Don Huebner  ONE MARINES ADVENTURES IN WWII

Debarkation
Before boarding ships to leave the island for good, many of us walked back through our former camp, 'home', with mixed emotions, but were pleased and proud to see the beautiful area had been restored to its original view of palm trees in neat rows with the ocean wavelets lapping the rocky shore. In summation, I repeat, I'm proud to be an American.

In March of 1945 we were all deeply concerned about the terrible loss of fellow Marines on the killing grounds of Iwo Jima and realizing that Okinawa would probably be even worse. Nearing the waters of the home islands the fanaticism of our enemy would become more severe than ever and the island had about one hundred thousand soldiers....ten times the number slaughtering us on Peleliu.

We boarded LST ships at Guadalcanal and sailed across Iron Bottom sound to anchor near Tulagi amid many ships of all types. This was our first indication of the size of the armada going to Okinawa, which eventually numbered about fifteen hundred.

Our hard nosed hero, Admiral 'Bull' Halsey, had erected a huge billboard on Tulagi visible for miles around. It wished us well and then in large black letters it said: KILL THE BASTARDS KILL THE BASTARDS KILL ALL THE LITTLE BASTARDS

Feelings ran high then and especially when the final count of five thousand Marines being killed on Iwo Jima. At this time the huge buildup of ships for our navy had over stepped the manpower available to man the many new ships. The navy called on its sister service the United States Coast Guard to help fill the needs in running these new ships.

Our bad luck battalion was loaded onboard one such ship manned by what we called the 'Hooligan Navy' and we teased them with relish.

This overloaded LST was three hundred feet long and had metal floating pontoon docks tied to its sides and a forty foot landing craft on the deck above. Both above and below decks were crowded with trucks, jeeps, howitzers and piles of equipment of all sorts.

We humanoids were excess baggage and had to build tent cities all over the deck and it was only possible to go forward or aft by walking along one of those docks strapped to the sides. A handrail, cable, was stretched along as our safety hold but one man was washed over board in high seas and never found.

Ulithi
We formed up into a convoy and sailed to the huge lagoon anchorage at Ulithi where every ship in the whole world was, so it seemed. We had never seen such an armada of battleships, carriers, cruisers, destroyers and hundreds of troop ships of every description.

The European war had ended and here we saw British warships for the first time in our theater of operations. We gave up on trying to count the huge amount of ships and waited for a few stragglers to round out our number and set sail again in mass.

In late March of 1945 our huge accumulation of seagoing ships pulled up anchors and slowly formed up in to convoys for the journey to Okinawa and it was a sight to behold. Troopships in the center were herded along under the watchful protection of many warships and destroyers scuttled around constantly as our 'watchdogs'.

Under the close scrutiny of their Marine passengers, the 'seagoing' coast guardsmen did their job well and as nearing potential dangerous waters the convoys began maneuvering in a 'zig-zag' course.

To avoid possible submarine torpedo attacks the course was changed every few minutes with turns of about fifteen degrees from left to right and back on cue. A very tricky maneuver with so many ships trying to keep alignment during turns.

One day our Coast Guard helmsman was ordered to make a turn to port along with all the other ships, and unaware of a power failure in the steering he blissfully guided us toward many ships crossing our bow and others behind heading for our fantail.

We had been served hot dogs on buns and I was eating mine while on the fantail and chomping away while excitedly watching a mass collision in the making. Whistles blew, horns honked and bells rang to alert our emergency steering plan to activate. Deep down in the aft section one man grabbed to metal rods which pulled chains ratcheted directly to control the rudder. Earphones gave directions and the man, alone, guided the ship back on its proper course.

Eventually all was back to normal other than my hot dog stuck half way down my throat. Immediately many Navy ships around us began to flash signals toward us and I don't know Morse code but suspect that most messages were not friendly to our crew.

About this time storm warnings were issued and we tried to steer around a typhoon in the making. The seas became very rough and just walking on the deck was difficult. Somehow one of the crewmen tripped over a switch that activated a smoke screen which covered our poor maligned ship. Finally it was shut off but it had coated our already wet decks with a film of black slick oil.

