Heroes: the Army
"...Pop, a flare went up, and when it exploded it spread light on two figures I could see in the glare, ninety feet away. I swung my BAR up quickly to my shoulder, pulled the trigger and fired the entire magazine at them; and that was twenty rounds in six seconds. Wow..."
William R. Hill
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: M. Co, 382nd Regt, 96th "Deadeye" Division
- Dates: 1944-1946
- Location: Pacific Theater
- Rank: T/5
- Birth Year: 1926
- Entered Service: Indianapolis, IN
Once a Deadeye, Always a Deadeye
© copyright William R. Hill 2002
By William R. Hill
This is a memoir covering my service in the 96th Infantry Division on Okinawa in WWII. It was compiled in 2002.
My memoir carries the name," Once a Deadeye, Always a Deadeye", in honor of the continuing way the veterans of the 96th Infantry Division feel about belonging to their outfit. They also have good reason to be proud of their division, because of their excellent combat record on both Leyte and Okinawa in WWII.
The medals and honors earned by these Deadeyes were: five Congressional Medals of Honor, Division Unit Battle Honors, Meritorious Achievement Awards, thousands of Purple Hearts for their wounds and lives, all given in service for their Distinguished Service Crosses, several Silver Stars, many Bronze Stars, and tragically, country. Collectively this Deadeye Infantry Division of men also earned the Presidential Unit Citation, our nation's highest award. The awards I earned were: Good Conduct medal, Presidential Unit Emblem, Asia Pacific Campaign Medal with one star, WWII Victory Medal, Combat Infantry badge and Marksman Badge. The WWII honorable Service Lapel button was worn after the war on civilian clothing. (The ruptured duck.)
I dedicate this memoir to all my family who were at home while I was in the service. These are my Mom and her husband Arthur, Dad and his wife Mable, my Grandmother Ella, and my brother Bob, who all loved me unreservedly, and feared the absolute worst while I was overseas in combat. At the time my half-brother David Beltz, was an infant. My other half- brothers, Mike and Mark Hill were born many years later.
Also, a very special dedication, to my precious wife Jeane, and this is because she was the one, who in all reality who had the most to lose. At the time I went in the service, she was Jeane Bartholomew, who later became my fiancé. She pined for my presence and prayed that I would return so we could live our lives together and fulfill our dreams.
My wife, my children, and others prompted me to write about my war experiences several years ago because they hadn't heard the full story and were interested. I have written this for them, for my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren coming along. I have several other close relatives I would also like to share this story with, as well as friends, fellow Deadeyes, and other veterans.
It took quite a bit of effort on my part to put this together, and I did have a lot of help. Thankfully, some helped me with grammar, some told me what they wanted to know, and fellow vets sent me their pictures, newspaper articles and information. I also used information from books I have read about the Deadeyes in the war. I began my writing with a few notes, took a class on writing, and finished writing and revising on my computer. I have my wife to thank for her encouragement, ideas and patience.
I substantiated all the names and places I used about M Co, by referring to the official Army records stored in the Army Records Center in St. Louis, Mo. I also found good information from the book, Okinawa: the Last Battle. Published by the Center of Military History of the United States Army. The book Love Company by Donald Dencker, the historian of the 96th Division, confirmed my facts, and added to my understanding. I have kept this narrative on the things I had personally experienced. I did add item of interest, and a few comments along the way for clarity.
I knew very little about many things going on in the battle while I was there. For an example I had heard but sketchy reports of Japanese Kamikaze suicide planes attacking our ships, when there were hundreds involved. I had no idea Navy gun ships off shore were firing into Japanese positions, Also, I knew we were losing men in combat, but I heard nothing about the intense hand to hand battles often being fought throughout the night. So reading my narrative only gives you a small picture of the battle actually taking place, and much of it was hundreds of yards out in front of me.
The brass didn't really want us to be informed, because if we were captured, or our mail was intercepted, it could give vital intelligence to the Japanese. Also if we knew all the real dangers and the chances of dying we might get that information back to the folks at home and affect civilian morale. As a result of this military position on information, the American public just wasn't informed about a lot of things.
WWII was in full progress at this point in time. Italy had been defeated. In Europe German forces were surrounded on all fronts, and the end was near. In the Pacific Theatre China and all Pacific Islands all held by the Japanese were taking many losses. Our Marines had just captured Iwo Jima, Our Navy was sinking all Japanese ships and the Army Air Force was pounding Japanese targets on the mainland. There was much to be done however to force the Japanese to surrender and end to all this bloodshed. This is where the narrative begins.
It is a beautiful sun filled day somewhere in the western Pacific Ocean. The sea is calm, and a light salt air breeze is blowing over the top deck of a troopship full of young soldiers. Some are at the side rails gazing blankly at the passing ocean waves, some are reading, and a few are back on the fantail watching salt-water foam form patterns and disappear.
It is April 30,1945, and this ship is in a convoy tacking north toward the island of Okinawa. Six days ago these 600 men finished taking advanced infantry training on the tropical island of Saipan.
The Army divisions they will be joining have been in combat since April 1st, and they need these fresh men to fill their depleted ranks. The Sailors on board have just finished gunnery practice, and so it is 0900 hours military time. This narrative begins as these soldiers start to make preparations.
We were told our rifles had to pass inspection, and this made sense because there was a big probability they would be needed. I didn't know it at the time; salt air has a very corrosive nature. I discovered my rifle did need attention, so I opened the butt plate, took out the brass wire brush and used it. Several of the guys used the rope technique; take the rope off of your bunk, insert it through the barrel and slide the rifle barrel back and forth, and that was necessary because the rifles were that bad.
What we had been waiting on suddenly blasted out over the PA. "All Army Units, Now Hear This." At that time we were given assignments to report to officers at various spots on the deck. There we were told to report back in an hour for a full inspection. and this meant all combat gear, full field packs, and rifles.
I was on an emotional plateau, full of reserved excitement. I went through the open hatch, raced down several steel stairways to my bunk on the lowest deck, and found the area already full of activity. I squeezed in past several busy men to my bunk, quickly got my entire gear ready, and was soon topside waiting for an inspection.
The inspecting officer was casual in manner, and seemed to take a personal interest in each man's gear by making suggestions. This officer was different, as he was more one of us now. Not having lost his status as an officer, but his manner was more like an older brother or a dad. This is quite the exception from the gruff and impersonal manner we were accustomed, and I enjoyed the difference.
After noon chow we assembled, and had our packs and gear in place, and were ready to leave. Then we were issued c- rations, which we stuffed into our packs. To our surprise we were also issued gas masks. We were reminded to check our canteens for water and bring our duffle bags topside. We lugged them up from the hold, and dumped them one by one onto a large pile in the sun near one of the boom columns. I wondered if I would ever see all my personal belongings again.
We waited around and waited around. (The hurry up and wait army routine). Three hours later we were told we would be going to Okinawa. We weren't really aware of an island by that name, where it was nor why the Army would want to take this island next. We did know that the Marines were on Iwo Jima, and that it had been secure for some time. Now we hear this island is close to Japan too. We were truly surprised at this, because we all thought all a long that we would be going to Formosa. We were completely in the dark about Okinawa, but it was apparent that we were going to be the replacements for the men wounded or killed there.
