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
Part #2 of Mr. Hill's Story...
On May 10 a general offensive began. The men in the rifle companies pushed off at 0800 all along the line. This proved to be some of the most vicious fighting on the island. Artillery shelling had softened up the area and battle tanks in support were also pouring in shells for the infantrymen who were pushing up the hills. Heavy and light machine guns sprayed the area ahead of them and on occasion P-51 Mustangs launched rockets into Jap positions. The 81mm and 60mm mortars were used in critical spots when needed.
Advancing men met strong resistance. The Japanese, defending their position, used hand-grenades, mortars, machine guns and artillery on our squads of advancing men that were charging up, over, around hills, into their caves and tunnels. Entire squads of our men were completely wiped out in some areas of the line, as enemy artillery shells dropped in and shrapnel ripped their bodies. Many died on the spot and many others laid there and bled in their pain as other men rushed by them as they continued in the attack. The medics attended to the wounded men whenever they could be reached under these frenzied and desperate conditions.
These men were cautiously taken back to first aid stations by litter bearers, and then on to hospitals on board ship. Some men sustained more wounds while being carried on the litters.
Many of those battles were at close range, and often continued several hours throughout the night with grenades being lobbed back and forth. As a result they needed more bullets, hand grenades, food and water to survive and supplies were desperately brought up for them.
Our infantrymen pressed on with superior numbers, firepower and equipment. They inflicted very heavy casualties on stubborn and determined Japanese infantry that were dug in on the reverse slopes. This was not an easy task most of the time, because in the advance into enemy territory over the top of these hills our soldiers were often caught in cross fire from the adjacent ones. It meant the Japanese had to be flushed out of their holes; one hole at a time and under these conditions infantryman often used satchel charges, hand grenades and flamethrowers. In some areas 37mm howitzers and armored tanks were effective, and we lost many of them. There were many of our men, who fought gallantly, in desperate situations unable to extract themselves, and several performed unknown heroic deeds for their lives and others.
Everyone worked together. Squad leaders were with their men and directly moved with them. Platoon sergeants directed their squads, while the officers called for heavy machine guns and mortar assistance and oversaw their own light machine guns and mortars. Commanding officers planned and coordinated movements and responsibilities of the complete battalion. As needed, they called for artillery to saturate the area ahead of the attacking infantrymen. They used maps made by the reconnaissance planes to direct the rocket attacks on enemy positions.
In order to keep up company combat strength to be effective on attack, the rifle companies relied on replacements; rather than replace an entire company or a squad that had lost a lot of men. Green replacements coming into the rifle companies were often threaded into active front line duty immediately. Some of the men I had seen passing on my right that day were killed in their very first combat encounter. Several more of them didn't make it through the week. Many more of these men would live but sustain very serious injuries for their lifetime.
If men survive combat on the front line, they get a very serious and somewhat stern and desperate look, especially in the eyes. The absolute terror they have had, such as having experiencing being fired at repeatedly, and maybe seeing a buddy get killed, or hearing another man scream in pain, makes a definite and cruel impact on the mind. This was apparent on faces of men I had seen coming back from the front.
Happily once, maybe twice, while we were at Kochi Ridge, we had a hot meal, with a nice slice of beef. This was a real treat, however there was one problem; the flies were hard to keep off of the meat. The flies that had been incubated in the bodies of the dead were as big as bumble bees. Swat them off three at a time, and they would come right back. They were so bad one time that I couldn't eat. I promptly put my plate in my tent, and took my shovel and went to a spot south of me to that dead Okinawan woman. This is where the flies were coming from, so I dug a shallow grave, rolled her in, said a short prayer and covered her with dirt. I immediately went back to my tent area, warmed the food that I had saved and ate it without the flies.
There were several of our platoon's younger men who took turns up with the forward observers position to assist the officer up there. This being a lot closer to the front had obviously more risks than back where we were in the mortars. When Alton went up he really liked it, because he stayed for several days. I actually dreaded and feared the assignment. But I guess it was beginning to look bad on me, because I had never volunteered when that opportunity came up, and it was the thing for all to do. Going against the other guys opinion of what would be acceptable conduct, would cost heavy losses to anyone later on; especially on an issue of blatantly shirking ones duty or suspected of being chicken. I do not know how the following took place, but our company commander, Captain Procknow, had asked me about going up. At that time I told him that if ordered to go up, would gladly go, but not volunteer. That was the last I heard about it; but later I did make the decision that I would volunteer, and I would face my own fears and take the next turn up. Fortunately for me, our platoon pulled up from the Kochi Ridge location and the option never came up again.
We began to get our mail regularly and it was a treasure. I had a letter almost every day from my fiancé Jeane. Letters from Mother came about once a week keeping me informed about things at home, and occasionally I would get mail from other more remote family members. Mail knitted us with our families and was a silent reminder of what we were fighting for.
I think the folks at home did know I was on Okinawa, but they didn't have an inkling of what I was doing. All in all they didn't realize how bad it was, because information wouldn't get back. The really bad things were kept from them. For example they would all get letters back from me, saying my letters arrived all cut up, some in shreds, as the censors had cut out information of any kind.
Naturally folks at home really worried about their sons. Wives and sweethearts really suffered too. Children missed their dad but were probably shielded from the possibilities. (Mother had a blue star banner displayed in the front window, which told the neighborhood I was in the service overseas).
Our company commander, our CO, Captain William Procknow, was a well-respected man. Everyone did what he was told or was suggested to do because of two reasons: one, because it was an order, and two, because they would have done it out of the deep respect for the man. He was around thirty- four years of age and didn't move as fast as the men under him. I remember him tirelessly going here and there talking to his men. He could be seen real early or late in the evening making his rounds. Characteristically his shirt was wet with sweat almost down to his waist. Soldiers can usually find something to bitch about like the food or some non-com or a weather condition, but I never heard an ill word about him the whole time. In fact I asked about him later, from those that knew him for a long time and they confirmed my opinion. He had been with M Company for a long time and with the 96th Division from its beginning back in Oregon in l942.