We troops had no place to eat but topside and normally we lined up with metal trays at the port side galley door and ambled through the 'cafeteria' type line to be served. Simple. But in these high seas tossing us about on oil slick decks it was a slight problem.

In a long line we struggled along holding tight to rails and reached the galley door. There, still holding on, we had to wait for the apex of our rolling deck and then release our hold. Gravity propelled us by the servers in a flash while each one threw servings at our extended trays. Many globs of carrots
and mashed potatoes missed and mixed with the oil and water greasing our passage demanding more speed.

Some trays were missed completely and those poor slobs had to hold on to the starboard rail until its rise, release and fling themselves back to be served again. Mass confusion! We miserable, hungry peasants could only laugh at this amazing slapstick comedy of mealtime aboard ship.

The Coast Guard boys had one more stunt to entertain us as we neared our destination. Docking! As we neared a designated landing spot on Okinawa we approached a long row of similar LSTs already there with bow doors open and ramps down. Troops were moving quickly on to a strangely quiet beach. Undefended? It was April first, 1945 which was Easter Sunday and April Fools day and it appeared a joke might be in the making with the beaches being so easy to reach and cross.

The harbormaster directed our ship into a slot between two others and we angled in with a broad turn and it appeared that we might hit the ship on our port side with a grazing brush. The sailors on that ship saw it too and began waving their arms and shouting, "Hard to starboard"!

Our helmsman turned sharply and we didn't actually hit their old ship, just dragged our out rigging across theirs and knocked off a few old running lights and stuff. No big deal! I had always admired the colorful invectives in Navy profanity and as the air turned blue around us I learned several new words.

This voyage was my first lengthily exposure to Coast Guard personnel and they won a place in my heart. Their antics served to brighten many long tedious days at sea. They did their job well and got us to our destination as they were asked to do.

Okinawa Campaign
The Okinawa campaign was very strange to us at the onset. Standing on our deck we were amazed to see our infantry standing upright on the beach and walking on inland with ease. In the distance we saw our tanks leading lines of men and nothing was slowing or stopping them.

This was much different than the horrible slaughter on the beach at Peleliu and Tarawa. Soon we unloaded our big guns and put them ashore with ease and it was very easy to follow right along behind the infantry who met very little resistance.

On the main airfield, Yontan, we had expected enormous amounts of casualties before capturing the important spot. We found one dead enemy soldier there who was chained to his machine gun. He had been ordered to stay at his gun till death and they weren't taking any chances of his not doing as told. Probably a reluctant volunteer!

We began to encounter the pathetic civilians of Okinawa and these poor victims were so sad to see. We tried to soothe them as best we could and gave first aid to those injured in the shellings. They had been told that we were barbaric savages and dined on babies roasted over a spit. Rapine and torture was our daily fare.

One poor old man knelt before us and asked to be shot out right. Someone pulled him gently to his feet and gave him food and a smile. He told an interpreter that he had just cut his daughters throat! Dear God!

The invasion force numbered about one hundred and eighty thousand to be landed and uncounted numbers on over fifteen hundred seagoing ships offshore. It rivaled the Normandy landing in ship count but many of theirs were not sea going vessels as the short channel crossing could be made in smaller boats.

Our battle plan called for a complete Marine Division to maneuver off the southern tip of Okinawa and make a feigned landing in that area to draw Japanese troops into that area. After making phony landing passes the whole group got back out of the landing craft and reboarded transports to wait in reserve
offshore.

As many troops moved south our carrier aircraft strafed them and then bombed bridges to thwart their return north.

On hitting the beaches the army divisions turned south and Marine divisions turned north while some went straight ahead and crossed the island completely. By the end of the first day we were at points that were to be reached on day three. Then it became a race to cover real estate quickly with little or no resistance.

The First Marine Division gradually encountered stiffer resistance moving north and got into a heavy concentration of enemy troops on the Motobu peninsula. The ensuing battle lasted several days and then secured the northern segment in less than three weeks.

Our artillery battalion moved along rapidly in trucks behind the infantry and we saw quaint villages in rural areas virtually untouched by devastating bombardments as along the coastal areas. One sight stuck in my memory for all these years. A small village square had an execution gallows on a grassy park area where one might expect to see a bandstand.

