A Marine surveys the damage at Naha

Shuri Castle

We got orders to move that day up forward to a place called Shuri Castle, apparently there is an ancient castle there which I never saw; but our toughest battle area for the first Marine division and the division was assigned to take that area   It wasn’t simply the castle but the area around it.  We packed all of our gear into the truck and hooked up our guns and off we went.

It rained being the rainy season, the road got to be mud and sometime knee deep where you couldn’t get one foot out ahead of the other and it was just too hard to describe.  Trucks were getting stuck even the tanks had to be reequipped with wider treads to be able to move in the mud.  I think this area was the most depressing because the offensive to take Shuri Castle area had become a stale mate and every morning we would start out with the same thing, a big barrage which we would keep up for about a half hour or so, with very intense firing.  Our infantry would try to move up and they would be blown away and that lasted for a week or longer.

PICT5381.jpgTrucks stuck in the mud on Okinawa

At the end of an offensive at about three or four o’clock in the afternoon when we were given orders to start firing smoke we knew that the offensive had failed.  That went on day after day so it was very depressing.  The smoke was to put up a shield in front of our troops so they could pick up the wounded and bring them back.  The very most depressing sight I saw was a truck coming past us that had a canopy on it.  The back end of it from where we could see into the back of the truck was just piled high with our dead.  Their feet were all sticking out and wobbling around as the truck went by.  A gruesome sight and it really made you think.
 
I always felt sorry for the infantry because they were having a tough time and I sometime felt guilty for not being with them; but I guess I was lucky when I look back.  On the guilt thing, at one point it was heartening because there was a company of Marines coming back for a rest.  They all looked as if they had never slept in their lives, they were just utterly exhausted.  A couple of them would stop at the gun and give it a pat because I think that they realized that we were really helping them out and that we saved them on a few occasions so it was heartening.  The other guys sat around and we always had some coffee around which we gave them and maybe a cigarette and then off they went for a rest probably to return in a few days.
 
I think Shuri Castle lasted probably two weeks; but the Japanese finally broke and we were in charge of the area. Some nights later, we were given orders to move to another position it was to be done at night.  Again, we packed up our gear hooked up the guns, jumped in the truck.  There were probably eight or ten of us in the truck and we started out at night going down the roads.  The rains had subsided and it was reasonably dry now as we were headed toward the capitol city of Naha. 
 
We traveled at a slow pace at night with no headlights and it seemed like a long excruciating trip because of the slow pace. At one point, at about one o’clock in the morning we came to a wooden bridge where we slowed down because there was somebody out there, maybe one of the officers or NCO’s with a tiny flash light.  Accordingly, the trucks put on their real low beams that made it barely possible to see the bridge.  Even with this little amount of light you could also see that the bridge was in semi decrepit condition because a lot of the cross boards were broken, the only safe way to go across the bridge was by these two beams that miraculously seemed to match the width of the wheels of our truck.  The truck drivers started across at intervals, one truck at a time.  The bridge was not terribly wide, probably about forty or fifty yards and the river wasn’t too deep; but it went out to the ocean.
 
We were told that on that little peninsula which stuck out to our right there was a Japanese gunner in a cave and he could blast us off that bridge if he was aware of what was going on.  Fortunately that didn’t happen but that was one of the tense moments of that trip.  We finally made it across, primarily due to the skill of the drivers.  It was slow and tedious and we all were tense because we didn’t know if we would make it.  Thankfully we did and a little while later we came into the city of Naha.
 
Naha was completely devastated. Everything had been blown apart. There was a full moon so everything looked like a ghost town because there was this gray dust settled on everything. There were bodies scattered here and there that hadn’t been picked up.  One, I recall was an old Okinawan woman who had been hit by a fallng wall and she looked like a pancake.  It was eye popping!  We went on through the town very quietly.  It was a ghostly convoy going through there.  We passed through Naha and went on further south and got into a position probably at three o’clock in the morning and Immediately set up our guns.
 
My gun, Number 1 gun, was on the right flank and there was a house about a hundred yards down the line just off the road right in front of my gun and when we registered to fire I had to look through the bore to see that it cleared the roof of the house.  By this time it was kind of late and we were dead tired from the ride and everything else so we all laid down to sleep on the ground and thought we’d be able to rest for a part of the morning.  That wasn’t the case.
 
We were awakened at 6 o’clock in the morning after about an hours sleep and it was a fire mission.  We proceeded to fire a few rounds and then quit. That morning we were waiting around for the next fire mission and up ahead at the house we heard this explosion, it was fairly loud.  All of us from our section ran up to the house and here were two Marine infantrymen.  One was laying flat on his face and as I looked I was horrified. He must have had fifty holes along his entire back.  I don’t know if he was alive or dead but they were all from hand grenade fragments, those little half- inch squares of steel that caught him in the back.  We had no idea how it happened right at the moment. 

The other guy was lying down, his leg was split right down the middle on the backside and there was no blood because it looked like it had been cauterized from the explosion.  We immediately started yelling for the corpsman and our two corpsmen came up with their chest full of medical supplies.  I remember lighting a cigarette for one of the wounded guys who seemed to be in a state of shock but; he took the cigarette, sat there in a kind of a daze smoking.  Our corpsman cut off his pant leg and poured sulfur along the whole wound.  Someone had called for a jeep ambulance and in about   five or ten minutes there was the jeep ambulance and both these guys were loaded onto stretchers onto the jeep and taken back to the rear.