I saw several American aircraft at Kochi Ridge. One was a small Navy bomber that was often used to drop supplies during wet weather, when trucks couldn't get through, like medical supplies needed for the wounded. I saw this happen a few times, and was impressed with the skill of the pilot. The plane came in from about 200 yards on my right front and traveled west and dropped its wing flaps down. This action slowed the plane down and by timing it just right, the pilot dropped a package, immediately raised the flaps, and gave it full throttle to get the plane back to speed. It groaned and groaned, and slowly got up to speed. It was noisy, risky, and fascinating to watch.
I also saw a single-wing observation plane go down. It was overhead when artillery guns were firing, and unfortunately, because it was flying too low, was hit by a projectile, which clipped a wing. I saw the plane drop, but my view was restricted so I didn't see it crash. The pilot had no chance to bale out, as he was too close to the ground for the chute to open.
Our third battalion riflemen, Companies I, K, and L, pushed south, successfully advancing about 1200 yards, and were now about 300 yards from both Dick and Oboe hills. The first and second battalions of our regiment had squeezed them out. We were now out of range to support them with our mortars at Kochi Ridge, so we pulled up stakes and followed our battalion south.
It was about the 16th of June, on a bright and sunny day when we ambled in a line of twos first moving west on the ridge we were on, over it then down the hill, and curving to the left. The little village of Kochi was on our far right. Several of us stopped to watch riflemen neutralize a tomb. They had rifles drawn. One of the riflemen stepped forward and kicked in the stone front, then quickly backed away. Another rifleman with a flamethrower from 30 feet away spewed a long flame of jellied gasoline inside. We knew it would be impossible for anyone inside to survive. They waited to see. I'm sure a grenade was also thrown in to make sure all had been killed but we couldn't hang around to find out. (I had seen pictures of soldiers in action like this in the newsreels back home, and this was the first time I had personally seen it.)
There were many hills to see on the hike. (One was William Hill but I didn't see it) The highest and most famous one was named Conical Hill. Another curiosity and a mystery to me was a long peninsula out on my left. Had there been combat there? Would we ever have to go there? I knew a town by the name of Yanabaru was over in that direction but I had never seen it.
Later on we passed through a small town, which they said it was Shuri. There was little left standing, just the shells of a few buildings and lots of chunks of broken walls. I had heard of this place, but it didn't seem like town at all. Somewhere along the way I had learned the names of three cities: Naha, Shuri and Yonabaru. They were located in a line stretching across the middle of the island and were in effect, the main line of defense that had been broken. What little battle news we heard was that the Marines were having a hard time taking Naha. We in the Army were wondering why it was taking them so long to take a small town.
Alton was fully loaded down, having picked up two Japanese rifles somewhere and a few other things as well. He was also loaded down with his heavy pack and mortar shells, and some extra blankets he had managed to squirrel away, and some rations issued for our move. He was lagging behind our company thirty to forty yards. I kept yelling at him, as he was literally dragging his rifles, stopping occasionally to shift things around and just poking around. He was a case! Then he started unloading the little things he thought he could do without, like extra toilet paper etc. We just laughed and laughed at him. He did manage to catch up somehow. Along about this time I found a Japanese Army bugle that had a red ornamental tassel. I thought this was small enough to carry and of some value, so I stashed it in my pack.
We traveled four or five more miles to a spot in south central Okinawa nearby Shindawaku. We pitched our tents out in the open, in a large semicircle, with one of our machine gun platoons. Alton and I had a spot on the far left. The ground tapered down gradually from the perimeter into the center like a bowl, and was tangled with small trees and dense brush. It seemed so strange to be camped out in the open without digging in. I supposed the officers felt like the enemy didn't know we were here, so it was OK We did have guards around and luckily, it was not my turn. After Alton and I pitched our tent we ate our c-rations and lazily sat around outside waiting for it to turn dark before bedding down.
Suddenly, I heard men yelling. It was coming from about 200 feet or so over to my right. Next a rifle shot pierced the air, "Crack," Then someone yelled. "Get him," another yelled, "There he goes," then someone else said. "There he is, there he is. "Crack, crack," but the Japanese soldier evaded them by running away down the hill in front of us, into the dark brush. Some one else shouted. "Put up a flare, put up a flare," I saw several men grab their rifles. They knew there was a Jap sighted somewhere down in the brush and they all wanted a shot. A flare went up, "Floom." As it lit up the area, all I saw was a movement of our men through the bushes coming down the slopes. "Crack, crack, crack, crack-crack-crack," the shots rang out. Another flare, '"Floom." More shots, "Crack, crack". Then I heard crying, like a baby. The Japanese soldier was painfully pleading in desperation. Then "crack, crack crack, crackcrackcrack." Then it was silent. Someone yelled, " We got him, we got him," in triumphant jubilation. It made a lot of them happy to get another one.
The next morning I had to go get a look just like the rest of the men. I saw the soldier all spread out, who had been shot in the head so many times that one-quarter of his head had been completely blown away.
Piecing the story together, I learned it had started when the Japanese soldier had slipped through our front line away up front, and when searching for food stumbled upon our tents. As he tried to slip through, one of our soldiers had seen him pass his tent and reached out and grabbed him by the ankle, but he slipped out of the grip and ran down the slope to hide.
