Okinawa declared secured, June 21, 1945
What was William Herman Mills’ first mistake? He believed the U.S. Marine Corps recruiter, “Bill, join the Marines, and you’ll have easy duty being part of a U.S. Embassy security detail.”
Bill joined the USMC in October 1941, a month shy of his 22nd birthday in November. The recruits were at Camp Mathews’ rifle range on Dec. 7, 1941, when Bill’s drill instructor informed them about the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor on Oahu, Hawaii — forget easy duty.
The next six months were intense as Bill trained with three other Marines with their M3 37mm anti tank gun. The 2nd Marine Regiment boarded the USS President Adams, APA-19 and became part of the 1st Marine Division. On Aug. 7, 1942 they hit the beach at Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands.
The Japanese had begun constructing an airfield on Guadalcanal which would have cut the Allied supply lines to New Zealand and Australia. The Marines’ objective was to capture the island and begin their island hopping campaign. The Navy’s Construction Battalion, the Sea Bees, completed the construction of Henderson Airfield named after Major Lofton Henderson, the first Marine aviator to perish in World War II.
The transport ship with the trucks to haul the 37mm cannons had evacuated the area before Bill’s truck could be unloaded. The anti tank guns were used to knock out the lightly armored Japanese tanks and provided close infantry support, blasting Japanese pill boxes and caves. Guadalcanal was declared secure on Feb. 9, 1943.
The 2nd Marines were transported to New Zealand to rest and train replacement Marines. Bill had contracted malaria on Guadalcanal. All the malaria patients were ordered to Camp Pendleton in 1943. After recovering he used his leave to visit his parents in Leon, Iowa.
I asked Bill, “Did you ever pass through North Platte, Nebraska?”
Immediately, a broad smile came across Bill’s face. I knew his answer.
“Ken, for 10 minutes I was home. A woman who reminded me of my mother smiled and poured my coffee. Another woman smiled as she offered me home baked cookies on a tray. North Platt, Nebraska, was the best 10 minutes of my life.”
Bill was reunited with the 1st Marine Division on Pavuvu Island in the Russell Islands near Guadalcanal. The division replaced 6,526 casualties from the month long Battle of Peleliu and prepared for the invasion of Okinawa on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945. By April 18, “The Old Breed” had cleared the northern half of Okinawa.
Bill and his three fellow Marines used their 37mm anti tank cannon to blast more pill boxes and caves for Marine infantry to verify all the Japanese troops in the caves had died for their Emperor. In late April the Old Breed relieved the Army’s 27th Division to fight the Japanese 32nd Army at Dakeshi Ridge, Wanna Ridge, Sugarloaf Hill and Shuri Castle. Okinawa was declared secured on June 21, 1945, 70 years ago today.
The Old Breed was ordered to Yontan in the north of Okinawa where they received replacements. The 1st Marines were assigned to Operation Coronet, the March 1, 1946, planned invasion of Tokyo, Japan. Bill looked at me and said, “President Harry Truman made the right decision, using the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war. We were damn happy! I had enough points to return to Camp Pendleton. I was discharged at the Navy’s Great Lakes Base in December 1945.”
Bill returned to the Los Angeles area and met Elaine Dysynske. After a whirlwind romance, they drove to Las Vegas and were married in a wedding chapel on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1946. This November will be their 69th wedding anniversary. At 95 years young, Bill easily recalled names and minute details as if they happened yesterday. Thank you for your service, Bill. Whorah!
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.