It may have been more appropriate to see a sign saying 'Teahouse of the August Moon' than that gruesome death structure.

We had our battle strategy and so did the Japanese. Their plan was to fortify the southern rugged ridge line with thousands of soldiers dug in and very difficult to even see, while killing many Americans to delay for the master plan to materialize.

Mass formations of suicide bombers would coordinate attacks with the Japanese Navy bent on some suicide missions of their own. This would be the final battle to annihilate the enemy on the door step of Japan itself.

About April twenty first the Marines were ordered south to join up with Army divisions who had discovered, devastatingly, the near impregnable 'Shuri Line'. An ancient castle amid ragged ridges was slow and costly to conquer.

As the fighting moved on beyond we were within shooting range of all areas south and established permanent positions at Shuri Castle, rubble! Eventually the battle ended in our favor but lets review the lighter side.

Since our position was stationary I felt the need for a home away from home and gathered up some scrap lumber and roof materials and built my abode. It had a luxurious wooden deck, metal roof and cheese cloth screening to repel swarms of flies and mosquitoes. My envious buddies tried to rent it but were refused. I'd just have to build another, then another, no!

Mail had begun to arrive regularly again and I was again the most popular dude in the outfit. One day passing out mail I saw Lieutenant Englebert sitting in his jeep in deep thought while studiously picking his nose.

I handed him some mail and sat in the other seat to read my own mail. He handed back three official looking envelopes with a bank of Boston logo and grinned, "If they want that Ford back they're gonna' have to find it in San Diego!"

Opening his package he said, "Hay, look, Mom sent me a camera...and its loaded...see?" Diaries and cameras were not allowed for some ridiculous reason and I have always regretted not having kept a diary and photographic record of those times.

The Lieutenant sat upright and said, "Got an idea! Lets go up to the front and try to get some pictures of action!" I agreed, "Great idea, lets go!"

He drove us south through much rubble and many burned out vehicles with many corpses rotting in the summer sun. Leaning out his side he cocked an ear to follow sounds of gunfire which would direct us to the fighting front.

As mortar and machine gun fire became louder he stopped below a ragged ridge line and we got out to listen. We climbed up and looked over the crest and sure enough, Marines on our left were firing across a ravine to Japs on our right.

A fifty-caliber machine gun blazed away from the left and sent tracers across the ravine and Englebert raised his camera and tried to get those bright tracers on film. Then, inspired, he handed me the camera and said, "When that fifty opens up again I'm gonna' stand up and you try to snap me with those tracers in the background. Mom would like that!"

This game went on for a few minutes as we each took turns standing to be photographed with a real battle going on behind us. Some Japanese wise guy evidently saw us and rudely sprayed a burst of Nambu machine gun burst our way, scattering gravel at our feet, we tumbled back down the ridge and hurried away."Wow, that was close...ha..ha...ha!"

Englebert evidently had influential connections, he really wasn't bright enough to be an officer directing Marines in bat and as I walked back to the jeep something caught his eye. He went and bent over a decaying corpse and said, "Hay, this gook has been boobytrapped!" I moved around to put the jeep between us as he picked up a wire from the shirt and slowly pulled it out following it down to the explosive. I glanced at the keys still in the ignition, didn't want to go search for them in the bloody meat of a former Marine officer. Pulling out the wire very slowly he saw that it was attached to the firing pin of a Japanese hand grenade. He stood up, pulled the pin out and hurled the grenade off into a ravine where it popped loudly. Climbing back in the jeep he said, "Those dumb gooks got a lot to learn about setting booby traps."

Driving back down to our area we were just in time to see the start of another Kamikaze raid with many planes heading for the ships massed off shore.

Watching this horrible sight was an emotional roller coaster ride as a plane exploded before impact we cheered just as when a football crosses the goal line. Then as we see a plane hit a ship and burst into flame incinerating many sailors our mood immediately sinks back down to reality...this is no game! They are playing for keeps!

We had set up a fifty-caliber machine gun on a high tripod to stand below and shoot at low flying aircraft. One Corporal Sam Dolan was on the gun this day and a Zero suicide plane camp in from behind us flying low over us to hit the beach where many LSTs were unloading. Dolan heard the plane and swung the gun around and began firing at the target only a hundred feet over head.

