A National Geographic Channel program airing Sunday, April 27, at 7 p.m. was made with assistance from the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs.
The program revisits July 7, 1944, when 4,000 Japanese soldiers launched the largest suicide charge of World War II against the New York National Guard’s 105th Infantry Regiment during the fight for the Island of Saipan. The program is part of National Geographic Channel’s Day Under Fire: WWII series.
The Military Museum provided the production team from Kurtis Productions with photographs, oral histories made by veterans of the 105th, a unit organized in New York’s Capital Region; and also put them in touch with survivors of the fight, said Michael Aikey, the museum’s director.
Two of those veterans, Troy residents Nick Grinaldo and Sammy Dinova, who joined the New York National Guard’s 27th Division together, are featured in the production.
In December, Grinaldo was awarded the New York State Conspicuous Service Star in recognition of the role he played in this pivotal World War II campaign.
The Battle for Saipan was one of the most decisive battles fought in the Pacific during World War II. The island, within bombing range of every valuable target on Japan, was key to an American victory in the Pacific.
`Day Under Fire: WWII` begins three weeks into the battle on July 6. By that time, all indications are that the Americans are within reach of taking control. The Japanese Army of 30,000 soldiers has been reduced to a few thousand, at most.
On that night, the First Battalion of 105th Infantry Regiment under the command of Lt. Col. William O’Brien of Troy is dug in at the north end of the island. Among those on the front lines are Staff Sgt. Grinaldo and PFC Dinova, childhood friends from Troy.
In the early hours of the morning, the men wake to the sound of screaming as thousands of Japanese soldiers begin the charge.
For the following 12 hours the Americans try to hold a position, but are eventually pushed to the beach with their backs to the sea.
As the wounded become targets of the Japanese, the Americans go to great lengths to leave no one behind. When Dinova is wounded and unable to move, Grinaldo, also wounded, runs under enemy fire to pull his lifelong friend to safety. Sgt. Felix Giuffre from Brooklyn is shot four times. At one point, as he attempts to escape the attack, he crawls into a minefield. He is also rescued by one of his men who rushes in among the mines to carry Giuffre out.
Finally, in the late afternoon, amphibious landing vehicles known as Alligators come to rescue the surviving Americans. The Battle for Saipan is over. Later, three members of the 105th Regiment, including O’Brien who was killed, receive the Congressional Medal of Honor as a result of their heroism in the attack on Saipan.
The `Day Under Fire` series is produced for the National Geographic Channel by Kurtis Productions. Bill Kurtis and Donna LaPietra are the executive producers. Molly Bedell is the producer. James Mulcock is the associate producer. The re-creations were coordinated and directed by Wide Awake Films. For National Geographic Channel, the executive producer in Noah Morowitz.
The New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center’s role is to preserve, interpret and disseminate the story, history and records of New York State’s military forces and veterans. The collection, whose origins date back to 1863 during the Civil War, is housed in an armory built in 1889 in the resort town of Saratoga Springs. The museum houses more than 10,000 artifacts ranging from weapons, to historic documents and uniforms. The museum also collects video and oral histories of New York veterans.“