Chapter 3- First Day on Okinawa

Chapter 3 –

cartoon version of Dr. Pel Mead
Cartoon version of Dr. Pel Mead,

The Day we landed on the Nahu Beach at Okinawa, Aug. 30, 1945 It took about 10 minutes to get to the shore with the launch. The waves were high that day, and a lot of shipwrecks had masts jutting out of the water in the shallow areas. We beached the boat and pulled our gear and mail sack ashore. We thanked the sailors who had brought us ashore and saluted as they shoved off on their return to the Antietam. There was no greeting party or soldiers or sailors there to greet us. In fact, it was uncommonly quiet except for jungle birds that were chirping up a storm. A light rain began to increase blowing like a mist over the entire island. There was the smell of smoke in the air mixed with the acid rot odor of dead bodies. To think, here we stood on Nahu Beach where thousands of American Marines and Infantry had come ashore unopposed by Japanese forces on April 1, 1945. The cold rain was increasing and making it difficult to see beyond the overhead low hanging clouds and dense fog. Garbage was everywhere on the beach. Pieces of ships, and planes were strewn around everywhere like seashells of war. Instead of the white sands being smooth, they were as cratered as the surface of the moon. It was difficult walking across the beach to the edge of the jungle area where burnt out palm trees formed an almost impenetrable field of debris, Our plan was simple; try to get the first boat out of Okinawa going back to Hawaii where we could then be discharged. Smitty was being transferred to Guam and had orders to fly out in two days. He would be flying out of a little field just above Nahu. Nahu was a city just to the south of the beaches we landed on that was completely flattened by naval bombardments prior to the landings of the Army and Marines invading on April 1, 1945. There were few other boats in the harbor except the Antietam, and the Intrepid, the Cabot, and two escort battleships, so the return boat option did not seem likely with these ships since they were all going to the Yellow Sea off the coast of China. Way down the beach to the south was an American flag waving in the rain over a huge Army headquarters tent. It was a good long walk along the beach to the Army camp, so we threw our duffel bags over our shoulders and shuffled slowly through the sand and war debris. I actually stepped over a piece of a Jap Zero’s wings with the well-known orange circle insignia on it. It was probably a remnant of a kamikaze plane that crashed into a ship or the ocean. By the time we got to the Army encampment we were dragging the bags through the sand. When we came upon the 10th Army headquarters we asked where the Navy was stationed and we were informed that the Navy had pulled out of Okinawa several days before in August. That was one of our first strokes of bad luck. The division of the 10th Army stationed there didn’t exactly welcome us. They had other duties to do and we were just in the way. US Army 10th Division shelling Japs hiding in caves on Okinawa, Aug. 1945 Army Sergeant Stanton who was in charge of the company of soldiers stationed at the southern end of Nahu Beach had given us permission to use several empty tents. After we went through some paperwork, we slowly dragged our sea bags into the tents and moved an extra bunk in so we could all stay together. We spent the rest of the day going over rules and restrictions outlined by Sergeant Stanton. He was a short squat guy with tattoos all over his arms. He was almost completely bald and kept his hat on most of the time to protect him from the tropical sun. He had one of those roaring belly laughs when something struck him as funny and our predicament with not having any Navy stationed on the island amused him. I noticed a huge Eagle tattoo on his army with an American flag behind on his left arm. He was really quite the character. Sargent Stanton laughed, and said, “OK Chief you and the swabbies are stuck here for a while and we have little or no rations for you. You need to stay within the protected area and if you venture out the password is ‘Abraham Lincoln Brigade.’” Passwords were always selected with combinations of R and L because it was difficult for Japs to make these sounds correctly. “OK Sarg,” I said, “we don’t want to be here any longer than necessary and will stay our of your hair.” “That suits me fine,” the Sergeant said with a laugh. He amused easily, at our expense it seemed. Just then I saw a flash of light come out of the jungle and my first instinct was to drop to the ground, but before I could do that I heard the crack of a sniper rifle, and I knocked the Sergeant to the ground as I dropped. A bullet whistled overhead and struck the palm stump behind the tent we were standing in front of. “Boy, that was close, Sarg, sorry I knocked you down,” I said. Startled and brushing off his pants the Sargent got up and grabbed for his walkie-talkie. “Bud, get three men with rifles out near that perimeter, and get that sniper one way or another,” he barked. Turning