Blasting away as it flew over he actually hit it and smoke began to blow out behind as it fell short of the beach. Unknown to any of us who were cheering was the fact that Dolan's last shot had misfired and blown the gun apart sending metal hunks into his right leg.

Jumping around on one leg while the other spurted blood Dolan cheered right along with the rest of u~ "I got it! I got it!" Then fell in a laughing heap, holding his leg.

These Kamikaze attacks went on for many days and it was always an exciting show, especially when our own fighters came in on the tail of an enemy bomber firing away. Then prudently pulling away before entering the zone of massive antiaircraft fire from the hundreds of ships around us.

This show after dark was even more impressive illuminated all around with the sky covered with spider webs of tracers all over the spectrum. An occasional midair brilliant explosion indicated a hit and premature death for one wanting to end his day gloriously in the inferno of a burning ship.

The many hits we did see were very depressing to watch as helpless sailors died under fanatical circumstances. Much different than watching men fall where opponents are shooting it out face to face. That is war as it should be fought. Equal opportunities for survival on either side.

The one sidedness of suiciders was incomprehensible to us and only served to remind us of what lay in store for us when we finally did invade the Japanese homeland.

We heard that Japanese arsenals were producing no more rifles or machine-guns but only handguns! Supposedly they were going to try to arm every man, woman and child to kill as many hated Americans as possible before dying for the Emperor.

After several miserable months surviving in the many caves around a few pathetic Okinawans began to appear at entrances and look down from the ridge line at us below. Evidently they were hungry enough to risk death seeking food.

One of our group saw them up there about two hundred feet from our camp. We climbed up the ragged hill and made motions for them to come on down. The terror in their eyes was pathetic and we decided to send one of us up alone to appear less fearsome and when I walked slowly toward them holding hands wide to show that I carried no weapons.

It had been a fairly difficult climb over the rough terrain and when I knelt down at the cave mouth I smiled in friendly fashion to calm their fears a bit. Just inside the entry I saw an amazing sight....a full size upright piano that had been carried up that steep incline. Why?

The people were desperately hungry and thirsty and had no recourse other than follow us and come down. As the numbers increased to twenty, than thirty and more, other Marines came up and assisted them on the difficult path to the valley floor below.

I gently held the arm of a very old lady and it was almost void of muscle or flesh. Felt like a broom handle and I spoke softly in a friendly tone in a language she didn't understand but calmed her fears somewhat.

Marines are sentimental old fools when it comes to children and helpless elderly people. They try to dispel the 'killer' image fostered by their training and vocation by setting up 'Toys for Tots' collection points at all Marine Reserve Units and frequently establish orphanages where badly needed in such places as Korea and Viet Nam.

Here compassion was sorely needed and we set out to try to help these poor victims of a terrible war. They had sickly pale grayish complexions after months out of the sun, and the children all had shaved heads to help keep lice away. None had bathed in months and when we arrived at the little creek on the floor of our valley we stopped to wash some of the filth from the little babies.

Others continued to appear and seeing no slaughter below they followed on down to where we had fifty or sixty among us. It was obvious that the~ were still very frightened even after we gave them much needed water and some fruit bar rations.

We summoned an interpreter from the Army who came to tell them that they would be treated properly and housed in a camp set up especially for refugees. The man was a Japanese-American from Hawaii where many families speak the language at home and his accent was pure Japanese.

The heretofore look of fear changed to hatred on the faces of the Okinawans who glared at him. thinking he was a traitor to their country. He sensed the hostility, probably used to it and he explained who was, American, not a traitor. Trucks came from the camp and carried the folks back there.

Later I drove by the refugee camp and was pleased to see children at play and women washing clothes inside a clean and neat tent city compound. They looked healthy and as happy as could be under the circumstances.

Our bivouac at that time was in a large courtyard of some sort with an old stone well in the middle. Our motor pool was set up there and when Marine or Army infantry began to find many Okinawans coming out of caves they brought them back to us to be trucked back to the camp.