In the afternoon, we made routine glances around the skyline for the very first resemblance of an island. Those that had been keeping a close vigil reported sighting the real thing, because I too saw a sliver of black on the horizon off the bow. We were surprisingly issued two bandoleers of rifle ammunition, (200 rounds), and new shovels, so I had to make some changes in my pack. I took each wide heavy bandoleer and circled it around my neck, and also attached the shovel to my pack. I balanced the now heavier load, and adjusted the shoulder straps on my pack so they would ride as high and as comfortable as possible. I took it all off and sat on it and waited for the evening chow line, and when it formed stepped in and followed down inside for my last meal aboard ship.
We returned and sat on our packs again, standing up and stretching occasionally, and walking around to get another look at our destination form on the horizon, now getting larger and larger as we moved in. There was a large black cloud of smoke coming up from the right side of the island. I wondered if it was a burning oil depot, a ship on fire, a plane shot down, and if anyone died. What was going on? It was a continuing mystery. At that time I began wondering about a lot of other things, and all this was becoming a moment of truth for me; how was it really going to be? Conversations among us were at a minimum as we were not just in an expectant mood, but a mood to contemplate what our part in the war was really going to be.
Was I really ready for this? I felt inadequate; I wished I had more training. My thoughts even drifted back to when I decided to join the Army, and I relived those events. I didn't think of those at home very much, and I didn't feel sorry for myself. I wasn't at ease really, nor antsy, just in moments of anticipation. Maybe some of the guys felt fear. I really didn't, but I wasn't confident. However, I always had that gut feeling that I was coming back. I never doubted that once, even though I had some real reservations about being cut up.
Everyone there just wanted to survive. What were we fighting for anyway? Was it pure patriotism? Yes, somewhat, but for me it was only in a general way. Is this a chance for glory or making a name for ourselves? No! Was I anxious to get in there and kick butt? No! Sacrifice to make the world safe from the Japanese and the Germans? No! Not as specific as that. No super-patriots here. We all knew the job had to be done, and all of us truly just wanted to make it safely back. We would get it done and come home. However, some of the generalizations we made at that time became tempered by personal experiences in the immediate future.
Moving in closer to the island, the black cloud we had seen earlier was looming angry and ugly. I noticed that our ship was slowing down and seemingly just coasting. I could not hear the ships engines. We were part of a dramatic scene; a bay of dark gray ships. We were moved into the center, to a selected spot. Ships were now all around us. They were of various sizes patiently waiting around, as if they following secret and mysterious orders. This activity was but routine exercise for the sailors, however it was fascinating to us. We calmly stood along the rails watching everything unfold before our eyes. Thankfully there were no Kamikaze suicide planes coming in.
The smoke we had been tracking earlier blended into the darkness. The island was about 1000 yards away, when I discovered a glow on the left near the water line, and a small empty landing craft in the water coming towards us. Our ship moved in even closer and came to a gradual stop. From our vantage point above, we saw this small landing craft gradually move in closer to our ship and heard its engine 'rev up' as it banked and churned up foam, and assumed a nearly parallel position along side ours. Sailors immediately dropped a large cargo net over the side, and it settled near the landing craft below us. It slapped against the side of the ship every time the ship rolled. Considerable skill was required by the sailors in the surging water to keep the tossing craft alongside, and because it was so close to the troop ship it often collided. I heard metal thud time after time as steel impacted steel and often scraped the sides.
It was time for us to go in so we were directed to leave by going over the side four at a time. We were all well loaded, with at least a sixty-pound pack on our backs, rifles over our shoulders, those two bandoleers of ammo, and steel helmets strapped on our heads. Each man in turn, swung his legs up and over the side, and then clumsily followed down one man after another. The net, now loaded with men, often swayed away from the ship when an ocean swell came in, and caused all of us on the net to twist and bang against the side. Moving down we had to hold on to the net and realign ourselves repeatedly as the waves receded and swayed.
Working my way down the net was hazardous, so I wrapped my entire arm around the rope, held on to keep myself from either dropping into the ocean, or crashing on the steel deck. Because it was dark, none of us had seen very well, so we stepped on each other's hands. As we gradually moved down the swinging net, we timed the movement of the bouncing craft below, so we could safely drop in, as the net had not extended down into the landing boat. We made a leap of faith at just the right time. Fortunately no one in my group had broken a leg or crushed an arm.
When our landing craft was full, we began gradually moving in. I noticed a large ship taking form in the glow on the left side near the shore. Each landing craft in turn, moved on in to a position near the shore and formed a line where they stayed for about an hour. At that time I saw a sight on my left front I have never forgotten. The ship taking form out of the glow 150 yards away proved to be a white hospital ship flooded in light. Olive drab colored ambulances, with the white crosses on their side, silently passed in front of us bringing wounded men. They were moving right to left on a dirt road parallel to the shore, and spaced about 30 yards apart. Huddled in the night, we waited and bobbed in that little landing boat, having a lot of time to contemplate the destiny of our immediate future, and the concerns of all those men in ambulances, which had passed in a seemingly unending flow in front of our eyes.
Meanwhile, the straps of my pack had cut into my shoulders and my arms were going to sleep. Each landing craft, when receiving a signal, maneuvered through the rolling swells and waves one by one and landed on the shore. It was a relief to move in.
Our boat scraped as we hit the beach, and we all lunged forward. The retaining chains rattled as the front ramp released and plunged into the sand. I followed the man in front of me and walked onto the shore with very tired legs. I took slow strides, balancing and lifting the heavy pack high on my shoulders, and turning I noticed I was walking across the road the ambulances had used. I enjoyed the security of feeling real dirt under my feet again. I followed inland gradually passing out of that illuminated area into the darkness and strangeness of Okinawa.
On the Ground
The evening air was cool and refreshing because it had been raining. We continued hiking in absolute darkness on uneven ground for nearly a quarter of a mile and stopped in a large field. It was a strange situation; hundreds of men talking and fumbling around in complete darkness, trying to put up tents. I didn't make out anyone knew, but a guy nearby agreed to buddy, so we put our shelter halves together. That was difficult in the darkness, deciding who does what, pounding pegs where and snapping which flap first, but we finally did. I crawled inside and quickly dropped off to sleep.
I was tired so I slept all night, and when I got up the next morning I found it sprinkling rain. Some of the guys were already up milling around, smoking and talking, and I realized I could have but little time, so I had to get ready quick. I opened my two cans of C-rations and used part of the water from my canteen to make cereal and cocoa, and thoughtlessly ate them too fast. The light rain continued and as I walked around getting my load together, mud gathered on my boots like thick paddles. Everything was getting sloppy, but we struck our tent and packed, mud and all.
Like the rest of the men, I began standing around in limbo waiting to move out. I looked around and could see that we were in a very large open field, and saw trees in the distance in every direction. It all looked very peaceful. I stood there in the spring air watching rain clouds slowly and quietly drift overhead.
There was a rumor going around that there was an Army unit on the front line in real trouble, and that we might be badly needed and that some of us would be going up front right away. I had a sinking feeling in my chest and then suddenly an assertive positive emotion swept over me like a reflex. I immediately gripped my rifle with both hands and it felt solid. I knew we could all be there for them and I could help.
I heard singing in the distance. I found where it was coming from and moved in nearer. It turned out to be six or seven Mexicans all gathered around and sitting on their duffle bags near a man strumming on his guitar. I settled myself nearby and just listened, trying not to intrude or stare. I did not understand their words, but the songs carried a sentimental tone, as the words may have been more serious. It was a pleasant feeling just being there and hearing them sing. I was envious of their camaraderie, and would have personally enjoyed bonding with them.
