WWII veteran from family of Marines recalls battles
By MARK ANDERSEN | Rapid City Journal | Associated Press | Published: September 21, 2019
RAPID CITY, S.D. — Haunting images float unexpectedly into Loyd Brandt's personal, matter-of-fact chronology of World War II.
Fear of the unknown might be worse. Brandt paddled toward Japanese soldiers — both real and imaginary — waiting on 55 blackened beaches. Shadowy glimpses of dark jungle behind the sand shown atop the rolling midnight surf.
Wartime reunions or near-reunions with Loyd's many Brandt brothers provide a kind of mortar for these martial tales, juxtaposing family with war. Six of seven Brandt brothers from South Dakota served with the Marines in the South Pacific — five after Pearl Harbor. One died there. Another survived his severe wounds to reach old age.
For Loyd, 93, pride in his life-saving recon missions sometimes washes into remembrances like those of touching sand-covered dead on Iwo Jima. Some nights, those memories still sail uninvited across the intervening decades.
Wartime photographs of Loyd show a man — almost a boy — smiling among shirtless comrades. He came home at war's end to marry his childhood girlfriend and eventually became the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology electrician. The couple live today at Alps Park Apartments in Rapid City, near the gap.
Loyd wants his neighbors to know what he accomplished as a young man.
Brandt's youthful face was one of the first 18 former combatants to appear on the veterans memorial banners that have annually decorated downtown Rapid City in autumn since 2017. An additional 72 combat veterans' faces joined them last year, and at least 144 faces will soon stand guard over city streets until Veteran's Day on Nov. 11, said William "Bill" Casper of the Veteran's Honor Banner Project.
"There's lots of great stories on the banners," Casper said.
Few stories could exemplify military courage and sacrifice better than Brandt's, who landed on 55 islands, fought in five major battles and spent 22 days on Iwo Jima.
Loyd and his twin brother, Lester — the tail ends of 11 farm siblings from tiny Hamill, near Winner — joined the Marines together at age 17. Flu separated Loyd from his twin following infantry training. After Lester shipped out for Samoa with the 22nd Marines, Loyd, a mortar man, joined some friends in answering a bulletin board notice seeking Marines with special weapons skills for amphibious reconnaissance.
"We didn't know what we were getting into," Loyd told the Rapid City Journal.
His 100-man company would slip into 10-man rubber boats on the eve of battle to assess terrain, water conditions and enemy strength. Operations began in blackness and amid uncertainty. A landing craft towed the rubber boats, lashed together, to within 1,000 yards of a beach. Several Marines who couldn't hold on in high surf were lost.
Sometimes only a few Japanese were waiting onshore. Sometimes more.
Between recon missions, the company hooked up with other Marines who were killing and dying in jungles and on beaches, moving ever closer toward Japan.
Loyd took every opportunity to connect with his brothers between 1943 and 1945. Loyd barely missed hooking up with Lester when his company linked with the 22nd Marines on Eniwetok Atoll.
"Does anybody know Lester Brandt," he'd asked in the rear area during a break from fighting.
"I know Les," said somebody, but the war resumed before a meeting occurred.
Older brother Herbert was badly wounded in the shoulder on Kwajalein Atoll. Loyd and Herbert met up in Pearl Harbor during liberty some months later to share "zombies" at a bar. Herbert's shoulder was still draining then.
Herb was more than a brother. Their father had years earlier separated from their mother, and the family was dirt poor, even by Great Depression standards. The kids would leave as they grew old enough. Loyd and his mother were living off the county when Herbert sent them money to join him in California.
Herbert was more of a surrogate father, Loyd said.
Loyd was on Saipan a few months after his farewell drink with Herbert when he learned the 4th and 2nd Marines were nearby.
Loyd sought leave to visit Herbert after he was pulled off the line.
"Sorry," said a member of Herb's platoon after Loyd identified himself. "Herb was killed several days ago on July 4."
When Herbert died, Loyd said, "I lost quite a bit."
He doesn't dwell on the details.
On Susan Shima, a small island defending the main approach to Okinawa, Loyd's company ran into its biggest recon surprise of the war.
Resistance included a couple of Japanese machine gun positions, which killed two military dogs and their handlers. Two more dog-handler pairs died from mortar fire.
"It was mortars at will," Loyd recalled, or fire them anywhere. It was chaos. "They killed quite a few of us."
The company managed to capture a Japanese soldier, who informed them they were outnumbered 25 to one. Returning to the boats, the survivors found three of them destroyed. They left their dead and distributed the wounded among the remaining boats.
Iwo Jima could have been the worst recon mission, but the task was cancelled when submarine photos revealed many bad things awaited Marines there.
Loyd's company remained offshore for the first couple days, watching shells clobber decoy ships — towed to reveal the location of enemy cannons. A good friend aboard a nearby ship died when a Japanese Betty let loose two 500-pound bombs.
Loyd landed on the beach during the third night of the invasion, spending an uncomfortable night in a sand foxhole. Near morning, trying to make himself comfortable, his hand brushed against a Marine uniform beneath the sand. Pushing away more sand away, he found the Marine who had worn the uniform beneath him.
Loyd's twin brother Lester took a round in the midsection on Okinawa. The bullet hit the ammunition clip on Lester's BAR — Browning Automatic Rifle — pushing its bullets into his spleen and kidney. Lester survived and lived until age 90.
The recon of Tinian was the proudest achievement for Loyd's company. The island's only apparent landing beach was overlooked by heights commanded by Japanese artillery. Loyd's company commander spied an alternative, assessed it and overcame resistance from the admiralty to make it the landing site. The Marines landed unopposed.
"At least 500 lives were saved by that op," Loyd said. "But you never hear anything about it."
More and more, Casper noted, there are fewer and fewer around who can tell the stories.