One day they brought back a young lady in a surprisingly neat and clean blue kimono with a wide sash binding her waist. They left her with us and several guys crowded around the doll who brought to mind Madam Butterfly. One sleazy mechanic was private O. B. Noxious who put his arm around her and tried to place his other hand inside her kimoma bosom. She pushed him away and glared defiantly up at the greasy moron.

Lieutenant Englebert stepped up tapped Noxious and then pointed to the truck under repair. Then he looked at the little lady and pointed to the back seat of a nearby jeep She climbed in and sat quietly and the Lieutenant called out two names of men to escort the lady to the camp.

Both men, Lynch and Carter were married and Englebert thought that they may be a bit more respectful to the lady. About an hour later Lynch came back and joined our group to tell us what had happened.

When they arrived and stopped at the camp gate the lady got out and stepped over several mud puddles and on to a grassy mound near the fence line. There she knelt down on the grass and spoke to Lynch.

The gate guard started laughing, he said, "She wants you to shoot her over on the grass so she won't fall in the mud!" The guard summoned another Okinawan woman who convinced the little lady that she will not be shot and to come on in.
Our next encounter with refugees was not so amusing but very traumatic to many of us who witnessed a very disturbing event.

Infantrymen brought back about a dozen emaciated, frightened people for us to transport back to the camp. With wide eyes they stood around the old well and waited for whatever was to be their fate. As we stood around deciding who was to drive the truck we heard a baby scream and turned to see a woman toss her two small children into the well and then followed them going in head first.

Several of our guys ran over and saw the children thrashing around in the water. Two men hurried down finding footing on protruding rocks in the wall of the well. One handed the baby up and then grabbed the toddler and passed him up to those above looking on in horror. The woman was dead weight in every way and very difficult to pull back out of the well. She was put face down on the ground and 'Bert' began giving artificial respiration.

Later I drove by the refugee camp and was pleased to see children at play and women washing clothes inside a clean and neat tent city compound. They looked healthy and as happy as could be under the circumstances.

Our bivouac at that time was in a large courtyard of some sort with an old stone well in the middle. Our motor pool was set up there and when Marine or Army infantry began to find many Okinawans coming out of caves they brought them back to us to be trucked back to the camp.

After several miserable months surviving in the many caves around a few pathetic Okinawans began to appear at entrances and look down from the ridge line at us below. Evidently they were hungry enough to risk death seeking food.

One of our group saw them up there about two hundred feet from our camp. We climbed up the ragged hill and made motions for them to come on down. The terror in their eyes was pathetic and we decided to send one of us up alone to appear less fearsome and when I walked slowly toward them holding hands wide to show that I carried no weapons.

It had been a fairly difficult climb over the rough terrain and when I knelt down at the cave mouth I smiled in friendly fashion to calm their fears a bit. Just inside the entry I saw an amazing sight....a full size upright piano that had been carried up that steep incline. Why?

The people were desperately hungry and thirsty and had no recourse other than follow us and come down. As the numbers increased to twenty, than thirty and more, other Marines came up and assisted them on the difficult path to the valley floor below.

I gently held the arm of a very old lady and it was almost void of muscle or flesh. Felt like a broom handle and I spoke softly in a friendly tone in a language she didn't understand but calmed her fears somewhat.

Marines are sentimental old fools when it comes to children and helpless elderly people. They try to dispel the 'killer' image fostered by their training and vocation by setting up 'Toys for Tots' collection points at all Marine Reserve Units and frequently establish orphanages where badly needed in such places as Korea and Viet Nam.

Here compassion was sorely needed and we set out to try to help these poor victims of a terrible war. They had sickly pale grayish complexions after months out of the sun, and the children all had shaved heads to help keep lice away. None had bathed in months and when we arrived at the little creek on the floor of our valley we stopped to wash some of the filth from the little babies.

Others continued to appear and seeing no slaughter below they followed on down to where we had fifty or sixty among us. It was obvious that the~ were still very frightened even after we gave them much needed water and some fruit bar rations.

We summoned an interpreter from the Army who came to tell them that they would be treated properly and housed in a camp set up especially for refugees. The man was a Japanese-American from Hawaii where many families speak the language at home and his accent was pure Japanese.