Along about this time some of the men discovered that their new entrenching tools wouldn't open. Shovels were the folding type and were paint stuck. Someone pounded on the locking nut, broke it loose, and the problem was solved. We were all relieved.
Winds blew the clouds away and the sun came out, just as the four-by-four trucks arrived. A man emerged with lists of men on his clipboard, and we drew close and attentively waited. He loudly read off the names, and each man in turn answered. "Here!"," See ya, got your address." "Yeah good luck." "See Ya" All these words and good wishes were often repeated. Men with all their gear loaded in the truck one by one, until each truck was filled. An aura of mystery surrounded each truck leaving ahead of me, because I didn't know where they going, nor if I would ever see those I had met earlier.
When they yelled "Hill" I answered and I swung my muddy pack up on my shoulders and held on my rifle as I pulled myself into the truck. It had no benches, so I stood and held on to the wooden rack on the side. Other men followed me on. Our truck soon filled and moved out into the open country. I was wide-eyed and eagerly looked at everything in this strange new land. It was pleasant ride in an open truck on a day much like any sunny spring day would be back home in Indiana.
One of the first things I noticed was there were many grubby trees with no leaves. These were strange varieties, with twisted trunks and small scraggly limbs, which didn't look like any trees back home. Artillery shells and Navy bombing had blown most of the limbs and leaves away. Once in while I saw a small hut set way back among the trees. Farther down the road there was one of our large artillery guns in place maybe one of those 155s.There were a couple of army tents pitched under some nearby trees. The artillery gun camouflaged with typical green overhead netting, which extended and draped over everything. There were a couple of disinterested guys standing nearby that barely glanced at us as we went by.
Our truck traveled but a few miles and dropped men off at several places."Hey, good luck buddy," we shouted. We were all buddies, even those we didn't know because we were all in this together. The truck traveled on hilly dirt roads that passed by an occasional rice paddy filled with water. We turned off the main road and began moving on flattened grass having been made by earlier truck. Our driver turned in towards the edge of a wooded area, slowed down, swung one quarter around and stopped. It was my turn. I had been anticipating this and feeling good about it. I was at last going to join an outfit, a real Army outfit, and one that I could call my own.
I arrived at M Company on May 1st. They had landed with the Division on April 1st and on the 22nd they were relieved for a rest and moved off the lines to a location just west of the Kadena airstrip. They were assigned here to secure the area in case of a counter attack or invasion. I was one of 42 soldiers that came in to get the company up to combat strength.
With M Company
I swung down off the truck to the ground with my pack and rifle, and walked toward a soldier standing there. "Where are we?" I asked. He replied." M company, 382nd, you guys are the replacements we have been watching for." He motioned with his arm to follow, and after all twenty of us piled off the truck, followed him back to a wooded area about 40 yards, to an open shady spot among the trees. Three smiling and friendly guys casually came forward and greeted us; they were anxious to meet us. "Where are all you guys from?" One man asked. "Anybody from Ohio?" He continued. "I don't know, but I'm from Indiana, anybody from there?" I answered. Then he said. "Yea I think, maybe a couple or so from Indiana". The talking continued from there with everybody joining in. After about five minutes of getting acquainted, more guys came out of the trees with food for all of us! We took out our mess gear and on the spot we were served our noon meal. I was flabbergasted. This was like a picnic among old friends in the woods. It made me feel like royalty. I didn't remember the rest of the food, but I did remember the fruit salad in the heavy syrup for dessert. I hadn't eaten this good since basic training! They could have withheld the fruit salad and we would have never known it.
Shortly after our chow, a guy came up, probably a platoon sergeant, and called us over and asked. "Is there anyone here that would like to be in the mortars?" One of the guys that had been talking to us, Mason, pulled me aside and quietly said, "Say yes, its the best, go ahead say yes." But I was a little reluctant; because the old army rule is, never volunteer for anything. I got up anyway, stood in a line of volunteers, and was the last man chosen. The rest of the men went into machine gun squads much nearer the front lines, and they ended up being in a lot more danger than I was back in the mortars. I made a naïve choice, however it turned out to be most fortunate for me.
One of the men lead us to our new company, so I followed him around among the trees, and he dropped us off to our separate squads. I was introduced to those there, and as my squad leader wasn't around, I had to wait. I took off my pack and sat down in the shade and talked to a guy there. This gave me a chance to look around. I made out another guy over among the trees, a pitched tent with no one around, (probably asleep), and another one was reading. I had not expected a place like this so relaxed and peaceful here among the trees. They were definitely not in direct combat with everybody being so laid back.
A tall skinny guy, probably in his late twenties, tanned and stripped to his waist like many of the others, walked up and introduced himself. He was De Hann, and they all called him Dutch. He was my new squad leader. After shaking hands, I followed him to get a place to put up my tent.
I was walking along among the trees, when I faintly heard a guy in the distance yelling something. I casually glanced up and, I saw this guy about 50 yards to my right among the trees on a nearby hill, waving and yelling. I immediately knew it was Alton, so I yelled back. He moved in closer and then whistled a sound only I knew. We shook hands and were really glad to see each other. He and I had been friends in basic training. We had both left Camp Blanding in January, and I had never known what happened to him. Now here it is in April, and we are together. Back in basic we had often talked about things back home Indiana and we had that in common. Ralph Alton is from Bruceville, Indiana. Everybody needed a buddy in the Army, and as destiny would have it, we were together again.
Back in basic training, the mail clerk had a distinctive two-toned whistle that he used to announce that he was passing out the mail. Alton and I often hung around outside his hut waiting for him. We both learned how to imitate that distinctive whistle, and had fun using it back and forth when we were out training. It was a little thing only he and I shared. We had always said that we might be in a jungle somewhere we would signal each other, using that secret whistle. It was prophetic, because here we are not only on the same island in the Pacific; we are in the very same company.
I needed to pitch my tent, so Alton came over from his squad and joined me. We chose a flat spot up on a little hill between some trees to put our tent, and it was an ideal spot because we had a good overview of our company area looking down through the trees. As we pitched our tent we talked about where we had been and we discovered, we had been at all the same places, but at different times.
Soon a guy came by and announced that our duffle bags had come in. I gladly walked down and got mine. I wanted it back in my hands again. I checked it out and everything was there, and that was always a relief, because there were thieves. Later on I turned in my rifle, bayonet, and all that extra ammo I had been lugging around everywhere, and then I was issued a smaller weapon, a .30 cal carbine and magazines.
The sun moved among the trees and it was time for chow. Alton and I followed the smells of food down into the mess area. I found a line of men in a flat shady spot, which was parallel to the big kitchen tent. These guys are the guys in my new outfit, and I felt privileged to be with them. They were quietly and patiently getting their mess gear filled, sauntering through the line. I could hear jovial banter back and forth by those in line, and heard serving spoons slap food into mess gear one by one, as each man moved from station to station. I heard the servers ask if it was enough and getting polite answers in return. I followed the line and filled mine too. At the end of the line, I passed by three cans of water being heated for cleaning our gear. The churning, boiling water had a distinct scent rising above that reminded me of basic training.
I looked around and saw Alton a little ways over and walked over and joined him. I chose a spot on the ground by a tree and propped myself up against it. They had seconds and dessert if I wanted them. It was quite a step up from the experiences I had been having the last four months, and I enjoyed it.