The machine gunners that were with us, had men in their platoon killed. Many men they had known had been carried back on stretchers while they listened to them moan. Peaceful men as civilians became animals last night, going for blood. Out of respect for and in the defense of my Army buddies, and disregarding that they had the Japanese outnumbered, one hundred to one, they were in fact, doing what any Army dogface would do. They had been doing this sort of thing all along, and I am sure they didn't ask that Japanese soldier if he was hungry.
Early the next morning I was put on patrol. Someone thought that the small walled village near us might have soldiers or snipers, so they wanted a patrol to go clear it out. Our patrol had about eight men and was lead by Danny Madrid, a machine gun squad leader. We formed a line and headed out. I was next to last. We were traveling along a stone wall when a Japanese took a shot at us. "Cah-zing," sounded over our heads. We dropped to the ground. When the squad leader got up, he waved us forward and we followed him down the road and through a stone doorway.
The stone houses inside had many holes blown in the walls, with chunks of concrete and rubble here and about. We all slowly picked our way among these walls, alert to any moving thing. I ended up as last in line, so I walked backwards knowing if a soldier was there and discovered us, he would wait and attack us from the rear. I was edgy and ready to blast away, and had taken my safety off my carbine. We wound around through the walls and then circled back. We returned without further incident. As it turned out it was pretty simple operation, and I was truly glad to be back with the company. I helped Alton take down our tent and pack up, and around noon we started hiking south again.
On my right, about forty yards away, I saw a gruesome pile of corpses. They were stacked about nine feet high and twenty-five feet square. They were Japanese soldiers and maybe a few native Okinawans tossed there for disposal. They were a definite health hazard and had to be destroyed to keep down the flies and diseases. There was no one around who could identify them because those who could have were still fighting for their own lives. I saw a couple of men with flame-throwers burning these corpses to black crisp. Smelly black smoke bellowed up, and slowly dissipated. It was a sad sight to see. Even though the Japanese soldier, was a contemptible object whom we would all gladly kill, what I saw was unfortunate.
We had been hiking on relatively flat terrain and we could see a long way when suddenly on my half right about 3 miles away I saw a fast P-61 fighter plane streaking south and twisting its way among the hills. It snapped its wings ninety degrees and then did a tight 180 degrees on an arc and came right back. It was beautiful maneuver to watch.
(A P-61 is a plane that has two props and two parallel bodies joined together by a large wing near the front and a smaller wing in the rear. The middle pod contains the pilot. The P-61 is similar to a P-38, and is faster when stripped down and used for reconnaissance) The P-61 is named "The Black Widow."
It was another nice day full of sunshine and we continued on our way between rice fields. We saw many bomb craters out on our right and an odd looking old Japanese truck turned over on its side. I went over and got a closer look and found some prints of an oil rig of some type, which I put in my pack. I thought it was neat with all the Japanese letters on it. We also saw few more scraggly trees and some trucks and tank tracks on the path we were following. There were mine fields around I had heard about, but I didn't know of any close to us. There wasn't any artillery fire or smoke in the distance. It was actually peaceful. Our company continued on its way and stopped to rest every hour or so. We approached a grove of trees and headed down toward the middle of them and when we got there we took turns running through the area and up to a more protected area. Apparently someone thought there was a sniper zeroed in at that spot. That was it for excitement for the day.
We came to a small area where the Okinawa people had at one time a cane press in operation. There was a large wooden tub in the middle with a long pole extending out from a central pole and a worn circular path all around it, and a small cane field adjacent to it. This is the first cane field I had seen up close. The canes were mashed down and in a twisted mess. We pitched our tents nearby. Some of the guys scouted around and got some wood to make a fire to cook with. The smoke had a strange smell. Again we did not dig in and again no guard duty for me. It was strange there. Alton was still dragging around two extra rifles. I found a couple of artistic lacquered plates, which I discarded because they were damaged.
We got up the next morning having slept without incident. We busted out our forever c-rations, had another similar breakfast and took off. Good weather and here we were now winding left on a small path around the bottom of a hill between cane fields on my right, when I heard a 'clink' and then a muffled explosion coming from about 10 feet back in a cane field. Guys around me rushed in through the canes to get at this Japanese soldier who had just committed hari-kari. They quickly began searching him for souvenirs going all through his clothes, while his body was still smoking. This Japanese soldier had shoved a grenade in his stomach, and it had killed him instantly. If he had surrendered he could have lived many years; instead he chose the Japanese military code of honor. Who knows, maybe someone got a gold tooth or a nice neat watch. It was a sport for the men to forage this way.
We continued on our hike in bright sunshine. I saw the P-61 again a lot closer and I heard its high-pitched whine this time, then it disappeared around a hill. We began hiking to our left again, and an hour later we began seeing other soldiers. I even saw a small 37mm antitank gun, which we said was a little pop shooter because it was so small. However, the gun was handy for a lot of things like taking out a machine gun nests and knocking off a tank treads. The next thing I saw was unique. It was a rack full of rockets, about forty or so, mounted on a trailer, which was attached to a small truck. I saw these rockets swish off one at a time across row by row until they were all gone. It took about eight seconds. I waited to hear the impact but didn't hear a thing. That was some of the stuff the Marines had. Pretty neat even though it was Marine. We stopped and pitched our tents up north a quarter of a mile from there. It was early afternoon so we took our time setting them up. We were near Ozato and it was June 16, and we were now in the far southern end of Okinawa.
The Japanese east, south, and west of us are trapped in pockets and desperately fighting for their lives. All American forces are closing in, including our rifle companies, and they are finishing Japanese off one by one, cave after cave, and hill by hill. The Japanese soldiers died by the thousands. A few did surrender, however, many Civilians took their lives by diving over cliffs into the ocean and on coral reefs, taking their children with them. Many soldiers committed suicide with their own weapons, but most of the soldiers were killed outright, with many suffocating or drowning in caves and tunnels.
