The Okinawa Beachhead

Into The Fire

At about 4:30 or 5:00 o’clock in the morning of D-Day the horns started to go off on the ship and it was general quarters, which meant that all the sailors had to be at their posts, guns and machine guns and whatever they were assigned to.  I got up with all the others, since I was and NCO I was down below deck in one of those tight quarters with hanging bunks.  I rolled out and got my pack and everything together and went on up topside to go to breakfast and get ready to go ashore.  We stood in line and went through the galley and had a great breakfast that was usual fare for the Navy with great coffee.  We ate and went back down below after breakfast and got our gear and went topside through a small hatch.  Just as I came up through the hatch the three or five inch gun close to the bow was firing it gave me a terrific muzzle blast.  It was painful as heck but; I climbed out and there were a bunch of us standing on deck watching the landing taking place.

As we looked around us it looked like the biggest assembly of ships that I had ever seen.  It was just amazing.  There was every conceivable ship as far as you could see on the horizon.  I think there is an account somewhere in the books but; it was a phenomenal task force. I think that some of the ships had come over from the European theater and were being used in the Pacific so that’s what accounted for the size and number of all the ships.   You could see boats heading in for shore and the CEE Bee’s with barges.  Our infantry probably was already on shore moving in.
One more thing that was very exciting was that all of a sudden out on our right side about twelve Kamakazi planes came streaking in.   They broke formation and headed for our ship but; instead hit a converted carrier. I was thankful that they didn’t try to get us.  A lot of the planes fell into the ocean some of them were hit by our naval twenty mm gunfire.  I did see one or two hits but you couldn’t see how much damage they had done..  The one hit was on the converted carrier I mentioned, the gunfire had gone right through the deck and had left a huge gaping hole with billowing smoke coming out of it.
When it was time for us to get ready to go below we did and got into our amphibious DUKWs.  Our 105’s were in each DUKW and again the jaws opened up and we started to move out to the ocean down the ramp.  They had let us out about ten miles from the shore to avoid any of the ships being hit by gunfire from the shore.      
There we were In the dark, heading out through the jaws and down the ramp  out into the ocean.  There was a moment of tension as we watched the bow of the duck dip down below the surface of the ocean for a little way.  We did not know if we were going to go down or go afloat.  It only lasted a few seconds until we got afloat.  The engines put - putted away and off we went in a column.  There were two drivers one assistant and the actual driver.  Some of the guys had put their knap sack in the front hold where there was a hatch.  All of a sudden we noticed smoke coming out of the hatch and we thought, oh boy, we have engine trouble; but the assistant reached forward opened the hatch and there were 2 knapsacks on fire and smoking.  He reached in, picked them up and threw them overboard.  Fortunately for whosever packs they were, Holiday was sitting on the side and as they floated by he grabbed the packs and pulled them back in.  They were wet but; whatever was on fire was out.
Since the Kamakazi attack there was no other gun fire and we were proceeding on into the beach and as I said it was about ten miles away so it almost seemed like we were going to get sea sick. The puzzling thing was that there was nothing on the beach from our distance that we could see in the way of flames or smoke or anything else and it almost looked like we were getting no resistance.  It turned out that was the case.
We finally rolled up on the beach and all the gun sections pulled in a little bit and as we got off the DUKWs and looked around we could see the condition of the beach.  A little to our left was a cordoned off area and in it were many, many civilians of all ages, kids, younger women older women and some very old men almost bent into any “L” shape with white hair.  We felt sorry for them because they were all in a big group with nothing to do.  They had been herded into this rectangular area just to keep them out of harms way.
There were areas along the beach were the Japanese had planted bombs with the fuses sticking up.  I guess our guys had gotten in there and put yellow flags on them so that you would stay out of there. We were pleased with the cakewalk that we had gone into.  We pulled in a ways, unloaded the guns and hooked them on the backs of the tractors that met us and the DUKWs went back out to sea. The battery was all ready to move in whatever direction.  We were given instructions to head north.  Our infantry by the first night had gone across the island.
The landscape was similar to pictures of Japan, not a lot of houses but there were fairly narrow roads.  The beaches at various points had huge rocks sticking up off shore, somewhat like you see on the coast near San Francisco.  We turned and headed north.  The First Division was the only one going north we saw no other outfits ahead of or around us so I assume that most of the five other divisions headed south.  We heard that there was starting to be resistance.
We were worried about the northern part having gorilla fighters and the possibility of being attacked so we were on the alert at all times.  Fortunately, nothing happened as we headed on the narrow but nice road it felt like we were on a picnic because we heard no heavy gun fire any more since we were far enough away.  The island is fairly large the landscape was beautiful, no inhabitants that we could see so we supposed that all the natives had been brought south to camps that they had set up for the Okinawans.
We had some small incidents including one night one of our machine gunners shot what looked like a twelve year old girl.  How she got there at night was a mystery but they heard a movement and yelled for a password and none came so I guess they opened fire.  The next morning we walked in that direction and there was a rather pretty dead girl.  That was a tragedy.
We looked around all the way to the other northern tip and saw the beach was rather nice, sandy with pretty vegetation around the entire area.  By this time we knew that the southern part was giving heavy resistance and it looked like the war was really on and it wasn’t going to be a picnic. We turned and headed back and got down about the middle of the island before the resistance started.  We started fire missions on a day-to-day basis so that entire line of our offensive was across the island and going south where all the Japanese were.
I forgot to mention the first night on the beach something did happen that was rather exciting.  The nights were fairly cold there at that time of the year in early April, still spring, the word came out to be prepared that they expected a paratrooper attack from the Japanese and everything was brought out on the beach around our position and down the line.  Anti-aircraft guns were set up and more machine guns brought in with plenty of ammunition delivered.  It was ten o’clock at night when we were waiting for the paratroops to arrive.  They were either intercepted or shot down by airplanes so we never did get the attack.  There were also searchlights out there so it would have been a real fiasco for the Japanese.  It passed but was very exciting while it lasted.
The Okinawan citizens were pretty well contained and there weren’t too many of them that I could see only here and there.  They were confined in camps and sort of away from the fighting that was going on down south. The Okinawan people were descendants of Chinese pirates who had settled the island.  Their general living areas, which we ran into, were plots of land that they were farming with vegetable gardens here and there.  We were tempted to eat some of the produce.  The cabbages were about the size of basketballs, they were huge but we were forbidden to eat any garden crops because they were fertilized by human waste.  After a while a surgeon had announced that we could eat garden products but they had to be boiled.
The other thing we came upon in various plots were what appeared to be family cemeteries, usually a cave in the side of a hill with a stone in the front of it with inscriptions in Okinawan lettering.  Some of the guys in the past had opened those things up and found vases inside and in several cases I saw vases that had been broken exposing bones of their forbearers.   I always considered that a form of vandalism, a sacrilege, and I felt sorry that someone would do that. Things we came across in the same caves were things they put in for safekeeping.  All sorts of artifacts our guys looted.  There were beautiful kimonos embroidered in beautiful colors and they were taken.  I personally just didn’t feel right about that because it had probably been in some family for generations and would be sorely missed.  Nor did I see a need for taking something like that even though it was beautiful I couldn’t bring myself to do that.