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Ken Beaton: No joke

By Ken Beaton
Ernie Pyle, the 1944 Pulitzer Prize war correspondent, was killed April 18, 1945, by a single round from a Japanese machine gun on le Shima, an island northwest of Okinawa. Pyle's remains were buried with GIs from the 305th Infantry Regiment of the 77th Division, "Statue of Liberty Division." Ernie’s final resting place is at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, “The Punch Bowl,” Honolulu.
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Forget about Wednesday being April Fool’s Day. Quick, what happened 75 years ago Wednesday? If you answered the beginning of the 82-day battle to defeat 130,000 Japanese troops on Okinawa, you are this week’s Jeopardy champion.

Okinawa was needed by the U.S. military as a staging area for the planned invasion of Japan on Nov. 1, 1945. With their backs against the wall, the Japanese were desperate to stop the United States from invading their homeland. How do you say Alamo in Japanese? Okinawa.

In 2016, if you’ve watched the movie, “Hacksaw Ridge,” you viewed some of the challenges our GIs and Marines faced on Okinawa. Cpl. Desmond T. Doss, an Army combat medic, was awarded two Bronze Stars and the only conscientious objector awarded the Medal of Honor for saving 75 wounded GIs on Hacksaw Ridge.

What if I told you during the battle for Okinawa, we lost more sailors than Marines or GIs? Do you know the word Kamikaze? A Kamikaze was a Japanese pilot with minimum training who piloted a flying bomb with enough gas to fly one-way and crash into a USN ship, preferably an aircraft carrier.

During and after the battle, our Navy brass played down our losses because the American public would have gone ballistic with the following information. Thirty-six ships were sunk, 368 ships were damaged, 763 lost aircraft, 4,900 sailors were KIA or drowned and 4,800 sailors were wounded, suffering from burns.

Usually in a battle, for every five troops wounded, one is killed, a 5:1 ratio. The reason why almost as many sailors were wounded as died is our sailors were burned from Kamikazes crashing into their ships. A burnt sailor experienced his worst nightmare of pain and disfigurement for life. Can you imagine some parents’ or a wife’s reaction when they first saw their son/spouse upon his return home?

OK, raise your hand if you know Ernest Taylor Pyle. Nobody knows. OK, have you heard of the American journalist and war correspondent Ernie Pyle who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for journalism in 1944?

In the European theater of operations, our GIs respected Pyle. They loved reading his columns because he wrote about the GIs in the foxholes.

“But to the fighting soldier that phase of the war is behind after the first battle. His blood is up. He is fighting for his life, and killing now for him is as much a profession as writing is for me,” Pyle wrote while in Europe.

Shortly after April 18, 1945, the news traveled like a range fire in Nevada fanned by a 40 mph wind. Pyle was in a jeep with Lt. Col. Joseph B. Coolidge, commander of the 305th Infantry Regiment, 77th Division and two other officers on le Shima, a small island northwest of Okinawa. There was a burst of Japanese machine gunfire that cleared the jeep. After a brief time, Pyle raised his head. A machine gunburst hit him in his left temple, killing him instantly. Pyle was buried with a combat private on one side and a combat engineer on the other side. At least 100 men from the 305th attended Pyle’s burial service. There were no dry eyes at his service. Ernie’s final resting place is at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, “The Punch Bowl,” in Honolulu.

What was the cost of capturing Okinawa? 12,520 American GIs, Marines and sailors lost their lives and 36,750 wounded. The Imperial Japanese Army had 110,000 KIA and 13,000 missing. However, the civilian population lost between 40,000 to 150,000, many were collateral damage and some civilians were used as shields by the IJA troop. Toward the end of the fighting, the IJA told Okinawans, “The American troops will torture civilian men and rape women.” The IJA told the Okinawans to throw their children off the cliffs into the ocean and jump off the cliffs, too. Our troops unsuccessfully begged the Okinawans not to jump. It was horrifying to watch the black and white movie footage. How could a parent throw their flesh and blood off a cliff? Fear!

FYI, I read the book, “HELL to PAY: Operation DOWNFALL and the Invasion of Japan 1945-1947,” by D.M. Giangreco. The book detailed the American invasion plans using more than 1 million GIs and Marines and nine atomic bombs to defeat the Japanese. The author interviewed Japanese officers and wrote where they expected our troops to invade and their plans to defend the home islands. If we had invaded Japan, all the “Baby Boomers” born in 1946, 1947 and 1948 would not have been born. If 500,000 more American troops were KIA, at least 2 million of you “Boomers,” ages 56 to 74 years young, never would have been conceived. Remember the first “Back to the Future” movie? Marty McFly’s picture of his older brother and sister were fading from existence until his parents kissed, falling in love.