Michael A. Lazaro's Story


Michael arrived at Peleliu on September 15, 1944 via the USS Fayette. Unlike Cape Gloucester, the landing was strongly opposed, resulting in significant casualties. As a Marine Pioneer, Michael would have been part of the shore party and therefore would have participated in the first few waves of Marines. Those waves were met with the most resistance.

Although the Navy shelled the island for three days prior to the invasion, it did not silence the opposition. The Marines used Amtrac vehicles to ride over the reefs at Peleliu. The Japanese had zeroed in their mortars and damaged or sunk dozens of vehicles before they could reach shore. There was a shortage of Amtracs due to Japanese action. There were many casualties and the Marines first day objectives were not met.

Once the Marines were on the beach, there was very little cover. The Marines only protection was to follow their tanks as closely as possible. The island was home to an intricate cave system. Often, the Marines would think that they had sealed off a cave exit and would use flame throwers against the cave entrance, only to find that the Japanese had escaped via another route.

At this point in the war, the Japanese had given up their banzai strategy and had decided to inflict the highest possible casualties by defensive action. Peleliu's geography was an excellent foil for that strategy. By October 5, only the 5th Marine regiment remained in action. All available support personnel were pressed into infantry service, including Marine Pioneers. Michael was one of them. He would have participated in "mopping up" exercises in an effort to gain control over the island.

After almost 30 days surviving on the island, on October 14 Michael was killed while participating in a battle on Bloody Nose Ridge. According to a fellow Marine, a Japanese bullet struck Michael's phosphorus grenade. The grenade exploded while still attached to Michael's belt. Michael tried to get up and run, and in doing so, fell into a ravine. Most likely, Michael died from the grenade explosion before hitting the bottom of the ravine. According to the eyewitness, they were unable to retrieve the body due to the location in the ravine. However, the family received the dog tag, so there is some suggestion that the body was eventually recovered. There is no record of a burial, and officially Michael's body is listed as missing.

The Army relieved the Marines the day after Michael died. It took the Army another 42 days to completely silence the Japanese at the additional cost of 110 more lives. Over 11,000 Japanese died on Peleliu.

Peleliu was assaulted to protect the Philippine invasion. However, the Philippine battle was over and won well before the action on Peleliu finally ended.

Marines landing on Peleliu
Marines landing on Beaches White 1 and 2 on Peleliu, September 15, 1944. Michael would have been part of the first few waves. (National Archives, Deptartmemt of Defense, USN #283745)
Maines taking shelter behind an LVT on the Peleliu beachead
Maines taking shelter behind an LVT on the Peleliu beachead. (National Archives, Deptartmemt of Defense, USMC #95253)
Aftermath of the battle.
Aftermath of the battle. It was customary to bury the dead on the beach, but the bodies were removed later. (National Archives, Deptartmemt of Defense, USMC #96989)

After Michael's Death

In addition to the Purple Heart, Uncle Mike received the Presidential Unit Citation with one star that was awarded the 1st Marine Division for action on Peleliu. He also received the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal.

Michael's name is listed along with 36,281 other missing veterans on rectangular piers within the Manila Cemetery in the Philippines. His family has also obtained a headstone for him at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois.

The words "Peleliu" were engraved so that people would become aware of this forgotten battle.

purple heart medal
Michael's Purple Heart
Michael's marker at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery
Michael's marker at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery