg wound. "I miss my buddies."