The heretofore look of fear changed to hatred on the faces of the Okinawans who glared at him. thinking he was a traitor to their country. He sensed the hostility, probably used to it and he explained who was, American, not a traitor. Trucks came from the camp and carried the folks back there.

The shout, "Corpsman!" always draws a crowd and the crying babies also attracted lots of attention. The motor pool area was soon filled with many of us watching the drama unfold. The remaining refugees soon lost their frightened expressions and their looks became incredulous as to what these 'barbarians' were doing trying desperately to succor the 'enemy', Okinawans.

Eventually they melded into the crowd and became ordinary bystanders. The medic came and took a quick look at the babies and then knelt beside the woman and felt her wrist for pulse beat. Then he looked over at 'Bert' and shook his head. They then turned her back face up and he felt again around the throat but found no life beat.

He then tried to help the two small children who were still crying hysterically. Both were in the arms of oversized Marines who were try to soothe them rocking from side to side. The medic finally cooled their abrasions and cuts and they calmed a bit.

Someone said, "Lets bury her." and several men went back to get shovels and a blanket to wrap the body in. Corporal Tom DeMarco dug a grave near a wall in soft red soil while others placed the woman on a blanket and folded it over her.

The forgotten refugees began to mingle with their recent 'enemies' and a nursing mother came to take the tiny infant to feed and calm it. Others came and took the other child with a simple look of gratitude for the scene just witnessed.

One elderly lady knelt beside the blanket wrapped corpse and looked up a plea. She then unwrapped the blanket and we saw those dead eyes wide with fright and the lady gently closed them and brushed sand from the cheek while pushing hair back over the head. She then folded the hands over the dead bosom and recovered the body with the United States Marine Corps blanket.

Two men carried it over to the grave and placed it down gently, then stood back. DeMarco kissed his crucifix then made the sign of the cross and began shoveling dirt into the grave.

To all of us this was a very very traumatic experience, mainly to think that a mother would kill her children rather than have them fall into our hands. We all felt ashamed that such an image of us had been perpetrated. To a man we loved children and wouldn't consider anything harmful to be allowed on their persons.

Several of the Okinawans went over and said their prayers at the grave and then we helped all of them up into the truck. In less than an hour their countenance had changed from horror to calm witnesses to a dramatic event.

As the truck pulled away some of us waved at them and some of them waved back. We did feel better! Humanity is divinity, divided without, united within!

As the enemy was compressed into the southern tip of the island we began to see a very strange phenomenon, live Japanese soldiers! Throughout the south Pacific war we had seen many deceased enemy and very few live ones, much to our chagrin; no targets!

The U.S. had scattered thousands of surrender leaflets on them, guaranteeing safe passage for the bearer. Printed in two languages it advised us to treat bearers with the terms of the Geneva convention, although Japan was not a signatory.

A few came forth cautiously, holding the leaflet high and showing no arms in hand. As these were allowed to enter our ranks safely, others observed and followed suit. First they came in dozen lots and then hundreds. As I remember the final count was over ten thousand. An amazing sight.

We had no facilities to keep that large amount under guard so they were funneled into a location of several acres and then a large white stripe was painted on the ground in a square around them. They were advised that this was the 'fence' and not to cross it. Then we painted another larger white square about twenty feet outside the first and they were advised that crossing the outer square meant sudden death by machine gun squads set up around the line.

I drove by this 'POW camp' and saw the very strange sight of many thousands of defeated Japanese troops looking belligerent still as they glowered at us.

As the battle for Okinawa slowly wound down we began to hear)rumors of our relief from this tedious adventure and we thought we saw 'light at the end of this miserable tunnel'.

At long last, our 'parole' came and word was spread that we would board homeward bound ships Wednesday, two days hence. We were ecstatic and laughed like loons while packing for that long dreamed of trip back home.

Colonel Hyatt called my name and I went over to him and he handed me an envelope, saying, "These are your travel orders! You are not going to ride our slow boat back, you fly! This is your triple A air priority and you will be there to greet us when we finally do get there."

I knew that this was too good to be true and I said, "Why can't I go with the guys?" He said that I was to stay behind for just two more weeks and forward all the battalions mail and then fly home! My tears had no effect on him and he said that he had arranged for me to stay with an antiaircraft unit on a nearby hill. Eat and sleep there for only two weeks and then fly back to greet us at the dock in San Francisco.