to me he said, “Thanks, Chief, I owe you one. I guess you saved my life.” We were the best of friends from that day on. Sargent Stanton talked to the Captain for me, and we were allowed to stay in the camp until a ship or plane returning to Hawaii picked us up. It was a twist of fate that both worked for us, and against us, as I was to find out after weeks without rescue. Jap snipers were everywhere on Okinawa August 1945 The Army was not obligated to feed or protect us since their assignment was to secure the island and to round up Okinawan civilians, search for unexploded shells and capture any remaining Japanese soldiers. We were not part of their master plan. There was a major miscommunication between the Navy and the Army in this situation and we were caught right in the middle. The Army never offered to feed us and we realized this was going to be a difficult stay on the island without a food supply. The Sarg Stanton became our ally, and got foods to us whenever he could without the Captain knowing about it. To get food we would have to barter for it or win it playing poke or ace deuce (a game like backgammon). I was one of the best poker players on our ship of 3,000. Needless to say we were forced to play a lot of poker to get the water and food we needed to survive. It didn’t seem long-term at the time because we were still confident at that time that we would be leaving in a few days and taking a plane or boat back to Hawaii. “Smitty, you better check with the radio man and see when the next ship is coming by to pick up Brownie and I,” I said. “It’s okay, Chief; I already have a confirmation on a plane coming into the airstrip near here, which will fly me to Guam. You guys are welcome to take a vacation on Guam if you want,” Brownie said. “No thanks,” I said. The first night on the island was difficult after being on a ship for so long. (About a year since the ship first hit the water on August 20, 1944). I was still rolling form side to side in my bunk as if I was still in my hammock on board the ship. A few shots rang out in the night followed by some shrieks. I tried to focus in my sleep on returning home to see my four-year-old son and wife. I slept little that night. Brownie and Smitty had the same problems. The stench of death was everywhere in the air and in our dreams. “Brownie, did you hear that shot,” I whispered. “Yeah Chief, I heard it, sounds like someone is hunting down those Japs.” “Just so long as they don’t decide to make the headquarters here a target gallery is fine with me,” I said. Smitty put in a few words. “Hey, Chief, don’t worry we have some blankets we can tie them up with if they rush us.” “Ha.” I laughed. “You are a funny guy, Smitty.” I was able to relax a little more after that and the night swept by gunshots and all. The bugs bit at me all night long flying into my ears, and buzzing before I smacked my ear and killed them. The bugs crawling around the ground and the tent were huge. This was definitely not paradise. The cockroaches were really large and scary. It really surprised me when I saw one crawling across the deck. They were as big as palmetto bugs found in Florida. I smashed the bug with my shoe. All night long I could hear them running across the tent’s wooden floor. In addition to the centipedes that ran six inches long, and the geckos that looked like cute little lizards that chirped and used suction pads for feet and could hang off the wall or ceiling with ease. We were warned about the Habus, which were two kinds of poisonous snakes that can be found in the caves and sugar cane fields. I was told that a Habus snake could swallow a huge banana spider in one gulp. As morning fog began to lift, the island was still shrouded in a gray mass of what looked like oatmeal in the sky with the rain still drizzling. We went to the mess tent to find that the Army had very few provisions and they did not want to share any with us. Fortunately, we had all stuffed whatever K-rations and food we could find into our sea bags, We did not have enough to survive beyond three days or so. Poker would be our ace in the hole in winning food that the army would not volunteer to give us. Getting off the island quickly would be our best chance to survive. “Well, Chief, I hope you brought the poker cards along from the ship,” said Brownie. “Right in my pocket, laddie,” I said. “I can’t remember when you last lost a hand, Chief,” said Smitty as we walked of the mess tent. “You’re right,” I said. “I haven’t lost in months so I hope my good luck streak continues.” Smitty talked to a few soldiers and had set up a Navy vs. Army poker game for the night. It would be our chance to win some food. The US marines had left in July 1945 to become part of the invasion force on the other Japanese islands before the surrender was declared. The Navy had some supply stations on land for a while but had long since left the island to prepare for the invasion of Japan. Unfortunately, no one informed us, or many of the other naval vessels of this departure. It was traditionally the Army’s job to take care of the occupation of an area after the battles were over and the island or country was declared seized. I couldn’t help but notice that there were graves everywhere on or near the beach and around the outside of the army tent area. Sticks marked some graves and others were small mounds in the sand with stones on top of them. