Moving Southward

OkinawaMarineCave-1.jpgA marine takes cover on Okinawa

When we got down South we finally got into the fighting.  We were pretty well set up and hardly stayed in one location very long.  As we went to each new location we would pick up various items to make our life a little easier.  One being a sapling for a ridge pole for a tent so that we could sleep under cover, along with a forked pole at each end to hold up the ridge pole then we slid the tarp over that which made it fairly sizable, Eight or ten guys could all sleep under that pretty well, we slept on the ground, threw some brush down and slept in our ponchos.  The set up could be moved very quickly so when we were ready to move we would throw the ridge poles onto the truck and get moving again and set up again at the next location.  We got to do it pretty quickly and often.
One of the first tiffs we had going down South, we were set up and firing and had just stopped firing and we noticed four or five  of our fighter planes with rockets,  they were off to our left as we were in firing position and they were coming in on an angle.  They fired their rockets and made a pretty good explosion where they hit.  I looked at the angle of attack and knew that they must be hitting us behind our own lines, which is exactly what had happened.  They fired these rockets into a bunch of infantry guys, I think they were Marines and they were just coming back from the front lines for a break.  They were lying down on the ground and some standing around and I guess the pilots mistook them for Japanese and fired.  They either killed or wounded some of our own people.  At the same time after they fired their rockets they came toward us right over each of our guns and they must have realized what they had done.  They must have been embarrassed and sorry and off they went and we did hear later that some of the people near the front lines were wounded by that attack.  Somebody got hell for it!
I can’t remember the locations we were in but we moved fairly often always moving south which was a good sign.  I remember one position in particular where things seemed to happen.  It all started out when we were positioned about two or three hundred yards off of the ocean heading south.  The guns were in place and the tractors had come in and dug revetments for us.  They went around a little circle, and piled up dirt around us so that we had protection on the ground.  We had a camouflage net over the gun and our ammo was stacked inside that abutment and there was a road close to us.
One day in the afternoon we saw this big cavalcade coming down the road it turned out to be the army artillery and they turned in back of us about three or four hundred  yards and set up their 230mm cannons.  They were on carriages and they had huge trucks to carry these things.  So that when they set them in place they had to jack them up and level them up and that took them at least two days.  They worked on those guns shimmying them up to be level and get them ready to fire.  We went back there and talked to some of those guys and they had all the comforts of home including a galley with hot food and it was like they were on a training mission.  A 240mm is about a 9-1/2 “ diameter shell.  I don’t think we had ever seen anything that big.  Pretty soon they commenced to fire causing our aluminum mess gear, which was hanging up on the ridge pole, to rattle all over the place, the tent shook along with the ground.  Quite an experience!
A night or two later we started to get shelled by the Japanese artillery and we didn’t know what was coming off but we couldn’t fire back because it was night time and we didn’t know where they were.  We were told later that they had their guns in caves mounted on tracks.  They were not particularly big guns, probably 75’s or 80mm somewhere in there; but that’s enough to give a good account of a shell explosion and they were dropping right around us.  We were all scared and they were firing everyplace.
There were some batteries to our right and off a little ways in the distance and one of the shells had hit one of the guns in that battery.  We could see flames shooting up and we were getting constant shellfire.  Everybody laid flat on the ground and it just kept up and up and up.  There were clods of dirt coming up on top of us the camouflage nets almost came down.  We were shaken and truly scared because it felt that the next shell was going to come right in on us.
In the meantime our officers were trying to get a bearing on the Japanese artillery and what they did was, they could spot the flash of the gun and they timed that.  They knew the direction by compass or transit I suppose, from where we were and they could plot it out.  It was a flash and sound detection and they knew the speed of sound and they could then measure from the flash to the explosion about where they were.  Our guns were loaded up waiting to be fired.  Finally we got the word so we all clambered up and started to fire.  We must have gotten them because there was no more shellfire that night.
The next day or two later, Dick Beagle, came over and it turned out that his gun section had been hit that night.  A few of the people on his gun section had been wounded and hit in that shell burst and the ammo was on fire. Dick ran back inside and dragged a couple of guys out and they extinguished a lot of the fame and got the ammo out and for this Dick got the Silver Star.
I can’t begin to explain the kind of fear that you have under shell fire because it is permeating and it just shakes you to your bones because there is no way to get away you can’t do anything, just lie there useless.  As soon as we started to fire everyone got rid of their fears and did their job so it turned out pretty well.
A couple of nights later we got the word on our telephone that we should be especially aware that night because we got the word that there were some Japanese trying to get near the lines.  Their objective was our artillery.  It must have been very important to them as we were doing a lot of damage to them.  We kept our eyes open and during the night, almost toward dawn we heard a lot of firing down on the beach right angles to us.   As I said, about three hundred yards down, the landscape slipped on down to the beach.  We were not able to see but heard a lot of firing going on and then it quieted down.
Early the next morning at daybreak there was some more firing, after a while it quit. Karl Jahn, and I went down to have a look because it was so quiet.  What we saw was an amazing sight.  There must have been twenty Japanese in a long boat and I think they were probably rowing along the coast.  They were going to land right on the coast opposite us to try to get at us.  One of our Navy Destroyers spotted them and threw a searchlight on them and fired at the boat and pretty well shattered the thing.  The site that greeted us was the boat itself beached with three or four bodies lying inside, one had what looked like a direct hit into his abdomen because his entire midsection was cleaned out. There wasn’t anything left in his body that we could see.  It was a really gory sight we could see the rib cage and the spinal column. and all of that.
The others that had gotten out of the boat had run into a grove of thick bushes where they were hidden, a company of Marines had been sent down there to clean them out and check the boat and everything.  Apparently they came in and one of the Marines was killed because when we looked there was a helmet (our helmet) sitting there with a bullet hole right in the center so he was probably killed in that little action.  That must have alerted the rest of the guys because they came prepared with flame- throwers and as the Japs came popping out of the bushes they just mowed them down.  What Karl and I saw was a gory sight, probably the remainder of fifteen dead Japs, some roasted, they looked pretty awful.  All of them sprawled out in grotesque positions, running from the bushes.  A sight I’ll never forget.
As we stood there a couple of infantry guys came up with bayonets. One of them propped open a Jap's mouth and started to pry out a gold tooth. I just watched in amazement wondering what kind of a person would do that. But I guess that is part of the psychology of war in the infantry because I think you get sucked down into the depths and do things you wouldn’t normally do.