Colonel Hyatt was a big guy and while I whined and moaned in grief he patted my head, saying "You'll be fine, see you when we get back."

At about the lowest ebb of my life I stood and waved at all those happy friends pulling away in trucks to go board a ship that would take them back to the promised land, minus me!

I never saw them again!

Okinawa is situated on about the same latitude as south Texas where it does get cold and sometimes freezes. We had been 'living' in the tropical heat for several years and were not physically acclimatized to cool weather and as I remember, in April when we landed the temperature at night was in the forties.

We were issued lightweight Windbreaker type jackets and an extra blanket but having to sleep on cold wet ground caused many of us to develop severe head colds which lasted for weeks.

Smitten with self pity my physical condition deteriorated and my cold settled into my chest causing much coughing, misery and yellow phlegm. I moped around hardly speaking to the fresh recruit army boys manning the antiaircraft gun and they avoided me. I heard one use the term 'spooky' talking about me.

As my two weeks in purgatory finally ended my cold had worsened and I was a bit feverish as I presented my travel papers to a dispatcher at Yonnd. We were all superstitious about one thing, getting 'knocked off' the last day before going home, and stories abounded about guys being zapped by air raids here at Yontan. Bombers dropped a few most every night here and as I found a bunk under canvas I noticed that there were no foxholes in sight. We never slept well with out the comforting nearness of a hole in the ground.

Sleeping in fitful snatches while coughing and wheezing we did have several air raid alerts and I was protected by a double layer of canvas, the tent and the cot that I hid under.

Day two at Yontan found me still sitting on a bench under a sullen funk while watching droves of officers respond to their name called and go board aircraft.

Late in the afternoon I heard my name called and raced out to get aboard a four engine DC4 transport plane. Climbing aboard I saw that it was packed with uniformed passengers, on the metal deck, mostly.

This was designed for freight, not people, and it had a long metal rod with an canvas cover, pulled down to make one long 'bucket' seat. That was 'first class' and we peons were 'tourist' class and flopped on the floor in close proximity.

As we became airborne I stood up and looked out a window and saw the southern tip of the island fade away in the mist. My last view of the place and the war, as it were. My backpack was my pillow and I sank into exhausted, feverish sleep lulled by the drone of engines vibrating through the deck.

Sometime later I was rudely awakened by bouncing up and down several inches off the deck, holding my pack pillow close to my bumping head. I noticed that it was very dark with bright flashes of lightening revealing the sight of many men crowded up to the small windows. Crawling up and peering between them I saw a very scary sight of wings flapping in the heavy winds and turbulence.

We non-flyers were amazed to see the wing tips actually bobbing up and down about six feet as the deck below us fell and rose.....frightening to us earthlings!

Accepting my fate, whatever, I returned to resume sleeping on the hard, bumpy deck. When I regained consciousness it was quiet again and I expected to see Angels and harps and stuff, but again the fellows were at the windows staring out at a very strange site, lights of a city ahead!

In war zones blackouts become a way of life and very few electric lights are ever seen, other than on vehicles where they dimmed squinting through 'blinders'. We accepted darkness as normal for several years and were thrilled to see brilliant lights of Agana, Guam come into view.

We shouted to one another excitedly as neon signs pointed out BAR! Wow, liquor, cafe and so forth. Traffic lights glowed red and green with auto lights lined up. Thrilling, then the runway lights inviting us to come on in and set a spell.

It was midnight when we were trucked over to a transit camp and directed to beds to relieve our aching backs but we had difficulty sleeping in our excited state of mind. I had slept soundly on that bouncing deck but only fitful naps here on a cot with even a mattress pad on it.

My first morning on Guam found me asking directions to the sick bay since my cough and fever seemed worse than before. I felt miserable and I told the doctor so as he listened to my breathing through a stethoscope, frowning. He pulled it out of his ears and said, "You have good reason to feel lousy, you have lobar pneumonia!"

He called a medic and said "Lets get this man in the hospital right away!" I stood up and walked toward the door and said, "No way! I'm going home if its on a stretcher. We argued a while and he reluctantly released me with a few pills to help ease the situation a bit, advising that I rest as much as possible.

