(Archive - Week of August 8, 2004)
The battle of Okinawa and the end of War War II
American troops invaded the island of Okinawa at 0830, April 1, 1945. Some of us U.S. Marines referred to it as "April Fool's Day." Some of us realized it was Easter Sunday even though we did not attend church. Our weapons were loaded. The targets were aimed at the hearts of the Japanese armed forces.
Of all the islands occupied by the Japanese military that I had previously engaged in fighting over a period of two years, Okinawa was the largest in size and had the most Japanese soldiers. It was also the largest major amphibious campaign of World War II. And it was the last island-hopping that was planned before we invaded mainland Japan.
Many Americans have no idea where Okinawa is located. As a young U.S. Marine from the village of Barnesville, Lawrence County, Tenn., who had graduated from the eighth-grade of the two-room country school and now a member of the 1st Marine Division, I had not heard of it myself until Tokyo Rose informed us in March via short-wave radio that we were to invade Okinawa in April. She was absolutely right.
World War II, Tokyo Rose, an American citizen, working for the Japanese government as an English speaking Tokyo radio broadcaster was the Vietnam Jane Fonda. Our command had a policy of not telling the troops where we were going to attack next for fear that the Japanese would learn of it. The Japanese had excellent intelligence throughout the islands. Somehow, they knew when we were coming, where we were going, but they could not stop us.
Okinawa, is the largest island of the Ryukyu Islands in the Pacific, southwest of Japan. It's about 60 miles long and from two to eighteen miles wide. It's surrounded by a coral reef, as are most islands in the Pacific. A 1,500 feet ridge rises in mountains of the North. The southern portion of the island contained the bulk of the civilian population.
In Europe, the Allied troops were in the short-strokes of victory and V-E Day was later celebrated by them and the American people in the states on May 8, 1945. But for those of us that were fighting the Japanese, it was just another day in the trenches on the island of Okinawa, infected with more than a hundred thousand Japanese that would prefer to die rather than surrender.
The 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions, backed by Navy ships, had secured the island of Iwo Jima. The very name of Iwo Jima means Sulphur Island, and brimstone fumes hung over its cave-pocked crags and slopes of volcanic ash like the perfume of perdition. Much of the soil was hot to the touch, and it had 21,000 Japanese troops determined to defend it.
The Marine Corps now had six infantry divisions for the first time in its long history, and half of those divisions were to assault the Japanese defense of Okinawa. They were 1st, 2nd and 6th Marine divisions. This was a force to be reckoned with -- more than 50,000 combat Infantry Marines. The 6th Marine Division was fighting as a division for the first time. However, it was made up of veterans of other divisions that had been injured in previous battles and had returned to fight again. But the majority of the Marines were non-veterans, fighting in a battle of combat for the first time. They were replacement for those veterans that were killed or injured or had rotated home.
Also assigned for the invasion of Okinawa, was the Tenth U.S. Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. The Tenth Army consisted of 7th, 27th, and 96th Infantry Division. Of course, we had Marine, Navy and Army Air Corps air support and many small supporting units assigned to us. And we also had the mighty U.S. war ships offshore who were busy shooting the Japanese planes out of the sky and the war ships big guns pounding away with at the enemy held positions. Our Naval guns and Marine/Navy aircraft gave the enemy thousands of Easter eggs. And American pilots did their part in air-to-air combat in shooting the Japanese planes out of the sky. Some pilots became "ACE's" -- shooting five or more enemy planes down.
My First Marine Division had many young Marines that were fighting for the first time. They were assigned to my division to replace the thousands that we lost in securing the island of Peleliu, in the fall of '44. However, after the first shot was fired on Okinawa, they were veterans and they fought like veterans.
For the U.S. Army troops, amphibious landing was new to them. And fighting the Japanese at close-range was different from fighting the Germans at long-range. But we all had one thing in our favor. The war was over in Europe and our government could now support us jungle fighters 100 percent with logistic supplies. Up to that point, we were thought of as the boys in the back room. We had to make do with what we had.
The 1st and 6th Marine divisions, led by III Marine Amphibious Corps Maj. Gen. Roy S. Geiger, landed on the western beach near Kadena Airport, and we reached the east coast in one day. We then headed north over the mountainous end of Okinawa. Maj. Gen. John R. Hodge, made up of the 7th and 96th Army Infantry division, headed south, thereby leaving their 27th Infantry afloat in reserve.
The invasion went well. It was well planned. Not like the planning that went into Peleliu on Sept. 15, 1944, which was a disaster. Peleliu planning had to be done by morons. Early on "D" Day, and before "H" hour of 0830, on the invasion of Okinawa, the 2nd Marine Division conducted an elaborate, full-scale fake landing on the southeastern beaches. They came right up to the beaches, and then pulled back to the ships in reserve. It fooled the Japanese military to the point that they moved most of their army to the southeastern location. In the meantime, the 1st and the 6th Marine Divisions came ashore without too much difficultly. At the same time, the Army two Infantry divisions (7th and 96th) also followed suit. This was only a good beginning, however; the heavy lifting followed.
The Marines secured the northern part of the island in about three weeks, but the divisions of the 10th Army to the south were being pushed around, stopped and overrun by the Japanese. They had already called in their reserve, the 27th Division. They were unable to take Shuri Castle and the capital city of Naha.