I took a little time to take a look around and saw guys I hadn't seen before. I did spot Mason, who was one I met when we first came in. There were some other guys nearby that spoke and asked where I was from. Then I met Sam "Barney" Avery from the Frankfort Indiana area, and other members of my new squad, Harold Moss, Ken Morgan, Richard Jones, Don Johnson and Whitey Sergeant. Some of the non-coms and officers nearby came over and spoke. It was casual, and there was absolutely no saluting and I saw no rank on their clothes. Most of the guys were a lot older than myself. Some were twice as old. Some had been in the outfit for more than three years and most had came through the combat in the Leyte Island campaign in the Philippines, just a few months ago. Some had been wounded. There was a lot of "savy" here. They were a seasoned bunch of pros.
The men were all in their casual fatigue uniforms, with some wearing shirts in and some out, and some wearing just shorts. There were also those with .45 cal pistols strapped on. These men were not wearing clothes that looked like my spanking new green fatigues, because theirs had that worn look, a lot lighter in color that mine. I stuck out and felt it. At least half of these guys hadn't shaved for months and gave a formidable appearance with their big bushy black beards. They were a bunch of confident men, who had left home a long time ago, now doing a very demanding and dangerous job. They immediately commanded my respect, just by their having survived this far, and as an eighteen year old, I felt that anyone there could have walked through a brick wall.
About an hour after chow and almost dark, Alton asked me if I wanted to go to the show, and if did to get a blanket and a poncho. This was a great idea so I got mine and carefully followed him and the light from his flashlight on a narrow path that wound around trees and water- filled rice paddies. We stopped in front of a ten by ten foot white screen, set among the trees, and found several men already sitting on their blankets. Soon the movie flickered and started; however in about three minutes an air- raid siren wailed, and the movie was over. That meant all lights out immediately, and it also meant we had to get back to our area quickly.
Walking back in almost pitch darkness was tricky, and you know we didn't hold hands. On the very first night I heard a Japanese bomber flying high overhead. The .50 cal. machine guns on board the ships around the perimeter of the island, opened up on him and their tracers' arched and cross-laced across the sky. The anti-aircraft guns were also firing and I saw several little puffs of smoke near the plane. We were too far away to hear any of these guns firing, but we could hear the plane and the falling chunks of shrapnel fall dangerously through the tree leaves. Luckily, this overhead activity stopped and we made it back OK that night without anything else happening.
The next morning I had a good breakfast and the eggs the way I wanted them. What happened last night made an impression on Alton and I, so we dug a foxhole and pitched our tent over it, trying to protect ourselves and maybe sleep better.
While we were at that site Alton and I had a lot of time on our hands, so from that day on, we went out in the surrounding countryside exploring. If we had listened to the advice we were given in training sessions, we would never have ventured out. Many souvenirs we were looking for could have been booby- trapped and we could have had a leg or an arm blown off. There could also have been a hidden Japanese soldier out there that would either killed us or taken us captive. All we thought was it could be fun, however we did strap on our rifle belts, first aid packs and canteens, and also carried our carbines and steel helmets. We left after noon chow, knowing that we would need to get back before evening chow. We had not been told we couldn't, so we thought it was OK. We took off in the bright sunshine, in our ignorance and without caution; after all we were still teenagers.
We skirted around rice fields in the lower areas containing water by taking footpaths between them. We hiked over small hills and noticed the few trees around and kept close track of where we were. This obviously wasn't a good time to get lost. We approached and entered two small abandoned grass shacks and discovered they were bare. Sometimes we stirred up a chicken or two. There was nothing military around or any sounds of the war going on up front. However, we really wanted to bring back a souvenir of some value to make the trip worthwhile, so we latched on to a couple of dusty mats we found rolled up in the loft of a hut. At least we could put them in the bottom of our foxhole and maybe make our sleeping a little more comfortable. We got back in plenty of time, so we rebuilt the inside of our foxhole from the bottom up, putting the mats down first, then the blankets over them and tucked the mosquito bar in neat around the edges.
Mosquitoes had to be dealt with because we were in the tropics; Malaria was a constant threat. We took Atabrine tablets daily that turned us all a little yellow, and we used an oily insect repellant. We were also encouraged to use head nets under our steel helmets at night, and keep our shirt sleeves buttoned.
Alton suffered throughout the next day. The mats were loaded with fleas and they had made a feast of him during the night, biting him all around his waist. He was a blond guy with fair skin and had a smooth layer of fat over his frame. He virtually had no hair on his body, and all I could see was 50 pink welts, which was quite a sight to see. We tossed the mats out. Okinawa vengeance! I did not have a single bite.
Another time, we hiked out a lot farther, and found a lot more. We found food for the whole M company - a cow. We tied a rope around her neck and led her along until she got stuck in an irrigation ditch. We tried everything we could to move her up and out, however we were not strong enough. She was quite stubborn and would not budge, or pull. We were quite put out over that. The next acquisition was a goat and it was also stubborn. We began dragging it along and as the legs were getting bloody, we took mercy on it and turned it loose. The last find was a hen, and that proved to be a treat. We brought it back, tied it to a bush and enjoyed the eggs.
I saw a real butchering job by the farm boys of M Co. Some of our members had corralled a cow. It was cut, gutted and bled with finesse, and took the men but twenty minutes from start to finish. The carcass certainly wasn't cured, however it was really tasty and there was plenty for all. We enjoyed the treat but one time, because the officers were told by higher officers to stop the practice. There may have been a consideration taken for the respect of civilian property. There was also the threat of ingesting human parasites and as such we could not eat vegetables grown there.
Neither Alton nor I cared for coffee, so I went down to the mess tent and asked for tea. We were in luck. Alton and I made tea in our canteen cups over a small fire we made up of twigs. We called it, Vinnishnistle, because of some strange reason. What the word means we did not know. Only that it sounded right for the place and time. The tea was great.
I was chosen to go on guard duty once while there. I hadn't seen a Japanese soldier yet and I wasn't relishing seeing one now. I was positioned in front of our company, about twenty yards out, and had a loaded carbine and a couple of hand grenades hooked on my rifle belt. I was given a password to use. It was "Apple butter." My replacement guard would say "apple" to gain recognition, and I was directed to give the password," butter" back, so that I would not be shot by mistake. These words are hard to say in Japanese. The Japanese often said words in English, and so we had to be aware of that to avoid being killed. This procedure was designed to counter that.
I sat there with my loaded carbine, beginning at about ten o'clock, in one of the blackest of nights, staring intently at close dense underbrush and trees in front of me for a solid two hours. I had to fight off sleep and not make a noise. I was edgy and tense most of the time.
My replacement guard came, and instead of tossing a pebble or something quiet to attract my attention, he called at me. I answered with the word butter, and he was mystified. Happily we resolved the issue and he did replace me. So much for the sophisticated army codes. That was not the way it was supposed to go. A lot of what ifs. And that is a dumb way to operate, a real dumb way to get killed. My next watch took place in the near dawn, which was much better and I didn't try the Apple-butter routine again.
Along about this time my mail caught up with me. There had been a backlog because we didn't get mail while aboard ship. I received a lot of blue envelopes from my fiancé Jeane then, and they had that special and intriguing young girly smell. They were really special. I read and read them inhaling the scent. Those letters were not like the ones I received from family members who wrote on occasion. I had also subscribed to a newsletter named In Fact, written by George Seldes, that I got once a week or so, which I promptly saved. It kept me up to date on the current conspiracies.