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had truly used their swords of destruction to bring death and famine to this island. We were warned that malaria and dengue were everywhere on this island in addition to many other tropical diseases that had no name. Dengue is also called breakbone fever, and if you get it your bones feel like they are in a vice, and someone is twisting the vice on you. The Okinawan civilians were nowhere to be found. They were still hiding in the bushes in the interior and in the many caves that dotted the island. Some Army private told me they committed suicide by the thousands in fear of the Americans raping, torturing and killing them as they were told by the Japanese propaganda. Some Okinawan and Japanese soldiers were still hiding out in caves believing the war was continuing. It sounded like a very sad story for the original inhabitants of the island. They were caught between the Japanese Imperial Army and the Allied forces invading the island. The discussions at all the meals were about the Battle of Okinawa and how the conditions were horrible. On one hand the Japanese tortured and killed thousands of Okinawans and forced any able-bodied teenagers and young women into the Imperial Japanese army to fight for the Emperor. The other side of the scenario seemed just as bad in falling victim to the American invaders who also seemed like monster killers. It was one of the missions of the US Army soldiers stationed on Okinawa to flush out the Okinawan civilians, and Japanese soldiers from caves and bushes and put them in tent cities set up by the Army. Captured soldiers were treated as prisoners of war and put in a detention camp separate from the civilian camp. Here the Army could feed the civilians and attempt to gain their trust. The camps were not pleasant with barbed wire all around just like any prison camp. I wondered whether the barbed wire was to keep them in or prevent the Japs from The barbed wire compound where the Okinawan civilian were kept Attacking? Old women and half naked young children and old men were all that survived the battle. They laid around the tent compounds like they were in a trance. None of the American soldiers trusted them because they were told some of them could be Japanese soldiers in disguise. In the morning of day two each of us were devouring an exciting can of k-rations baked beans for breakfast. “Want some eggs, Chief?” Smitty called over to me. “Sure,” I said. “Where are you going to get them?” “We could hunt for some birds or chickens or something,” Smitty said. “There must be some chickens around here somewhere,” he remarked. “Yeah, sure, we are going to go through those dense jungles looking for chickens only to get shot by a Jap or step on a land mine.” Suddenly from some low bushes about 50 yards away from our tent, a Japanese soldier came running out of the bushes screaming, “Bonsai” as he dashed across the sand at us. I had left my officer’s revolver in my duffel bag, so I stood there helpless as the enemy soldier charged the camp with a rifle aimed at us. He had two hand grenades tied to a string hung around his neck. The Army guys that were in the tent next to us picked up their rifles and gunned the Japanese soldier down before he could clear 50 feet. That was the first time I saw someone shot down. The Army guys explained that the Japanese were instructed to fight to the death for the Emperor, and refused to give up. During the “mop up operation” in late June and early July of 1945 the American soldiers went out and hunted down the Japanese like they were hunting rabbits. They took no prisoners and just shot all the Japs they could find. They torched them out of caves, threw hand grenades in other caves or shot them down in open fields as they ran away. “Holy crap, did you see that,” I said. Smitty and Brownie were still frozen sitting on their bunks unable to move. Right after that incident we went to Sarg Stanton and had rifles distributed to us. The soldiers had to throw a grenade at the dead Jap to set off the grenades he was wearing around his neck. Only a pool of blood remained after all of the grenades exploded around his neck and the one thrown by the American. It made me lose my appetite completely and I had to sit down because I was feeling sick. War is hell and this war of attrition or “jikyusen” as the Japanese called it, became a manhunt to clean out any enemy combatants hiding in the underbrush or caves that dotted the island. Many Okinawans fell victim to the manhunt also since the Americans could not tell who was an Okinawan civilian and who was a Japanese soldier. After that day I kept my officers pistol strapped to my side. I only had around fifty rounds of ammunition but I loaded my pistol and kept extra shells in