All I knew at the time was that we had stopped here, and we were south of where we had been earlier. We knew only that the Japanese were on the run, because our officers told us nothing more. Our mortar platoon was in reserve and would go into action if needed, however, we did not set our mortars in place nor stockpile ammo. I was not aware of all the mayhem going on nearby, however we were involved with some action, as a few Japanese did get through the front lines into our area.
Like the Kochi Ridge area, we were on the back of the hill, which extended south. Alton and I scraped a flat level place, and pitched our tent. We had squads of men near us on both sides. The hill gradually sloped up forty yards behind us into a road, which extended along the wall south. The hill tapered off on the north end, and afforded a way to get to the top. I scouted up there to get a lay of the land and discovered I was at the beginning of a plateau that extended south fifty yards. There was heavy vegetation on the perimeter, and tree trunks were partially battle scarred and rocks were scattered about. I could see that our company would be vulnerable to infiltration at night, because we were all camped along the downward slope of this plateau, and on the right. Others were aware of that danger too, so trip flares were installed in several places. (If a wire is tripped, a small rocket goes up and ignites a type of phosphorus when burned illuminates the surrounding area). At least twenty infiltrating Japanese died out on that plateau during the time we were there.
After Alton and I pitched our tent we took our time to get a look at our surroundings. In front of us, and twenty feet down the slope, was the road we came in on, that extended north and south. In full view of us down in the valley was a large patchwork scene of small cane plots and rice paddies. This valley was about a mile across, and extended north on our right thousands of yards, and to our south it slowly developed into a variety of scattered scenic hills, all beautiful shades of green.
This was another strange place to live, but by this time I was getting used to living on and in the ground. I peacefully ate my c-rations and waited for nightfall. The first evening passed without incident, but a Japanese soldier or civilian ventured into the space of a Marine unit on the hill opposite us, and we heard, "Halt! Bang, Bang." Apparently the Marines by orders, had to yell halt before firing. The intruder hadn't had a chance to answer. We all thought this was so incredulous and stupid. The Army makes it simple; just shoot anything that moves. We don't call halt in the middle of the night in combat. What are Marines doing walking around at night so that their buddies need to tell them to halt and be recognized? Any dumb Japanese could fake that game. Every time we heard this happening we had a laugh.
The following morning Alton and I woke up in pleasant weather, and after eating morning rations, helped carry water for the platoon. While we were out we discovered a place to get water to bathe in. It was a spring fed pool on my right about 30 feet away, facing the road, and was cut out of rock. Now we had a supply of cool water.
At this point in time, I had only one pair of pants having lost a pair somewhere, and the pair I had on had a rip up one leg. When my section leader discovered my plight he took mercy on me, so I soon had a new pair of pants. This gave me a spare to wash and with this new spring I had the water.
A loud artillery shell whizzed over our heads and exploded a short distance away, followed quickly by another. I did not have my steel helmet on. I rushed up the hill behind me and found cover at the foot of the wall. Two or three men had beaten me up there including my section leader 'Slats' Johnson who said with emphasis. "Where is your steel helmet Hill?" "You should have it on at all times!" Actually I did the smartest thing I thought; get to a safer place. The next thing I did was to rush down, grab it and rush back, which took me about five seconds even in the rough terrain; which actually was dumb. All together there were probably only three rounds. We did wait around awhile before coming down. That was the last of it, but we had to stay prepared.
It was interesting watching the activity on the road in front of me. Often it was a mystery. There were no wounded. One time there was an open bed truck slowly going by carrying several dead American bodies. When the truck hit a bump, each single body would roll a little or nod in a grotesque manner, because the bodies had stiffened. I was totally repulsed at the sight, so I yelled at the driver to slow that thing down. Another time there were five or six Japanese soldiers being escorted right past us. They looked like school kids carrying metal lunch pails just strolling along and seemingly enjoying the walk. (It proved out later that they were school children).
I had some spare time, so I had the opportunity to talk to the members of my squad. Whitey Sergeant, (Nick-named Whitey because of his real light blond German hair) was our barber of choice. I needed a haircut in the worst way as I hadn't had a haircut since I left Saipan about ten weeks ago. What did he want for the job? Just pay me back in beer when we get some, was his response, so I got a haircut. He complained to me about a used Ronson cigarette lighter his wife sent him for his birthday; he received it rusted together. He was not happy. Most of us used Zippo lighters, and gasoline to fill them as good lighter fluid ran out long ago. It was a little smoky and not the safest, but at least it was handy. Flints were hard to come by so when I ran out I had to revert back to using matches, which were included in c- ration pouches.
I was getting bored and so I dug a deep one-man hole out in front of my squad. Some of the guys thought I was crazy, but it turned out pretty neat. I had a good vantage point. Besides I needed the exercise. I was standing in my completed hole looking out late one day just as it was becoming twilight. Surprisingly I saw something in motion out in the valley, about a half a mile away. So as not to lose the location, I kept my eyes on the target and yelled at Whitey, "Come here quick. Bring your carbine, quick." He replied. " OK Kid, where, where, I never got to shoot one yet." He did spot something but lost the sight. He was really disappointed. It was in all probability, a civilian out hunting for food, because a lot them were starving, however it also could have been a Japanese soldier.
The trip flares up on the plateau behind us were doing their jobs; they were saving our lives. Up to this time there had been several infiltrating Japanese killed. One Japanese came through and lobbed a grenade, which rolled down a tent, and when it exploded completely demolished a washcloth hanging on a line.
Talk about excitement, one evening it was my turn for guard duty. My watch was on the spot on the end of the plateau. On this evening I was given a Browning Automated Rifle, a (B.A.R.) to use. This is a real heavy automatic, .30 cal. rifle, with a small tripod that folds down in front that is fed from a magazine. I guess the reasoning was, my carbine didn't have enough firepower.