My contact with other men was at chow and I gradually recognized more and more of them. There was always an amusing story or commentary to hear about each one, like a neat nickname and how they got it. These names were Slats, Jug Butt, Big Stupid, Nanny, Chief, Thin Face, Polock, Young &endash;un, and many times the slur, Smuck. In my platoon of six squads there were about fifty men, with a total of about 150 guys in the company; counting our two machine gun platoons, so there were a lot of names and faces. My squad members had tents near mine, and I knew who they were but I really didn't get really acquainted with them until later on.
We looked forward everyday to the prospect of the movie. We probably did get to see one or two, but it seemed like it was stopped by an air raid every night by the same thing; a lone bomber slipping through. Once the falling shrapnel got so bad that three or four of us scurried into an old concrete bunker to keep from getting hit. It was high enough to for us all to stand up in and it had a good line of sight down a valley. The bunker had been there for a long time because of the vegetation was thick all around. This was definite proof that the Japanese had planned on defending this island for quite some time.
There was other enemy activity to be concerned about, because several evenings in a row around ten, we could hear the scream and crunch of artillery shells, exploding a few hundred yards away. The Japanese would lob in at least four or five rounds from a large artillery gun. They had a certain critical area zeroed in. The rumor was that it was on tracks, and that they would roll it out, lob shells quickly, and then roll back in from a place that had been bypassed. It was perplexing. How did that happen? Had the Japanese also planned this well in advance? We knew our artillery would soon be getting a vector or two plotted on a map somewhere and take it out right away, and were certainly glad shells weren't landing near us because of their size. The Army did find it later, and took it out of action. It had been on tracks as we suspected, it was a very large artillery piece, and it was aimed at the Kadena airstrip east of us.
It was that repeated artillery and the fact that we were having shrapnel coming in that motivated Alton and I to dig our foxhole ever deeper and deeper. It was at least four feet deep when we stopped digging. It was inconvenient getting in and out, and we would disturb clods of dirt that would trickle down and fall on our blankets.
One evening there was a Japanese bomber flying so low that we could see the pilots' head in the cockpit as it was silhouetted with the light of ack-ack. The sky was also bright with tracers. He had to be respected him because of his courage.However he flew over the island and hit a ship or an ammo dump on the other side which we heard explode and then returned to go back over the island in all that gun fire. It was quite a sight. How he was even flying was a mystery. We could hear but couldn't see our fighter planes that had scrambled that were soon passing overhead. We were confident they would shortly run him down and destroy him.
The weather cooled and it started to rain; and it quickly became muddy everywhere. I admired the experienced jeep drivers and their command of their vehicles as they jostled around and churned the new mud, so that meant they could get around most everywhere. It was also interesting seeing the other heavier six by six trucks perform. These were the kind of guys I had in my outfit, and I was impressed.
We were told the evening of the seventh of May, to be ready to move out early the next morning, because we would be going up front. With that information Alton and I knew our party was over, and morning came too early for us. We went down in the rain and got our meager morning chow, and as usual we were in a hurry to get ready. This time in the mud we moved things in and out of that deep hole we had proudly dug, and all the time we were trying to keep dry. We really hustled. We were interrupted and told to go find our squad leader at the supply tent where we were each issued a large heavy canvas mortar pouch and six live mortar shells.
Just as we thought we were making progress, our company commander, Captain Procknow, came by and gave us a direct order to fill our foxhole,and that proved to be to be an exercise in pure mud. We hurriedly labored with shovels moving wet dirt into the hole, it was messy, and we were running late. The hole also had to be camouflaged, so we filled it to the top and used branches and leaves to cover it.
We had to store our duffle bags so we grabbed them and slid around in the mud going down the hill and left them in the company area. Then we slid around getting back up the hill. We hurried to get into our wet packs, put on the pouch now full of mortar shells, and hurriedly draped our raincoats over it all.
We managed some way in all the mud to join our company waiting in the rain for us. Alton and I were the typical new men, the green stragglers. Our company loaded on awaiting trucks and the convoy took us up several miles. Our mortar platoon of fifty men got out and after a lot of directing, formed two columns on a narrow road. The other trucks took the machine gun platoons to Kamazato to a staging area.
Everyone standing there was wearing rubberized raincoats and ponchos, which were now shining in the rain. I joined them by falling in step at the rear of the squad. We began hiking in ankle deep mud, in the drizzling rain, which softly splashed on our faces. In the fresh air was the scent of cigarette smoke passing through the lines of bobbing men back to me. I was surprised when there was interaction of bitching, kidding and banter mixed with laughter as we were hiking, because there was nothing like this in the ranks while we were marching back in basic training. Now I was a boy hiking among adult men and standing tall. I was hoping to be like them. However in the back of my mind I knew I was getting closer to the reality and mystery of combat
Going into combat
We stopped about an hour later, which was good, because of everything going on. My raincoat ended just below my knees, and water had been running down and soaking my pant legs. The water also had continued downward and soaked my socks which then filled my combat boots The raincoat also trapped body heat even though it had a flap vent in the back, and my shirt was wet with sweat so I was really glad to get out of it all and cool off. Also the straps over my shoulders were almost cutting grooves from carrying the load of mortar shells, so I was really glad to stop. I was out of shape. It was late afternoon by that time, and the platoon leaders chose a spot along the back of a hill near the small town of Kochi to set up camp. I looked around and could not find a dry place anywhere to put my pack down.
We were closer to the front, so for our own safety we dug in. Sam Avery and I were in the same squad so we buddied. It was lightly raining as we started to dig in on the side of a hill. However, there was problem; there was no dirt around to dig, it was rock. So we pounded it, pried it and shoveled it, and each rock we broke away caused one to slide down from above. We had to have a foxhole on the side of the hill to protect us from incoming shells, so we were forced to deal with the rocks quickly.
It was taking a lot of time digging so we had to eat our rations cold and still continued digging. We took the rocks we had, built a wall a foot and a half high, and as long and as we could in the time we had before dark. We joined our shelter halves and made some protection from the rain by spreading them across the wall with one end attached to the hillside on a root, and with the other end held in place on the rocks up front. We put our raincoats on the ground to keep from sleeping in mud, and the two of us crawled inside for the night between the rocks, hoping to keep dry. I took off my shoes and still in my wet and muddy clothes, wrapped myself in my blanket and tried to get some sleep.
Our wall of rocks wasn't wide nor long enough, so Avery and I had to sleep like cramped spoons, with our knees drawn up. I did not sleep well at all, because there was one of our artillery guns in action nearby that fired sporadically all during the night. The noise came from a site back from us somewhere and the sound reverberated and echoed like thunder among the hills around. It awakened me time after time, however I finally did get some fitful sleep and too quickly it was morning. It was May 8th and overcast.
Upon awakening I looked around and saw the older and wiser men sitting on their packs and drinking coffee all ready to go. I envied them. I was not savvy and I had much to do just like the day before. Avery and I hurriedly took the tent apart and scattered the rocks. I put everything back into my backpack that I had used, wet or not, possibly changed my socks, and I know we didn't bathe nor shave. I quickly ate cold C rations. I had body needs, so I took my shovel and headed out, returned quickly and slipped into my pack. I scrambled to join the men in my squad a hundred feet or so away who were again standing there in line watching us green guys drag along. At least I didn't get chewed out, but maybe "Dutch" did yell at me with," Come on Hill," or something similar. I really didn't want to be the one holding every one else up, however, I was.
