On the evening of May 28th, an American reconnaissance patrol crept towards a Japanese encampment to investigate an uncharacteristic noise. As they silently peered over the final ridge, the patrol was astonished to see a large assemblage of Japanese soldiers, many of whom were jumping in place, screaming at the top of their lungs and guzzling bottles of sake. The comical impression soon faded as the patrol realized the enormity of what they were seeing. The frenzied Japanese soldiers were helping their wounded commit ritual suicide, either through morphine injections or self-inflicted gun shots. It was the portent of an abrupt and horrific conclusion to the Battle of Attu.
At the crest of the hill, the 50th Engineers woke to the sound of distant gunfire and eerie screams. Most stumbled half-asleep to the edge of the ridge, peered down into the thick fog and listened keenly to the confusing sounds. Suddenly, a terrified infantryman broke out of the fog screaming “the Japs are coming…thousands of em!” The engineers stood for a brief moment in disbelief, then turned and made a furious dash to their tents to gather their M-1’s and helmets. Within moments the engineers had taken shoulder-to-shoulder positions across the crest of the ridge and were staring intently into the 30-foot visibility of the dawn fog. All thoughts of the bone-chilling cold had vanished. There were excited shouts of encouragement and nervous, whispered prayers.
With great discipline the engineers held their fire as still more dazed infantrymen and medics came scrambling to the top of the ridge. Then from deep in the fog came a high-pitched scream, followed by 800 manic Japanese soldiers charging forward with fixed bayonets. The speed of the Japanese attack allowed very little time to accurately select and fix a target. Most of the engineers managed to fire one or two rounds before the Japanese were upon them. Rather than retreat and abandon their critical position, however, the engineers sprang to their feet and met the onrushing Japanese with fists, rifle butts and bayonets. Fueled by adrenaline and the knowledge that they were fighting for their lives, the outnumbered engineers somehow managed to beat back the frenzied attackers. After a brief but savage hand-to-hand melee, the Japanese attack withered and fell back into the fog.
As the shaken engineers gathered their breath, the exhausted Japanese fell back to the captured American field hospital. Any thoughts of pursuing the Japanese were discouraged by the still dense fog that provided a perfect screen for their retreat. After a brief rest and with no other option except unthinkable surrender, Col. Yamasaki led one last desperate charge against the engineer position. This time, knowing the source of the frenzied scream and reinforced by displaced infantry and members of the 13th Engineers who had rushed to join the fray from their base camp on the opposite side of the ridge, the engineers opened up with their full firepower before the Japanese ever broke out of the fog. Few Japanese soldiers would reach the crest on this final charge. Col. Yamasaki was killed while waving his sword over his head and urging his men forward.