I went on duty in the middle of a moonless night. I put my net over my face and gloves on my hands and I tried to blend in the background, leaning against a tree, with this big hunk of rifle. My left arm extended with my hand on the rest under the barrel, with my right hand on the stock with my finger on the trigger. I kept it pointed toward the plateau. Holding all this in place for any length of time was quite tiring, so I used support and changed my position from time to time. I began to wonder how those who were experienced did it. They must have been a lot stouter than I was.
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. Nothing moved out in front, and no one else was firing! I suddenly realized that my gun was empty and panicked. I quickly snapped the empty magazine out and found the spare, but it wouldn't go into place. I knew it slid in on an angle, and it was so dark that I couldn't figure it out. A wave of fear swept over me; the new magazine would not go in. The releasing button could not be found and I had no other weapon. I jostled it, turned it both ways, finally and thankfully it snapped in. I immediately glued my eyes south in the darkness and stood my vigil, waiting and alert for any flares or movement. There was no activity the rest of my shift, and I was really glad to see my replacement when he came to relieve me.
The following morning I checked around to see if I had hit anything, but I saw nothing. I learned however, that they found two dead Japanese bodies. Who knows? Did I do it? I had my doubts, considering the distance I had been away, and having fired a cumbersome and unfamiliar weapon. I had no way to know. I do know that I felt no remorse.
One wise guy remarked that I had sprayed the area out in front of him. I told him, there was no way I could have done that, because I knew where I had fired. Someone else remarked that the weapon shouldn't have been fired, as it would have drawn fire in return. Those remarks were nothing but put downs. These guys were not men of my squad, so I regarded both remarks as sour grapes. That is simply stupid to put a man on guard and then not fire his weapon. What was I to do, wait till someone else fired so as not to give away my position? Ridiculous! Those remarks had no validity.
Alton and I were soon bored, so we decided it was time to go on a discovery trip. We packed our carbines, canteens and headed out. It was around noon or so in the bright sunlight. Out about a quarter of mile or so toward our left front, down in the valley, we began looking for anything of interest. Alton lead the way. Along the side of a hill, I noticed a large bucket of water. I knew it had been freshly drawn because there were no dust specks on top. There had to be something going on nearby, so I called Alton back. Searching around we discovered a vertical crack in the side of the hill we had just passed. Alton started in, as it was large enough for him to squeeze in. He quickly came back out and said. "There is a girl in there." So I said. "Go back in and bring her out. I will cover for you."
Alton quickly came out leading this woman. All she had on was a skimpy kimono. She was holding her mouth and her crotch and woefully moaning in anticipation of what could happen. Alton went in the cave and brought out two more people, one an old man and the other a young boy with only a shirt on. We started motioning to get the idea to them that we wanted to know if there were any more people around. They cooperated and as such we found about a dozen civilians. An old man had a bandage on his head and we gestured the question how. He gestured back by throwing his hand as one would throw a grenade. Shortly afterward, I offered him a cigarette. He took it and rolled it over and then read aloud, "Chesterfield" which was a surprise. I asked the little boy if he was soldier, and he promptly shook his penis at me. Something was obviously missing in the translation. In the meantime some of the men in our mortar platoon came over and joined us. The plan was to take these people back to a refugee camp that the Army had set up for them. However there was a problem; the old man had to take care of a personal issue. So everyone twiddled their thumbs awhile, and waited for nature to take its course. The civilians were lead off and Alton and I headed back to the company area. All together Alton and I were instrumental in finding thirty Okinawans
As of June 5th I became Private First Class in lieu of my combat experiences. I was no longer a buck private, and could wear one strip on my bare left sleeve.
We learned of the death of Lt General Simon Buckner the commander of the battle for Okinawa while we were here. An artillery shell killed him on June 18th while at a high observation point. We were also informed of the death of Brigadier General Claudius Easley on June the 19th, who was an observer right on the front lines when killed by enemy machine-gun fire.
We were informed that the island was secure, so our platoon hiked back North on the June 30th of with the rest of the company to a new area. The battle was officially over, however, the men in the Army and Marine rifle companies still had a lot to do. Japanese were told the war was over, but still they resisted. Not only did they fight on, and killed our men, but also committed suicide. It was a cave-by-cave search and destroy battle that gradually came to an end.
The island was declared secure on June 22. The Color Guard of the Tenth Army raised our flag over the island in a formal ceremony. Representatives from the 2nd Corps and its divisions stood in formation as the band played "The Star Spangled Banner.
Near the top of the flagpole a sudden breeze swept the flag out full against the blue and peaceful sky.
Back to the Showers at Kamazato
We moved north to a spot near a little town named Kamazato, in south central Okinawa to a new company area. Each tent had a dirt floor, room for six cots, a little crowded, but it was a lot better than living in the ground, and a lot more civilized. We knew the war wasn't over, but now it was great. It was also my time to get acquainted with the guys in my squad, because I really didn't know them.
A lot of things were different. One main thing was, we had prepared meals; we didn't have to deal with c- rations, and we happened to have a very good mess sergeant. Some men actually shaved and got a haircut. Some became creative with little hand made projects. We now had the time and place to gather around, sing some old songs, and play cards unrestricted. It was great to be back to all these privileges.
Alton and I were separated, as he was in the 1st squad. However, I heard he got rid of his Japanese rifles. Maybe he sold them. I don't believe he sent them home. William "Andy" Anderson and I were amused at him because he had struggled to carry them on his back all those miles. (It was also rumored that he just ditched them.)