We hiked a very short way west and began a slow left turn on a road. In the curve we came upon a vehicle mine the Japanese had put in the tire tracks. We all carefully stepped around it with each man pointing it out in turn. I wondered how on earth a Japanese soldier had slipped through the front lines and got it past everybody this far back. We continued straight ahead forty yards and traveled then east down a short hill, and then crossed over a stone bridge that covered a small gully.
Under the bridge on the gravel I saw a body of a dead Okinawa woman and her baby. Her chest was bared. The bodies probably had been there about a week, and this was something I hadn't even considered, civilians would be dying too.
Facing south and looking to my right center, I could see a hill about one hundred yards long lying parallel to the hill we were dug in on last night. These two hills formed a valley about eighty yards wide. It was mostly devoid of vegetation with only a small scraggly tree here and there among the rocks and intersecting gullies. The entire length of the hill on my right sharply slanted up about thirty yards where it leveled off. and formed a plateau at the top. Camped on the side of this hill were the men from the 7th Infantry Division dug in all along the length, with many of their tents still in place.
These men were really glad to see us, because we were their replacements, and, as they knew we were coming they were already packed and ready to move out. It was a scramble between the men in our company to find and claim a good spot. Alton and I approached two men who had a tent over an excellent foxhole too see if we could have it, and they readily agreed. All we did was give them our blankets, mosquito bars, and shelter halves in exchange for theirs. What a find.
As it had been raining earlier that week, the men in the 7th had taken wooden ammo boxes and laid a floor two feet down. The hole was about five feet wide and six feet long, and they had cut a trench underneath the boxes, to allow rainwater to pass on through. The tent was pitched over this. They also ditched around, so all rain water drained well. On top of this floor they had laid at least two blankets, and complete with a mosquito bar tucked in, it made a really great place to sleep. It was quite a lot better than the night before, and we really appreciated all their good work. We had it a lot better than the others and Alton and I had found a way to buddy again.
At Kochi Ridge
It became a hot moist sunny day. Mud was everywhere so we had to pick our way around the paths worn by those men who had just left. Shortly after Alton and I claimed our tent, we were immediately called to a work detail. We didn't try to shirk any of this duty, which we would have back in basic, but now all the men gladly pitched in for the good of the company. This was true es-prit-de-corps, or lets get it over with.
The first detail was to carry ammo. The truck was waiting down the slope in the valley we had just come through. Each man in turn took the heavy wooden boxes down from the truck by grabbing the rope on the end and by hoisting them up on shoulders. About ten of us moved in a continuous line carrying boxes to each mortar site where we stacked them. Then we were on a water detail unloading another truck. One man on the truck bed slid heavy steel cans back to the open end. I got in line and when it was my turn grabbed the double handles on the top and swung down two cans. I then muscled them along the path to a central storage area. Another supply truck pulled in with c-rations, which we had to unload. These cardboard boxes were a lot easier to handle than those water cans. As we were delivering them a quick count was made by our no-nonsense mess sergeant Haase, and because he watched everything, no pilfering of rations was possible.
I stopped on my way back from the unloading details to watch my veteran squad zero-in our mortar. They were real pros. Methodically they performed as a team with each man doing his job. I was fascinated watching the men I was now a part of.
When I went back to my tent, and Alton and I arranged our equipment in our new quarters just the way we wanted. We were issued our C-rations, and it was time to eat. We were glad to get the company details done. Now I had the chance to leisurely take my sweet time doing what we wanted to do. I sat there eating and looking at the valley just below me getting my bearings.
I knew I faced north, and the hill out in front of me was the forward side of the hill where we spent the night before. On my half-left, about 80 yards away, was the small stone bridge I passed by on the way here. Looking along the slope of the hill on my immediate left, were all six mortars set in combat position. Our men had their tents scattered around on the hillside near the mortars. Alton and I had our tent about one-half the way up the side of the hill, on the extreme east end.
I could see supplies stacked here and there, up and down the sides of the hill, and two parked company jeeps. Our company position was perfect protection from enemy artillery, called defilade, and supplies could be moved in the valley with reasonable protection; however really looked like a disaster area in all this mud.
Two hundred yards south of us was the front line. Three rifle companies of our third battalion I, K, and L, totaling about five hundred officers and men, were dug in on the front line facing the Japanese forces. Three of such battalions made up the 382nd regiment, which was responsible for covering a segment of the front line. When the mortars and machine guns of our M Co. came up into our new positions, in support of the rifle companies, rifle companies gradually moved into theirs. From that point on we were all in combat. Our rifle companies were subject to Japanese surveillance as well as the Japanese were by them. This was the 9th of May. Our Mortar platoon was dug in on the backside of Kochi Ridge about 100 yards away.
Alton and I settled into a routine pretty quickly. Day after day, we slept in if we could, ate when ready, and took care of personal items as well as possible in the circumstances. When called on to bear or prepare shells we responded quickly.
We lived on C-rations and stayed lean, but it was good basic nutrition. Some rations required water, and thankfully there was some variety which we often traded around to get favorites. There was meat and beans. Lima beans and some kind of ham. In one can was either coffee or hot chocolate and dried oats for breakfast and the other was usually food that included some type of meat. To heat them we used a wad of C-2 (an explosive) stuck on the bottom of our mess cup, which we set afire. It worked really well, and as it burned furiously we stirred it fast. Included with the rations was a packet of goodies: cigarettes, matches, candy pieces, toilet paper, can openers and water purification pills. We had 6 cans provided daily, three wet and three dry.
From our position at Kochi, I often heard the roar of the American Army artillery, the105's and 155's, coming from two hundred yards or more from the rear of us. For days those batteries sent up several flurries of between ten to thirty shells at a time, which sounded like little schools of fish swimming high overhead. These we waited to hear land and all enjoyed hearing all the muffled explosions on Japanese positions several hundred yards away, in direct support of the riflemen in attack. We knew they were really catching it, and to a man we were proud of all of our American firepower and its punishing effect.
Usually it was evening when the Japanese's shells came screaming in and crunching, and thankfully many weren't close to our position. We were always aware of the possibilities. Only a couple of times during the day did I hear Japanese shells come in, but these were some distance away. One shell did however, come in a little closer to us and killed two men out of four who were playing cards at the time. It was just a random shot no one expected. One of the survivors I knew, John Heifner, said that the medics came in quickly and carried the dead away, but there was some evidence of the man still there, and he was not comfortable staying there.
The valley just below me was a busy place, because it served as a general passageway for the front line companies. I often saw trucks delivering supplies, bouncing around and groaning on and off the road near the bottom. Individual soldiers were seen driving their laboring jeeps off the road and up the slopes on the assigned missions like delivering the mail. Men coming from the front line would go down the hill on my right and use that road too. Even new troops in groups could be seen going across in front of me and go up on my right. There was a lot of movement.
To my right the valley continued east, and about sixty yards away I could see a small Army tank that had been knocked out. Two dead Japanese soldier's bodies were spread out on the open ground a few yards away from it on the left. The terrain was rough up and down the slopes, and there were barren tree trunks and brush here and there, but mostly it was dirt and mud worn down in places by vehicles and foot traffic. Nearer me on my level about 30 yards away was a crater twenty feet in diameter created by a bomb or one of the very large Japanese spigot mortars, now filled with rain water. Farther around and behind me on my right, and up a short ways, was an Okinawa tomb. On a short ledge in front was the body of small dead Okinawa woman, which had been there for quite a while.