As we inquired about our continuing flight we were told that there may be some delay with the mass migration of people going home from the war. Advised to stand by and wait for our names to be called, they said try to relax and enjoy the rest. If we were still not airborne by nightfall we could go enjoy a movie at a nearby open air theater.

The long day ended with us still there and at twilight we ambled over to sit on logs and wait for dark to see a movie. Loudspeakers on either side of the screen were blaring music from armed forces radio and suddenly it stopped for an important announcement.

"Today the United States Air Force dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan! This one super bomb has the explosive power of nine zillion tons of T.N.T. and really zapped 'em!"

We cheered at the thought that a bunch of these super bombs may shorten the war and even negate the need of invading Japan, which was a constant source of unrest in those of us most likely to be sent back to do just that.

Seeing the pathetic suffering of the innocent civilians on Okinawa was foremost in our minds and realizing that it would be even worse invading the Japanese homeland. Most assuredly we would be forced to fight men, women and children all bent on killing the intruders in suicidal fanaticism.

Who to shoot and who not to shoot would have been uppermost in our minds and we would have been haunted the rest of our lives about doubts in that endeavor. Horrifying thought!

The frustrating wait at this transit camp lasted three days and we were disgusted in the fact that our air priorities evidently were worthless. While grinding our teeth and cursing the fickle finger of fate we heard an announcement informing us that surface transportation was available on a ship leaving today heading east and those of us who chose to could board after noon chow.

Many of us were ready to try to swim home at that time and decided it might be better to take a ship. A truck was sent over for us and we asked the driver what kind of a ship it was. He leaned out of the cab window and said, "Its a carrier!"

We did feel better about it and began to talk of the many advantages of riding home on a carrier. Lots of deck space for us to sleep on, good chow and some even have ice cream bars!

As we arrived near the coastline our driver turned down a beach road where many LSTs stood with gaping mouths. As we stopped in front of one ugly duckling the driver stepped out of the cab and said, "I said carrier! I didn't say what it carried, ha, ha, ha!" as he ran down the beach to avoid an angry lynch mob. We sullenly walked up the ramp while thinking that the planes may have got there in two days. It may take two weeks in this slow boat to Chinatown!

L.S.T. meant 'landing ship tank', but to us it was 'large slow target' and this one carried no heavy equipment and rode high on the water like a child's bathtub toy.,~very little wave caused it to shudder from fore to aft fostering a queasy feeling to us standing o~ deck.

Those of us on board were very disgruntled and not a bunch of 'happy campers' and avoided even eye contact with each other. I noticed that the majority of them were commissioned officers and high rated non commissioned officers who had all been bounced down from first class to steerage.

On the first day out I was standing at the rail spitting cough ups into the foam of our wake drifting by at nine knots when someone called out my name. I turned and responded to an officer with a clipboard in hand.

He said, "Report to the galley, you're on mess duty!" as he made a check off on his clipboard. I was flabbergasted! I said, "Sir, I am a noncommissioned officer, we do not do mess duty!" He glared at me and said, "You are one of the lowest ranking people on this ship and will do as I order or we will have you 'before the mast' in one minute!"

I walked toward the galley completely whipped. I hadn't had to serve mess duty since boot camp almost three years ago and after three 'campaigns' and many many friends I had acquired a modicum of prestige. I had been hit in the gut with a sledge hammer which added to my puny physical misery.

Reporting to the navy cook with fire in my eyes he pointed to the big metal sink and said, "Pot wollaper", and avoided my eyes for the remainder of the week.

That day, August ninth, was a momentous day with the second atomic bomb having been dropped on Nagasaki. Then Russia declared war on dying Japan and raced down toward Manchuria's industrial area. As dumb as I was about international affairs even I knew that they were going down to steal all those factories, which they did. I was unaware of the fact that the Potsdam agreement programmed their declaration of war on Japan as soon as Germany folded.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

 

  Discussion Forum Daily Updates Reviews Museums Interviews & Oral Histories  
 
Pacific Wrecks Inc. All rights reserved.
Donate Now Facebook Twitter YouTube Google Plus Instagram