April 1, 1945, was both Easter Sunday and April Fools Day. My father, a 20-year-old
member of the 6th Marine Division, was aboard a troop landing craft, heading straight to
the shores of the heavily fortified island of Okinawa.
Approaching the beaches with a mixture of fear, eagerness and uneasy anticipation;
these feelings intensified with the smells and sounds of a battle in progress. A young
man whose future, whose very life, was now in the hands of an unknown fate. Far away
from home, it would be a surreal experience for anyone.
The battlefield in its full fury, flying bullets, exploding mortars shot from the batteries of
ships out in the harbor, the anti-aircraft guns blasting charging kamikazes out of the
skies, the screaming of the wounded and killed. The men charged, running headlong into
the onslaught of projectiles, the lucky ones, dodging death in the chaos and confusion hoping to reach safety and shelter in this hostile place.
He would be tested in this, his first and only battle. Like many others he was suffering
from a serious bout of seasickness, from the motion of the waves and swells, tossing and
rocking the ship. The salty seas washed aboard, drenching the troops. The odor of sweat,
urine, and vomit filled the confined craft as it made its way, an eternity to the shore.
Momentarily, to take his mind off the impending reality, he thought of his childhood
friend, a man who would later become my uncle. Today was his 22nd birthday, and he
was somewhere on the European front. They were both children of Italian immigrants
that had settled in the south-eastern section of Detroit. He wondered what he was doing
at that very moment. It was a connection that reminded him of home.
My father had enlisted in the Corps in 1943, he was initially sent to Chicago for
inductment, from there he was shipped to San Diego’s Camp Pendleton for basic
training. On completion, orders came for departure the next day. Denied liberty passes
before their send-off, my father and a group of cohorts, decided to spend one last night
out on the town. They went AWOL for a night of girls and drinking.
They returned the next morning turning themselves in. They were detained to face a court-martial. They were sentenced to 90 days in the brig. In a twist of fate, this act may have been a saving grace, as the departing troops had been bound for Iwo Jima.
After serving his sentence, his destination was to Guadalcanal for intense combat
training as a machine gunner. The island had recently been captured in early 1943 and
was used as a training and supply base. The Sixth Division was formed here in 1944
from groups of battle-tested veterans and new recruits; they came together from various
battalions and regiments to create a new Division.
They were preparing for the 6,000-mile journey to the Island of Okinawa, the last
holdout of the Japanese Imperial Forces. Intense and serious fighting was expected for
this, the Japanese last stand and last hope. It was to be a fierce and bloody 82-day
campaign. The Japanese were determined to hold their ground in a last desperate
attempt, they were well entrenched and heavily fortified.
Prepared to fight to the end, to suffer and sacrifice rather than surrender, they had dug in settling in a series of tunnels, caves, and bunkers, known as pillboxes. They took their
devotion to the Emperor very devoutly.
Iwo Jima had been a crushing defeat, as they were losing more and more of their grip on
the chain of Pacific Islands they once held. They would not make this battle an easy
assault. They prepared what remained of their aerial and naval craft for support.
This was the zenith of the kamikaze might. The term kamikaze translates to, divine
wind. As a last-ditch effort to inflict as many casualties as possible, the use of kamikaze
began in earnest, in late October 1944, during the battle of the Gulf Of Leyte, in
the Philippines. Okinawa would be their last and most glorious service. There was no
shortage of volunteers. During the Okinawa campaign, the estimated damage they
inflicted on the Allied fleet was 47 vessels destroyed, and an additional 10 damaged.
In yet another desperate move: 1,870 middle school boys, between the ages of 14 and
17, were recruited or conscripted. They would be known as the Iron And Blood Imperial
Corps. They sustained heavy casualties.
The battle began April 1st and ended on June 22nd. For the ferocity of the fighting, the
Japanese came to call the battle, the rain of steel or violent wind of steel. It was to
become the largest amphibious battle of the Pacific. Okinawa is situated 340 miles west of mainland Japan. Once victory came, the plan was to use
it as the base for air operations on the assumed upcoming assault.
The battle itself comprised of units from both the Army and Marine Corps. Additional
naval and air support was conducted with Allied support, although they did not assist
with ground troops.
The strategy was a two-fronted assault from the northern and southern parts of the
island. The first move was a barrage by Naval ships that shelled the island, while fighter
pilots defended the vulnerable fleet.
Cliff where native jumped to their death.