I thought about sending my captured booty home like some of the older guys did, however that was a little dicey. First, we never knew how much scrutiny the Army would exercise. Then the Army mail service was also suspect, because I didn't really know if a prize package would get through. Furthermore anything of real value had to be boxed properly, so I would have to find wood to make boxes and nail them together. That would take some connections and conniving to accomplish. All together it was a lot of ifs, so I kept my Japanese bugle and canteen in my duffle bag and trusted I would get them home that way.
We enjoyed an outdoor show every evening, and they were first run movies that we saw over and over, and that was ok. Usually, before the movie started, someone would read the daily news and the Major League baseball scores from back home. One evening during the movie we heard a chicken squawk, and we knew it must have been a starving Japanese soldier out there who had just found himself a meal. There were several soldiers eventually captured, and if fact our company did take four prisoners there.
One of the nicest things we enjoyed was the hot showers, and really getting clean. These were made possible by the ingenuity of the Transport Shower Company. They pumped water from a stream, passed it through large diesel engines' cooling system, and out to the showerheads. The soapy water drained back into the stream. There were two large tents with showers continually running, and the dirt floors were covered with metal airport strips. We were furnished with soap and towels, and we could stay as long as we liked. Imagine thirty nude happy guys, all singing a different tune. We were trucked there and back over dusty roads.
One thing some men in the Army were noted for was the need to consume alcohol. The Army did try to have a supply of 3.2 beer, which was available for the sake of moderation. Some units could get it when available, and thrived on it; however, there was none available for us. A lot of men felt a real need and several of which made very foolish decisions. Some men from another outfit actually drank torpedo juice, which is a liquid alcohol based fuel and unfortunately they went blind or died.
We did it a little differently in M Co. One morning before noon chow someone went "through the medics," (which they later denied), and secured some pure medical alcohol. Pour a little of this stuff in a teaspoon and when lit burns with a deep blue flame. This stuff is potent and in small quantities is risky but effective. A real high can be experienced rather quickly. Take a little fake lemonade; throw in a jigger of this stuff and wow a real buzz is quickly on. I personally witnessed six men in the tent next to ours pass out in one-half hour and some became very sick.
This next scene is graphic. The Texan we all called "Big Stupid", having too much of the stuff too quickly, passed out, and being much longer than his cot, laid diagonal, with his feet extending over one corner and his head tilted over the opposite. He was a sight several of us witnessed. He had vomited, his mouth was open, and flies walked in and out on it at will. One by one the men around him gradually woke up, and took care of themselves: but not Big Stupid. He just laid there all afternoon breathing heavily. Fortunately it was in June, and all the tents were open to fresh air.
Later that evening we were all enjoying the daily movie when we heard voices in the rear. As luck would have it, Big Stupid woke up during the movie, and decided to come down and shower. He needed to, because he had defecated on himself and stunk to high heaven. This heavy odor extended down into us moviegoers, which caused quite a stir, because the shower stall was just eighty feet away. One really brave and compassionate soul went up and helped him out. The bet was Big Stupid had one 'doozey' hangover, and we have a memory almost as raunchy as it gets.
In quite a different vein, Gen. 'Vinegar Joe' Stilwell, the permanent replacement for Gen. Buckner who had been killed, requested a formal Parade Review. This seemed such a strange time and place for this, however we were all familiar with and how it was performed. It was usually just another marching chore for an infantryman, however this time it was for a purpose, and it would be for the new General.
This was to be performed in our sun tan (Khaki) uniforms, weapons, and steel helmets, with all pockets buttoned, and shirts smoothly tucked into trousers. We were to be clean-shaven and on our best behavior, and with no smoking in ranks or talking, as this was to be a formal review. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to smoke and not getting caught.
This was a real change of pace for a lot of us. Some of the older guys hadn't done this for years, but I thought we all did it real well. We did all the,' right shoulder arms and eyes right' sequence, as our company marched by in front of the reviewing stand, all without any practice. We must have executed well, because we saw the short General, "Vinegar Joe," Stillwell smiling, and as if he were sincerely proud of each one of us.
It was a moment to remember; being reviewed by a full General of renown, and being smiled at as if we were important to him. The truth is he was probably proud of us. We all knew we could be heading into combat, and he knew we were veterans he could count on. It didn't hurt to arouse the feeling of a little pride in us with that review out in the sun. We took a lot of personal effort to put this on, and he made it worth it.
Later on I decided to look up some old buddies, so I went hitchhiking on the dusty roads to other areas hoping to find them. I was always glad to make a connection, but most of the time I wouldn't find anyone. I often heard who had been hit, and if any made it back. One of the guys I was looking for was Bullock, because he was with Alton and I in basic training. During my asking around I heard he had taken a direct hit while he was carrying a satchel charge of TNT. I did confirm later Men care about each other and the well being of their friends. There was always someone passing through our company area asking around, and everyone always tried to help out if they could.
I did learn the approximate location of one of the two 96 Division cemeteries, and decided to go look as I had heard some of my buddies were buried there, and this took about three hours of hitch-hiking. The sites were poorly marked in the dirt. I did manage to take a picture and looked around among the hundreds of graves, but left disappointed.
I continued searching for men by going into a Marine area. Someone back home thought it would be good for the two of us to connect. I walked into their area and found myself in a strange and spooky world. It was a dull dusty area, and I found their area nothing but an array of dusty pup tents and men sleeping only on hammocks. They didn't have the big six man tents like ours! I could see they were wearing regular service shoes and leggings, and not the combat boots the Army had. I was surprised and disappointed not only what I had seen, but also that I left without finding anyone.
We had been at Kamizato for a month when we learned there was a large typhoon, (A hurricane in the States), headed toward Okinawa, and it placed all U.S. forces in jeopardy. Destruction was imminent and we were vulnerable. We struck our tents and packed up in a hurry, and headed to the port of Yanabaru on the East coast.