The rain soon became a big problem, and as it continued it made it difficult for most of the trucks to get around in the mud. The Army had six by sixes, (4 wheels driving), and some with winches on the front to help pull them out. However for a lot of trucks to move forward they had to back up, change course and use the lowest gears. Jeeps could use their 4-wheel drive. The ground was saturated and water began to puddle here and there, and trickle down to make a running stream down in the valley through the main road. It made getting around really sloppy, and that was affecting the course of combat. Supplies such as food, medical supplies, water and ammunition had to get up front and the wounded had to come back, so it was a dire necessity to have good movement. Even artillery fire was affected, as the ground was soft.
When it became practically impossible for trucks to move, the Army made good use of its weasels. This tank- like vehicle was designed to use on land and water. They were about seven feet wide and ten feet long and about five feet high. They had smaller tracks on each side than the big battle tanks and were flat on the top with a windshield that folded down, and even they had trouble moving their way around. Their tracks would churn and throw the muddy water everywhere and sometimes sank down while trying to move.
They were useful for a lot of things, including bringing the wounded back. The men on litters were lifted up and strapped on top. It was absolutely necessary to get the worst cases back quickly. Men walked alongside and shouted directions to the driver slicing through the mud here and there on missions of compassion. It was felt far more important to get those guys back than to worry about any personal inconvenience.
The rain left one good thing to remember. In the evenings the Japanese often used their artillery just to harass, by lobbing in six or seven shells. It wasn't directed at the front lines, as shells would just come back as far as we were and land about anywhere. We heard them coming in. Shells were threatening, so we tried to guess where each was going to land and its size. They all had that familiar scream. On more than one occasion, we heard one screaming in, that resulted in nothing but empty silence. The ground was soft it didn't explode.
The first time this happened, I heard the cheers from the other guys in my platoon near me up in the valley. I was surprised and amused. Actually that was a stupid thing to do, because Japanese infiltrated at night and a little noise could give a position away.
Keeping dry is always a high priority for the foot soldier that lives in and on dirt, so we were constantly affected. Alton and I still had to get out in it anyway: C-rations were necessary, so someone had to go get them, and we had normal body needs. We did use that crater out on our right when the weather was better for our laundry and bathing, however it was another hazard to deal with because the rain had made it slick all around. Take one false step and you could slide down inside. After washing my clothes I draped them over a bush or a tent line to dry. But under rainy conditions I have often had to wear them. I have also slept in wet clothes. We often didn't bathe and developed a tolerance for dirt and body odors. We also lived in a world of biting mosquitoes and in wet weather they thrived. Flies were the nuisance during the day and became a big concern. It was agreed that the best time to take care of often life's most urgent need, was that time after the flies left and before the mosquitoes set in.
We heard that the war in Europe was over, however VE Day passed without much emotion. Sure we were glad to hear the news, and millions were affected, but we are here and the Japanese are out there in front. The Navy celebrated by firing shells.
Our fire support was not needed every day, so Alton and I had time on our hands. Often we would take off and go souvenir hunting. We didn't wander too far away unless there was someone there to be ready for action if our mortar was needed. One day, we went exploring down the hill and moved on to the right where the tank was, and found it had taken a crippling hit by shell. We both climbed up, and entered from the top and dropped inside, and were immediately taken aback.
We found a bloodied severed leg of an American soldier lying on the bottom. It as well as the pants leg, was about three feet long and it had been there for some time. I was queasy. Snooping around we was surprised at how much room there was. We could see sunshine coming from the outside passing through the hole made by the projectile. In all probability there had to have been men who died here, because the shrapnel from that shell exploded and ricocheted around ripping apart and tearing everything in its way, including the leg.
The truth is we were on hallowed ground, and being so young and green we didn't realize it. Looking around, I did find a bottle of Old Spice after-shave lotion. In a spot in this general area, I found a Japanese canteen, and I saved it along with the Old Spice, to take home.
The next thing we investigated were the two dead Japanese soldiers lying out in the open about ten feet away. They had been there awhile in the sun and rain. They were the first dead Japanese soldiers we had seen, and these were grotesque. Their faces were swollen with their heads twisted up and mouths open, with large active flies about. Their leggings were made of strips of cloth that wound around and up their bloated legs. I took a stick and poked around on their legs to discover how squishy they were.
Dead Japanese soldiers were well searched for souvenirs. Because these bodies had been around so long, there was a remote possibility that anything would be found on them of value. There was a lot of demand for this booty; so there was a real scramble to get to a Japanese body first and quickly grab something. Inside their helmets, behind the linings, they often kept their country's flag. (This was the kind with the red ball), and were so valuable that Air force Officers would trade a fifth of American whiskey for one, even-steven. Watches were often found and the better ones had an outer metal case. Japanese rifles and pistols were one of the best sought after souvenirs. The prime one was the Samurai sword of which there were several, and some very ornate expensive ones Japanese officers had owned. All of these items were traded around or sold. The bad part of this was, having found something; you had to lug it around wherever you went and guard it, from that point on.
I was not particularly fond of guard duty, however I drew this assignment about every other night and it was twice for two hours. We all tried to be prepared for anything, especially to be ready for any enemy soldier wanting to slip through the lines. I had been especially concerned because there was a wide opening in the terrain just to the right of our position that led to the front.
We always wore our steel helmets, and I always kept my straps up, buckled on top. When on guard duty we wore a mosquito net tucked under the helmets that took the shine off our faces. We also wore gloves on our hands and smelly insect repellant lotion. I usually sat backed up to my tent, to hide my silhouette. At Kochi Ridge I had a line of sight toward the right side and down the hill.
Each man sleeping in his tent counted on his buddies at night and knew where everyone was. It was dangerous to make any movements or noises, especially then. An infantryman worthy of the name was always ready to use his weapon, and because of this, I needed to be careful about waking the guy following me on guard. I threw pebbles on the tent to make little noise.
The Japanese soldiers, who infiltrated at night, were often just foraging for food, being so short on rations, but they were also out to kill, cut communication lines, and plant mines. American forces countered this activity at night by using star flares launched by ships in the harbor. They were vital for the infantryman who was dug in waiting on the ground. These were launched with regularity and burned brightly, and they could be seen drifting for miles. A small parachute carried them along, and when they came close, I saw them swing back and forth in the wind and sprinkle sparks, as they silently drifted down wind. These flares always created weird shadows on the ground that turned around every bush, rock and tree. I often sat on guard fully alert with my loaded carbine in my hands, my eyes set, and grenades close by and watched those shadows parade out in front of me by the hour, and did imagine objects in those moving shadows when there weren't any. One night I had to really restrain myself at the sudden appearance of a cat out searching for food.
Normally I found guard duty very long here on this corner, and so quiet at times I had to fight off sleep. One night I decided that if I pulled the safety pin on my hand grenade so I wouldn't dare go to sleep. To make a grenade explode all you had to do was let go of the handle. In all probability one could be dead in five seconds. That night I did pull the pin and held the handle down in my hand. If I had dozed off for an instant my relaxed hand would have released it and it would have rolled out on the ground. I could have died on the spot. When I realized how dumb that was, I fumbled around putting the safety pin back in, and didn't do it again.
