Ken Beaton: Remembering WWII’s assault on Okinawa — a costly battle
For the Nevada Appeal
April 1 is the 70th anniversary of World War II’s largest Pacific amphibious assault, Okinawa, a large island 340 miles south of mainland Japan. This island had to become the base of operations for the planned invasion of Japan.
Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, the U.S. Army’s XXIV Corps and III Amphibious Corps landed on the western coast of Okinawa while the 2nd Marine Division landed on the southeastern coast to confuse the Japanese defenders. President Roosevelt died of natural causes on April 12. After 18 days of heavy fighting, the Marines had cleared the northern half of the island.
On April 16, the 77th Infantry Division assaulted Ie Shima, a small island off the west coast of Okinawa. The 77th encountered savage resistance, including kamikaze attacks with local women armed with spears. In Jan., 1945, bamboo spear training began for Japanese females ages 6-40 and Japanese males from 6-60 to prepare for the U.S. invasion. The popular war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, was killed by a sniper on the island. Ie Shima was secured on April 21.
Meanwhile, fierce Japanese resistance continued in west central Okinawa at the Pinnacle, the Shuri Line, Kakazu Ridge, the Machinato defensive line, Conical Hill, Sugar Loaf Hill, Shuri Castle, and the Oroku Peninsula. While monitoring the forward progress of his troops, Lt. General Buckner was killed by Japanese artillery fire on June 18.
During the 82-day battle, Japanese soldiers conscripted Okinawans to fight against our troops. They used Okinawans as human shields.
In seven major kamikaze attacks, more than 1,500 planes flew a one-way mission to attack our ships; 368 U.S. Navy ships were damaged and 28 were sunk.
Imagine being one of six loaders for a Quad 40, consisting of four 40mm antiaircraft cannons. Each cannon fires two rounds a second, a total of 480 rounds a minute; 3,000 yards from your ship and rapidly closing, a kamikaze pilot is in the cross hairs of your Quad 40. The kamikaze pilot has your Quad 40 in his cross hairs. Similar to a western movie, your Quad 40 will have to splash that kamikaze, or 11 sailors will die of burn wounds.
Usually for every five soldiers wounded, one was killed in action or died of wounds. The Navy had 4,907 killed in action; 4,874 sailors were wounded. More sailors were killed in action than wounded. The Navy had more killed in actions than the U.S. Army’s 4,675 and the Marines’ 2,938. Most of the sailors were severely burned.
High casualty rates, constant artillery and mortar bombardment with mud from the monsoon rains caused more mental health issues, battle fatigue, than any battle in the Pacific. Marines took pride in giving their fallen Marines an honorable and proper burial. They were forced by the rain and mud to leave their dead where they had fallen. More than 77,166 Japanese bodies, more than 100,000 Okinawan civilians along with U.S. soldiers and Marines bodies decayed in the warm mud; the smell was fulsomely.
On a positive note, the Cornerstone of Peace Monument in Okinawa’s Prefecture Peace Park lists the name of every individual who died on Okinawa. There are 149,193 Okinawan civilian names, 77,166 Imperial Japanese soldiers, 14,009 U.S. military names, 365 South Korean, 82 United Kingdom, 82 North Korea and 34 Taiwan names. Each year, names are added to the 240,937 names listed on the walls.
The buildup of men and material on Okinawa began in July, 1945 for the Nov. 1, 1945, planned invasion of Japan. Joint Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall planned to move his headquarters to Oahu, Hawaii. Prayers were answered on Aug. 15, 1945, — the emperor of Japan agreed to unconditionally surrender!
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.