Trucks pulled up in a swirl of dust one by one, and we all hustled to load them. Officers and non-coms barked orders, making it happen. They loaded all tents, trucks, mess equipment, desks, and tables etc.on this large flat bottomed landing craft; LST 712 There were some delays and SNAFUs of course but everyone worked together well. It was quite a large operation to be a part of. Men were some of the last to leave and load. We strapped our packs on our backs and each carried our duffle bags up and into the ship. M Co escaped on August 1st, before the winds picked up.
SNAFU is basically a military term defining chaos. It means," Situation Normal, All Fouled Up".
The Voyage to Mindoro
Unknown to us, we were headed towards Mindoro, an island in the Philippines, approximately 1200 miles away. Considering the speed of our ship, it would take a voyage of seven days good weather. We weren't in the direct path of this typhoon thankfully, but we experienced very rough weather.
Steel cables held everything in place topside. There were trucks and other equipment used by the regiment like the antitank weapons. The cargo deck below also was crammed full. Army procedures were strictly followed to secure each item, like chocking the wheels etc.
Quarters for Navy personnel and Officers were, in all probability the best, with the rest of us stuck here and there. There was a mess, shower and head areas. Strangely I do not remember any of the men on the voyage.
As we began this voyage, the fury of this storm was quickly upon us. I had to see it topside, so I put on my poncho, hiked up the steel stairway against the inside of the hull, and quickly became immersed into the noise of the fray topside. I took a spot on a side rail, positioning myself in the face of the gusty wind, and watched white caps disappear into spray. Many times the wind carried spray over on me.
As far as I could see around the horizon, the ocean rippled with intermittent waves thirty foot high, which were separated by troughs of open sea twice as wide and laced with patterns of foam. The sky was full of dark low clouds racing overhead, and as I stood there in the noise I braced myself into the wind. I saw our ship rise, dip, and crash and roll in the surge of waves. It was an awesome experience.
In my life I had never seen anything like this. I was experiencing unrelenting power in a continual display of nature, somewhat grand and magnificent yet quite deadly in potential. I endured the scene for a while, and then went below to escape it.
This storm continued at its worst for about three days and lasted for five or six. If our craft had handled this with ease I would have not been troubled. This being a flat-bottomed craft, it rode on top of the water and often went headlong into large waves that caused the whole ship to shudder with each crash. I had a spot at the rear end on the lower deck, where the lighting was dim, however I watched the whole ship bend several times as it absorbed the shock of big waves breaking over the bow. I also saw cracks of daylight and small stream of water come through the two front doors. Overall, I knew I was in a perilous situation. We did have life jackets that we wore; however I knew the one I wore gave me a false sense of security.
Normally I got my sea legs right away, but not this time, because I was seasick most of the trip. I couldn't keep anything down, and at the mere smell of food, I would instantly react. By holding on to get around, I did venture two or three times to the humid mess hall area during this storm to see if I could eat, but I was repulsed by the smells. I needed to drink water, but kept little of it down. I did get topside for some fresh air once in awhile.
I couldn't stand the smells and the closeness of our bunk area, so I went to the cargo deck and found a comfortable spot on a large tent stored in a loft area near the rear and wrapped myself in one of my blankets, staying there hour by hour, day and night sleeping there in denial, and hibernating. The storm roared on, threatening, shaking and tossing our little LST anywhere and anytime it wished, wave after wave. I didn't know what day it was, but I knew it was daylight when I saw light around the doors. It was damp there in the hold but the salt air was fresh, and the sleeping was good.
I was able to keep food in my stomach only the last two days of the voyage, however I knew I had lost weight. The weather did clear up some and quit raining yet remained overcast with angry clouds and cresting waves for a day or two .It was good to see blue clouds and some real sunshine again.
The big thing that happened near the end of this trip was a notice on the bulletin board. A big bomb had been dropped on Japan! Hiroshima was destroyed! It was called an Atom bomb. An A &endash;bomb. The thought of it; was it big enough to help win the war? I read it again. It was hard to comprehend at this point and it did sound good.
At this point in time we had been resigned to there being more war. We all knew that an invasion of Japan was coming next and we felt we would be there. To ponder the thought of one bomb big enough to change the war was just imagination. We were skeptical and yet we were somewhat optimistic. We were glad, but a wait and see attitude prevailed.
Two or three days later we learned that another bomb had been dropped. This time it was on Nagasaki. This was another strange sounding city in Japan, and surely this was significant. It was cheerful news and kept everyone's attention. Speculations abounded. We were anxious to hear more details, which we heard through the ships short wave radio, which was typed and posted on the bulletin board. That was our pipeline to the outside world. We heard that news bit-by-bit, always anxious for more.
Some of our men confronted a situation that they didn't like on board ship. The sailors had been getting better chow than we were. It was felt that the infantry had seen as much real combat as anyone around and so they informed the brass in no uncertain terms that there would not be any second-class food rations served on board the ship. The situation was corrected at once.
Events on Mindoro
We arrived at Mindoro on the 11th of August around noon. Mindoro is one of the five largest islands in the Philippines, and is directly south and west of the largest island, Luzon. Our company pitched tents in an open field in an area 2600 yards inland from a little town on the western coast named San Jose.
On the 15th of August we heard the war was over officially. We caught all the details. I do not remember a celebration, but there was one, and with those who could get the booze, drank, and those who wanted to, fired their weapons, I'm sure they did. This was terrific news for us all. If the war had continued, our division was scheduled to land on the beaches and go into Tokyo with the 24th Core, and we all knew it would be brutal and we would suffer many, many, losses. We were glad they dropped the bombs. We knew how well the Japanese fought, and how they would do anything to defend their homeland. We also knew that with the Japanese warlords in control, the Japanese people could not accept the rational option to surrender, even to save their own lives. We felt the bombing with the atom bomb was entirely justified and in all probability saved a lot of lives on both sides.