I experienced some real excitement on my next assignment because I was picked to be a part of a four-man guard team. Right after chow one evening, we hiked up the hill opposite, and set up tents on a road. We were detailed to guard our company ammunition dump.
It was the custom of the Japanese Army, to cut their roads on the backside of the ridges and hills. It was below the line of sight so they could move their equipment unseen. The road we were on that night had a long flat corridor cut just for that purpose, which was about eight feet deep, eight feet wide, and ran all along the ridge. We examined our surroundings and could see but a short distance down this road on the right as it curved. However to the left it extended several feet.
We just sat around up there talking and looking down on our company area. It was interesting talking to someone different. Soon it became dark .The evening's silence was broken as the Japanese began firing their artillery. It was about 9 o'clock. One shell came screaming in and exploded about 200 yards away. It was the largest shell I had ever heard, and probably the closest. The explosion was close enough to have a terrifying sound like the sound of a ripping lightening strike. It was like thunderclap heard in a rainstorm, because I heard the roar repeat itself in echo on several hills miles away. Suddenly, another one came screaming in. It was a lot closer this time and the ground shook under us. It was hard to tell where it landed or how far away. I feared for myself because I had not dug in and there was no lateral cover down that road. Two more minutes went by, then another shell. It felt like this one had impacted on the slope in front of us, but about 100 yards away and again the ground shook. The power from this one shook dirt loose dirt, and it trickled down beside us. It was a very large shell to have shaken the ground this far away from impact. Another angry one came thundering in and tearing up the ground not far away, the earth trembled and again the dirt came trickled down. I was wondering when this would all stop. We were all trapped here and feeling very vulnerable. Then another one ripped through the air and hit somewhere down this road we were on and we all instinctively flattened ourselves against the side. Immediately on my right I heard a piece of shrapnel come whirling towards us that slashed and plunged itself into the dirt wall opposite us. The shelling didn't stop with that one, and we didn't know when it would. However I think there may have been one more.
The first thing we did when we thought it had stopped was to find that chunk of shrapnel that was imbedded in the hill. We picked it out and it was still too hot to handle. It had jagged razor sharp edges stuck out all around and about half the size of a man's hand and about three-eights of an inch thick. It was a mean chunk of steel that could rip into flesh pretty easily. We found one smaller piece laying on that road, but no one remembered hearing it come in.
There were about a total of at least seven shells that came in. It was a scary experience, as they had kept getting closer to us. I had experienced real fear. These shells had passed over the men in our platoon down the hill from us. I didn't know what it sounded like down there but one thing for sure, after it was over we appreciated the peace and quiet. We all hit the sack soon afterward and got some sleep. No one stood guard nor dug in, which was pure stupidity. We struck our tents the next morning in peaceful sunshine, and gladly walked back down the hill to our company area.
Our mortar platoon got a hurry-up call one morning to put smoke up front; wounded men were trapped and direly needed a smoke screen to get out. We rushed over to our mortar and hurriedly opened the wooden boxes containing the smoke shells. We formed a team installing the correct firing increments on the bottom, and passed them up to the gunner. We successfully sent several on their way without incident, and helped get the men back to medical attention.
I helped fire on three or four occasions. There were times when but few rounds were needed that I was not called on. I did learn to see the projectile in the sky after it left, but only a couple of times. I was proud to be a part of my squad and my mortar platoon
Almost every night the telephone lines were cut that lead to our observation post up front. Patterson would have to run them to find the breaks and repair them first thing in the morning, and this project made him vulnerable to snipers. On one morning, while he was on this mission, a rifle shot rang out. He quickly jumped behind a large rock and after a short wait, he moved out in the open. Another shot rang out, and it also missed, but this time Patterson didn't move. He turned toward where he thought the shot came from and said to the imaginary Japanese. "If you can't shoot any better than that I am not going to worry about you." He then went on with his search out in the open, disregarding the sniper who had been shooting at him. That takes guts.
Patterson, 'Thin Face', we called him, was responsible for the radios as well as the phone system. He had picked up this name from a code used some where along the way. (M Co. was called 'Mike'.) I went much closer to the front lines one morning going with him to run new phone lines. We went to the west edge of our platoon up the slope to the top. Once on this plateau, we turned south, and from here the ground gradually sloped down into an area with a lot more vegetation, a bush here and there and a lot more trees. We had traveled about 100 yards forward and stopped.
As with anyone going up anywhere near the front for the first time would be, I was apprehensive. I carried the spool of wire on my forearm by running my arm through and played the line out using the other hand. Patterson went up ahead of me and pulled it as he needed it and I followed him only as necessary. We kept advancing closer and closer. We soon arrived at the back of a forward hill and began going up. Patterson signaled to stop. I did and sat down and waited for more instructions. I could hear noises up ahead. There had been artillery firing that morning, so I knew they were on the offensive. I heard a strange sounding gun, which was not one of ours. It sounded like someone ripping sheets. Szup, szzzzup, szzzup, and I heard it several times. Patterson came back from the forward observer, having made the hookup and we returned to the company. I learned later what that ripping noise was; It was a Japanese light machine gun firing on its fastest setting.
Patterson was a guy who liked to play single deck pinochle. I learned the total game from him. He taught me the basics. A game started when our work was done, and at the first opportunity when enough men could be found. We even had on-lookers on occasion. We would often play for a couple of hours while standing by. I really enjoyed this.
The men in our mortar platoon played cards while men in the front lines were getting killed. This is an unfortunate situation, but we did our jobs by being ready and then supporting them in other ways. On more than one occasion I was a litter bearer. We went forward and met others carrying litters back and relieved them by finishing the trip back with the wounded men to a first aid station. That is a heavy job. We had to stop a second or two just to rest our arms. On occasion the terrain rose and fell and the litter had to be lifted up and over, with everyone working together carefully, so as not to jostle the wounded man. When the casualties were the heaviest, there was an aid station down the slope from my tent.
Flies were terrible. All the blood on one wounded man's clothes attracted them. I swatted them away while holding on the litter with the other hand. It was the least I could do. We finally got him to the aid station, carrying him about three eights of a mile up over and around. He did not complain that I remember, nor talk. The doctor began by cutting his pants open and examining his wound inside the leg near the groin. He said. "Soldier, everything down there is all right. The man sounded a great sigh of relief because he thought the worst had happened and it hadn't. Those of us standing around there were all happy for this man we didn't know.
One morning, I saw about 100 soldiers coming up towards me from my right front about 150 yards away. I'd say they were teenagers, eighteen and nineteen to twenty years old, with some men as old as twenty-five or six. We all knew they were green, front line replacements; because they were wearing new clean fatigues and carrying their M-1 rifles They were slowly and gingerly picking their way as they came up, walking around the tank. The whole group continued on a path up the slope and passed on my right and headed towards the front and soon disappeared. These men were reacting just like I did on my way up the other day when I helped Patterson run the wire. All these men had an apprehensive look on their faces. As they walked nearer me I could sense that they were not sure of themselves. They traveled in small groups of six and seven, as if they were drawing some comfort in that. As they passed by me they exhibited that telltale innocence in their eyes, which they were about to lose.
End of part one.
----- William R. Hill
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Once a Deadeye, Always a Deadeye, William R. Hill
Once a Deadeye, Always a Deadeye, William R. Hill, Pt #2
Once a Deadeye, Always a Deadeye, William R. Hill, Pt #3
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Original Story submitted on 29 July 2007.
Story added to website on 1 August 2007.
September 5, 2002.
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