my pocket. I never forgot that we were still in a war zone even though the war was officially over. For the rest of the day Brownie and I kept the radio operator, Private Charlie Debree of Company C, busy trying to arrange for someone to pick us up off the island. Smitty had a R4D plane arranged to fly him to Guam where he was transferring and he would be leaving at 1300 hrs. The following day, Brownie, Lincoln, and I still could not get a flight or a boat of any kind out of Okinawa. We were like a forgotten island. It was very frustrating. We had thought that we would be on this burned out island for only a day before being transported out. We seemed to be heading in the wrong direction from everyone else, away from Japan instead of toward Japan. US Ships anchored in Nahu harbor 1945 The following day Smitty left in a jeep with two other infantry guys to drive to the Kadema airfield near Nahu and he flew out to Guam leaving Brownie, and I to survive alone. He left with five injured US Army soldiers who had been wounded by landmines, snipers and armed civilians. Brownie and I went along for the ride and to say goodbye to a friend. Smitty gave us what K-rations he had left since we were low on food and had to sneak into the Army mess tent and steal food in the night. For the first few days of September 1-2,1945 most ships were headed toward Tokyo and the Yellow Sea and none were returning to Hawaii. It began to sink in to our thick skulls that we were trapped on the Island of Okinawa for much longer than we wanted to be. After the signing of the peace treaty on Sept 2, 1945 we celebrated with the Army soldiers with two cans of beer rationed out to each of us. We were glad to get the fluids even if it was beer. Bad weather was predicted during the month of September, which was typhoon season on Okinawa. They were known to have major typhoons that rocked the island and everything on it. The Army radio operator, Charlie got a message from Hawaii central that a typhoon was forming off the coast and moving toward Okinawa in the next week or so. It might hit the island around the 10th of September or so. Now the “C” Company would need every able-bodied man to move all the tents and equipment to higher ground and seek shelter other than tents. A tent would be no shelter during a storm of such magnitude, so we accompanied the Army soldiers in search of some safe secured caves where we could weather out the typhoon. The Okinawan civilians who numbered around 1,000 had to be moved also. We used an interpreter by the name of Nayoshi to ask the Okinawans where the closest caves were. Most of them were far south of the beaches. Most of the caves were along the southern shore of the island, which was a long drive from the Nahu beaches. We would have to pass through the now destroyed city of Nahu, once the capital of Okinawa and search for caves along the ridges to the south. The caves dotted the cliffs above the southern Okinawan seashore because of the limestone formations. The first cave we came across near the road heading south had some Okinawan civilians hiding in it. We shouted into the cave, “Konnichiwa” meaning hello in Japanese. At first there was no reply. It was obvious someone was living in the cave since clothing was hanging from a string attached to the side of the cave. Again we called into the cave, “Konnichiwa, watashi Wa American soldier desu, shusshin wa doko-desuka?” Which roughly translates to, “Hello, I am an American soldier, do you speak English?” They came out with their hands over their heads after we shouted our broken Japanese phrases into the cave. Five of them ran right off the jagged cliffs to their deaths on the rocks below. It was a chilling and disgusting sight. One of the Okinawans was a little girl about age five and she and four other older women lay dead on the rocks with the ocean waves lapping over them. They had finally achieved peace at the cost of their own lives. It was hard for us soldiers to understand how the Okinawans thought. There was an equal mistrust on both sides. The remaining old men, women and young children of about 20 or so Okinawans came out with their eyes down and their hands folded together in a praying position. Several MPs took them and gave them some water and K rations and drove them back to the stockade, where all Okinawan refugees were being kept until the Army could decide what to do with them. We had Nayoshi call out in Japanese for anyone else hiding in the cave to come out. No one came out at out but Nayoshi was afraid to enter the cave for fear of stepping on a boobie trap or land mine. The US Army Captain Tillen, who commanded the C Company, gave the order to throw a grenade in first and then torch the cave. The GI with the flamethrower let go with a blast of fire throughout the mouth of the cave. No one came out, so we proceeded into the cave cautiously. The ceiling was about 12 feet high and the cave looked to be more than 30-40 feet deep with boulders and lots of small burnt vegetation growing up the sides of the cave. We found four Japanese soldiers lying dead behind