I don’t know what ever happened to them.  I am pretty sure that the guy with all the grenade fragments was probably dead by the time they got to the hospital because he had a greenish color—not a great thing to see. At first we thought that they had maybe gone into the house and hit a booby trap but from the few things that the fellow with the split leg had said it sounded as if a grenade which they normally hung on their belts had come loose and they had both tried to dive out of the effect of the grenade and hadn’t quite made it.  That set up the day for us. It was a situation I’ll never forget.

I think it was in this position that a short distance away we found what looked like a quarter master depot for the Japanese.  There were supplies all over the place.  They weren’t anything to brag about; but there were maybe twenty five cases which contained leather saddles they were very nice saddles and a couple of guys said,  “I’m taking one and mailing one of these home.” A lot of these fellas came from places like Texas where they had owned horses; but I don’t know if they actually did what they said they  would do, although they were beautiful new leather saddles, a real temptation to own.

A funny thing happened while we were standing there. We looked up and there was a girl on horseback, an Okinawan girl, and what was strange was that she was wearing a tee shirt on which was printed “University of Hawaii”.  She talked to us in English and said, “Hi, how are you guys doing, etc,.”

After chatting for a few minutes we speculated whether she was a spy or whether she had really gone to the University of Hawaii, she spoke in good English and that was as far as we found out about her.   She turned around and rode off and that was the end of that story.

I want to correct something I said earlier about the landscape.  It really wasn’t flat, maybe it was where we landed; but generally speaking the entire highland was very hilly.  There were forests and some of the hills were coral like and other areas were pretty fair farmland.  The farmland was set up in patches as most of the oriental countries are. It stepped down to take advantage of taking the maximum advantage of the use of the land for whatever they grew.  Sometime there were flat areas that had rice or some sort of grain growing on them.  I wanted to make that correction.

We had occasional leisure moments when we weren’t firing but generally it was always a fire mission or sometime a whole lot of them during the day.  Not generally at night but sometime we did have them at night.  One of the times I recall, we had a kind of a tense moment.  We were getting orders to bring our gun level down to zero which meant firing by sight instead of the aiming stakes and to load up with canisters and to have our small arms ready.  It sounded pretty much like there had been a banzai attack or one was in progress and if they broke through we would have to handle them.  We had everything primed and ready and waited for about a half hour and then again we lucked out and were told to unload and forget about it.  We went back to our standard firing conditions.

When we weren’t firing we would take the time to take care of our weapons and our 105’s, cleaned them and oiled them so they were ready to fire again.  We took very good care of our equipment and kept everything in good shape.

A couple of fellas in our gun section managed to pick up a couple of chickens.  I forget whether they were a rooster or hens but they were a cantankerous lot.  We kept them though because periodically one would lay an egg and then one of us would get a chance to enjoy an egg - probably about one every other week.  That was kind of fun. Our good fortune of being in the artillery was that we always had loose powder bags that were left over from the shell casings and we would drive in three steel rods from the ammunition packages and throw some of this powder into the bottom of the bags light them and have an instant fire. You could keep it going indefinitely because we had a tremendous amount of this gunpowder.

By this time when we loaded the truck we looked like a caravan of gypsies because the truck was full of all sorts of boards and anything we could pick up and the chickens, so we were a motely group sitting on the truck pulling the gun behind us.  We knew it was a temporary combat condition and nobody said anything but we certainly didn’t look like a well- trained bunch of Marines coming down the road.

We moved further south again, I think this was the last position we were finally in.  The Japanese had been pushed further and further south until they were confined to the southern most side of the island.  We were being used less and less for support so that we had a little more leisure time.  At one point I remember, Capt. Crotinger was taking some of us up the side of the hill for patrol.  Apparently there were sightings of stragglers of Japanese soldiers. Neal Vincent, who always seemed to walk into some kind of problem, found a sleeping Japanese soldier lying under an outcropping of rock.  The guy was sleeping and Neal woke him up and shot him and took his revolver as a souvenir, I guess.  In Neal’s favor, he had a dreadful hate of the Japanese, his brother had been killed in the Navy in Pearl Harbor, so I think he was bound for revenge and seemed to come upon these situations at odd intervals.

There were a couple of more stories I’ll tell about Neal one of which is at another time, Ken Smith and Neal went out I think for a little bit of scavenging and souvenir hunting and they happened to be walking down a narrow road and ran into a Japanese or Okinawan who had a kimono on and Neal was telling me that the guy looked too young to not be in the Japanese army or some sort of service so he stopped the guy, Ken and Neal both had rifles, and Neal tried to question him.  The Japanese looked at him very arrogantly. Neal took exception to that so he took his rifle butt and hit him across the face and the guys expression changed very quickly.  He made him open his kimono and sure enough there was a Japanese uniform underneath.  The guy gave Neal no more problem and they took him over to headquarters where he became a prisoner of war.  Surprise was that he didn’t have any grenades or anything.  Otherwise it was a dangerous thing to take a Japanese prisoner because they did not like to give up.

At this last position we were having a lot less to do than we used to, less fire missions.  There were very few so we were at odds as to what to do. We improvised and just let the days pass.  What we found out was that the Japanese had been pushed down to the south where some of them were trying to get through our lines and were trying to get back up north. They would come in small groups or as isolated individuals.

We redoubled our outpost and created one on the far flank not too far from our gun section but up front.  They asked for volunteers to man that post at night.  Having nothing better to do, I volunteered with Karl Jahn and of course, Neal Vincent.