This is the end of the narrative. Following on these pages are pictures and a few more supportive items of mine that may interest you.
------ William R. Hill
A poem honoring the virtues of the "Deadeyes" was written by Mr. Hill in 2000 shortly after his return trip to Okinawa. Since that time it was read at two of the unit's national reunions. Mr. Hill owns the copyrights to "Always a Deadeye".
We are honored to include Mr. Hill's poem along with his memoirs.
"Always a Deadeye."
Once a Deadeye, always a Deadeye, I'm proud to be known by the name,
It's a nickname of my old Army outfit, and deep down; we're all the same.
We are a brotherhood of combat men, all proud dogfaces of World War II,
the best division in the whole Pacific, doing what we had to do.
The Ninety-Sixth settled a score, and well we did it too,
We were on the lines in Leyte and Okinawa, when the fighting was there to do,
We wiped out Japs by the thousands, and recaptured miles of their lands,
and lost many, many of our buddies, our legs, our arms, and our hands.
Many years are now since gone, the memories have slipped away,
but still remains that pleasant glow of brotherhood, made upon that day.
Once a Deadeye Always a Deadeye, I'm really proud of the name,
we all enjoy camaraderie in my old outfit, and deep down we're all the same.
The 96th Division's casualties are as follows: Killed 1,882, (including l General), wounded, 7,201, battle fatigue and diseases 5,314. Our company had 5 killed, 30 wounded and 30 battle fatigue and diseases.
Total battle loses include: American deaths totaled 12,281, which included 4,907 Sailors, 4,582 Soldiers, and 2,792 Marines. This figure includes 2 Army Generals. It is also appropriate to mention that Ernie Pyle, the famed WW2 war correspondent from Indiana, was also killed on the nearby island of I E Shima during the battle there. We also lost 763 aircraft, and 36 ships, and 221 tanks.
These figures when respected for what they represent, tell only a small part of the terrible toll of human suffering that the war cost our nation, each individual person and our nation's families.
Total Japanese loses were 100, 000 killed, and 7,401 captured. They also lost 7,830 aircraft, mostly suicide bombers, and 16 ships. Over 100,000 Okinawa civilians died in the battle, and overall there were 16,000 POWs
The Japanese military War Lords, in their quests for supremacy, had political control of Japan in the 30's. Their efforts to conquer China were a disaster, and after they lost that war, and for various reasons they turned their attention on the United States. This focus cost thousands of American lives, and misery for their own people. War Crimes trials were conducted in Manila after the war, and many were brought to justice. The world also learned of the atrocities the vicious Japanese committed during the war against the Chinese civilian population, The Korean population, The Philippine population, and American service people.
Awards and Decorations Received by Mr. William R. Hill
Good Conduct Medal
Ruptured Duck Lapel Pin
Presidential Unit Citation
Asian-Pacific Campaign Medal with one battle star
WWII Victory Medal
Combat Infantry Badge
Philippine Liberation Medal
Philippine Independence Medal
Bronze Star (not earned by an action on my part)
It was given to all who earned the CIB
I also earned Marksman for Rifle badge
I was authorized to wear three overseas bars on my sleeve
I had three shoulder patches.
Blackhawk 86th and
AFWESPAC (the Armed Forces Western Pacific unit)
I had also earned my PFC stripe for being in combat
MOS number 274 (City Editor with the 'Daily Pacifican' Army Newspaper.
I was mustered out at the 'Convenience of the Government' at Fort Sheridan, Ill.
I was drafted and sworn in at the US Armory in Indianapolis on Sept 11, 1944
I had 2 years, 2 months and 22 days service. 1 year, 7 months and 11 days overseas.
A List of Military Books Related to the Above Narrative:
"Okinawa the Last Battle," compiled by the Center of Military History of the United States Army, Superintendent of Documents, Washington, DC. It is also on line at:
"Okinawa the Last Battle"
"The Deadeyes, the Story of the 96th Infantry Division." Battery Press.
"Operation Iceberg." By Gerald Astor.
"The Typhoon of Steel." By Belote.
"Okinawa, The last battle of WW II." By Robert Locke.
"The Battle for Okinawa." Colonel Yahara. (From a Japanese perspective)
" Love Company" Actual Combat Story of Donald Dencker. Deadeye Division Historian
"The Battle of Okinawa, as Seen From the Foxholes of Ken Staley" by Ken Staley.
"Ordeal by Sea" The Tragedy of the USS Indianapolis, by Thomas Helm
"Kamakazi" by Raymond Lamont-Brown.
"Seven Stars" The Okinawa Battle Diaries of Buckner and Stillwell by Sarantakes
"Okinawa 1945" by Osprey Publishing (Campaign 96)
"Goodbye Darkness" William Manchester
"Words of War Vol 3" by Park Tudor college preparatory school in Indianapolis.
"Here is Your War" Ernie Pyle
----- William R. Hill
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To read any of the three parts of the story by Mr. Hill
("Once a Deadeye, Always a Deadeye", please click on a link below...
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
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
96th Infantry Division - Home
96th Division - History
96th Division - Full History
Okinawa -- the Last Battle
Association Links: Infantry Divisions and More
American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll
National World War II Memorial
The material is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of Mr. William R. Hill.
Material contained within this narrative is ©Copywrited by Mr. William R. Hill and cannot be reproduced without his permission and the permission of this website.
Our sincerest THANKS to Mr. Hill for allowing us to share these excellent memories.
Original Story submitted on 29 July 2007.
Story added to website on 1 August 2007.
September 5, 2002.
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