a boulder in the cave with knives in their stomach, hara-kiri style. We removed the bodies and radioed back to the camp to move some of the supplies into the cave so we could take shelter in the cave during the typhoon. We spent the next two days helping the Army guys move radio equipment, ammunition and food into the cave and many other caves nearby, which were many miles from the camp. The most difficult thing to watch was the Okinawans being put onto transport trucks and moving them back to the refugee stockade with the MPs. They reminded me of cattle being rounded up for slaughter. During the typhoon they would be a lot less safe in the tents than where we were taking refuge. The area just off the beach where the stockade was located was beginning to swell with hundreds of Okinawan refugees and it stunk to high hell since no latrines were available nor running water or any other conveniences. Later on when it was obvious the civilians would not be safe near the beach area a plan was made to truck them to large caves for shelter and safety along the shore below Nahu the city to the south of Hagushi Harbor. The infantry guys rewarded us with some of their valuable rations for helping move their equipment. They also shared some awamori, an Okinawan form of liquor. Awamori is made from crushed rice that is fermented for about two weeks. I have never seen Army cooks make a more disgusting mess by mixing several cans of K rations together and calling it a meal. The soldiers called it, “Shit on rye bread.” We were so hungry we could have eaten roast rat if we had to. It was the water we had to watch out for. None of the local water could be consumed due to many tropical diseases that could easily make a quick death look better. Already I had contracted some tropical disease since my gums were bothering me and they were bleeding a lot. I used what little I had of a bottle of scotch to kill the pain and bleeding. Each day my teeth were getting looser and bleeding all the time. I lost three teeth already since my gums were inflamed and all my teeth were loosening up. I took pain pills practically every day. I began to live on them after a while since I could not overcome the pain and bleeding. Aspirin only made the gums bleed easier from thinning the blood out so I was forced to get other types of medication from the medics. “Linc” was complaining about cuts he got on his feet when he was walking barefoot on the beach. Lots of glass and metal were buried in the sand and it was dangerous to walk without shoes. Lincoln had two infections on his right foot so bad he had to limp a little in order to walk. I kept telling him to have the medic give him a shot to kill the infection. The first time I realized I caught some kind of jungle disease that was when I went to clean my teeth with a toothbrush and a tooth fell out. Jungle diseases and bugs were the real silent enemy, not the Japs. The bugs were getting the better of us too. Spiders were the size of your fist, flies were everywhere, and mosquitoes were as long as your fingers, like Jersey mosquitoes. I had to rub gasoline on my skin since I had no bug repellant and neither did Brownie. He had a nasty infected bug bite, which the Army medic took care of by applying straight iodine solution. With the beginning of each day I headed to the radio shack to see if any ships were putting into Nahu bay and continuing onto Hawaii. Our stay on Okinawa was beginning to become a survival ordeal. What I thought would be a quick turnaround, and back to Hawaii was becoming a grueling struggle for survival on a Jap infested island in the Pacific. Each day we would radio for any ships nearby but got no response. Still the acid odor of death hung in the air everywhere. I was beginning to wonder if we would ever get off this island of hell. My health, Lincoln, and Brownie’s was starting to take a turn for the worst. We had to eat what we could get our hands on and most of the time it was high carbohydrate K rations. We began to talk about getting some local food from the fields where sweet potatoes or rice were being grown. When we occasionally ate with the Army guys we heard story after story of what went on during the Battle of Okinawa. First there were 100,000 Japs and then there were 70,000 Japs and civilians defending the island. The stories got bigger and bigger as the days went along. I found that I was beginning to dream about General Fujijima of the Japanese 32nd Army and his Chief of Staff Cho. The ghosts of the Japanese Generals and staff officers that committed hara-kiri in that cave opening on June 21, 1945 were everywhere on the wind, in the trees and especially the dark clouds and fog at night. I had nightmares every night of Japanese soldiers killing themselves with knives and having their heads sliced off like baloney with sammauri swords so they did not suffer too long. The hot and humid Okinawan days seemed to drag on and on. Would this nightmare ever come to an end? Japanese General Ushijima of the 32nd Japanese Army on Okinawa

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