The 27th Army Division had lost so many men that they were no longer effective. The 2nd Marine Division that were waiting in reserve was called into action and portions of all three Marine divisions were in the battle to the south. Some of the U.S. army units were sent to the rear to rest and regroup. The Marines continued to attack and counterattack.
The battle continued and each day the Japanese lost more turf and solders. Lives were lost on both sides, but more Japanese military were killed who had rather die than to surrender. We captured Shuri Castle and went through the capital city of Naha, like Sherman went through Atlanta. But it was no cake walk. History provides the detail that the island of Okinawa was secured by the American armed forces a few weeks before the first Atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasski, Japan, in the second week of August 1945.
The war was over, but those of us that had been in the Pacific islands fighting the Japanese for three years with no rest or liberty, did not celebrate. We still had to defend ourselves as many Japanese hiding out in the hills and caves were not aware that Japan had surrendered.
We still had a job assignment. My first Marine Division was ordered to North China, to round up all the Japanese soldiers and Japanese civilians that had occupied most of China since the '30s. The elected leader President Chiang Kai-shek, Republic of China, troops were driven to south China, and it required six months for his troops on foot to reach north China, and take over the job we were doing for them.
Important events that occurred from April to August 1945:
* On April 13 (April 12 in the States), we learned of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Vice President Harry S. Truman was sworn in as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and President of the United States.
* Ernest ("Ernie") Pyle, age 45, famous U.S. war correspondent and journalist was killed on the U.S. army front-lines of one of the small islands of the Ryukyu group of Okinawa, by a Japanese machine gunner during the Okinawa campaign. During World War II, Ernie covered the day-to-day tributes to the U.S. Army military personnel who bore the brunt of the fighting in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France. Unfortunately, since Mr. Pyle did not come to the Pacific war until after V-E Day, and as far as I know, he never got to see and cover the United States Marines in action.
* Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., was killed by an incoming Japanese shell while he was inspecting his troops in combat. Marine Maj. Gen. Roy S. Geiger took command of the U.S. 10th Army, and this may be the first time in history a Marine commanded an Army.
* Noah H. Belew celebrated his last teen-age birthday on Aug. 11. No cake -- no party.
* The Atomic Bomb was developed by the United States. In early August, one was dropped on Hiroshma, Japan, and a few days later, another one was dropped on Nagassli, Japan. Emperor Hirohito made a decision to surrender and on Aug. 15, We were ordered to stop offensive operations against Japan. The formal surrender ceremonies aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay did not take place until Sept. 2, 1945. World War II ended. Unfortunately, it's the last major war the United States has won.
This U.S. Marine retired veteran from the hills of Lawrence County, Tennessee, feels some accomplishment. My 1st Marine Division engaged in the "first" offensive land battle of World War II on the island of Guadalcanal on Aug. 7, 1942 -- went on and invaded and secured other Japanese military infected islands and was a big part in winning the battle of Okinawa, in 1945 -- the "last" battle of World War II. I also survived again in the early '50s fighting the North Koreans and Chinese in the Korean War. My commanding officer was Lewis B. (Chesty) Puller, the greatest warrior of the United States Marine Corps.
Returning by ship to San Diego -- no band -- no red carpet. I was still only 19 years old, not old enough to buy a beer, nor was I old enough to vote.
Upon returning home: When I got off the Greyhound bus near where my mother and sister lived in the old log house in Tennessee, which had no electricity, running water, radio or telephone, etc., I had to walk the last five miles down the old dirt road carrying my sea-bag. Motor vehicles passed me, but would not stop to give me a lift even though I was wearing my Marine Corps uniform. This all happened over a half century ago and it's like "live action" in my terrible nightmares each and every night.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his campaign speech in Boston, Mass., Oct. 30, 1940, "And while I am talking to you mothers and fathers, I give you one more assurance. I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars."
At that time, Oct. 30, 1940, our president whose leadership guided us to recovery from the Great Depression that occurred while Republican Hubert Hoover was president, had no way of knowing that those yellow cowardly creatures were going to make a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
"Remember Pearl Harbor" was the motivator during World War II. In the Korean War it was only called a "Police Action," yet almost as many Americans were killed in only 3 years than were killed in the Vietnam War over a period of 10 years, which was about 58,287. The Korean War (Police Action) has now been called the "Forgotten War." Not many Americans can remember the date it started and when it ended. (June 25, 1950 - July 27, 1953). Unfortunately, these wars never end for many of us. We continue to fight them in our nightmares every night.
*Peleliu Reunion Reminder:
The First Marine Division invaded the island of Peleliu on
Sept. 15, 1944. The 2004 Peleliu reunion will be Sept. 15, 16 and 17 in Waco, Texas. The arrival date is Sept. 14 at the Hilton Hotel.
Reservations are to be made immediately - phone number is (254)-754-8484. Money for Entertainment, Hospitality Room, Banquet Room and Bus is $125.00 to be sent by Aug. 15. Call Robert Jones (254)-859-5398 for info on where to send the money. The host is Robert L. Jones, PO box 365, Eddy, Texas 76524-0365 phone number for Jones is 254-859-5398.
Contact Noah at:
* Noah's ARKives