Ground troops followed. It would not be an easy victory. The battle to dislodge
entrenched enemy combatants involved total warfare in all its ugliness. There was much
at stake, both sides knew it. Once the victory at Okinawa was secured, the next and final
target would be Japan itself.
The ferociousness of battle was savage and intense. Both sides battle weary after four
years. One side would emerge the victor, this blow to Japan was a humiliation. At times
the ground was covered in mud from heavy rains. Bodies of the dead from both sides
lying exposed, bloated and rotting crawling with maggots. A horrific scene, that was to
haunt many of the hardest.
The conditions in which the fighting took place including the terrain itself, the weather,
the psychological impact of the carnage, the fierceness of the enemy, the horrors must
have been unimaginable. These factors were catalysts, circumstances for the
savagery. It led to conditions ripe for atrocities, the thirst for blood was potent, revenge
Soldiers that were entrenched in caves and tunnels were often blown up or burnt alive by flamethrowers. The smell of burning and charred flesh filled the air. Many soldiers and natives committed suicide rather than be defeated and shamed. The residents fled to the caves and cliffs, many of them jumping to their deaths in the sea.
The island’s civilian population was about 300,000. They were to pay a heavy cost in
loss of life, and property. Ninety percent of the island was in ruins. A landscape of
devastation. The Okinawan’s found themselves in an unfortunate position, victims of both sides.
Losses sustained on both sides were significant. The Americans lost 20,195 killed;
110,071 Japanese and Okinawan’s who had donned the uniform were registered as dead
by the Allied Forces.
That number 110,071 is a significant one for the point of this story. That number being, the one.
A Man I Did Not Know
The story was told to me at a young age, at the time I felt bad for the man. I asked my
father why he did what he did. He told me I didn’t understand, I was not there. It was
war. He had seen things. He was angry. He wanted revenge. Through the years, I
frequently asked the question again. As time went by and I matured. I felt a deep sense
of sadness for this dead boy.
My father and another soldier were together, they were separated from their unit. I don’t
remember the exact reason for this separation, maybe it was during the confusion of
battle, possibly they were on a reconnaissance mission. They came upon a solitary
unarmed soldier. He was young, little more than a boy, maybe he had been recruited into
the Iron And Blood Imperial Corps. He surrendered to them.
There was a discussion between my father and the other man, as to what they should do
with him. I don’t know if the decision was a mutual one. My dad told the man to go, to
run. He then proceeded to shoot him in the back. He was one of the 110,071 killed.
I never could reconcile with what he had done. It was murder. My father!
I knew a man who killed another, that man was my father.
The killing was an unconscionable act, to me it was not necessary. It was a judgment
made with little thought or feeling, from someone who could not see a frightened fellow
human being, one helpless, afraid and defeated.
How do we become so callous to human suffering and return unchanged or untouched?
The cruelty of men lies sleeping. It slumbers until shaken. It rages and ravages when
awakened. A primal struggle, no one is immune, if given sanctity of the just.
Legitimized by a rationale of necessity.
I am a legacy of that action that set forth my being. The sins of the father, I did not know
back then. It is a burden that I have carried, that has troubled me deeply to the core.
The shadow of his ghost has haunted me. That chain, that mystic cord connects me to
his wandering soul. Cheated by a bullet, from a gun. Denied his chance of a future and a life. Gone in an instant. Fatally fallen, his life spilled out in all its redness, seeping into the good earth. That goodness spoiled and squandered.
War is a brutal business, a test of man’s morality and convictions. It produces mobs of
violent, angry and aggressive men, that thirst for blood and revenge, of an impersonal
foe, they call the enemy. For what reason they scarcely question. Led by distant
commanders. Their bodies vacant shells molded into obedient killing machines, dutiful
servants in the name of a noble cause. Rally to the call of patriotism.
Individual accountability has no place on war-torn battlefields.
Abandoning any form of conscience or compassion. The better angels of our nature wrestle between and are overcome by taunts of the Devil, laughing nestled on our
shoulders. He whispers the deed is validated and justified.
The dead man is now dust in the ground, but his spirit knows no rest. He was also told,
these men are your enemy, go forth and kill. When fate brought these two face to face, no one won, no one, but the Devil.
Do not question what you are told, go forth and do the bidding of thirsty men.
Their unquenchable bloodlust feeds the fires for the stirrings of war. Brave and
honorable, the model soldier.
Thoughts and ideas are colored and clouded by the passion of propaganda, disguised as
patriotism. The waving of a flag, the holiest of symbols, a mere piece of cloth. Both
sides in conflicts hold their convictions to be sacred and just. Humanity’s misery becomes a victory.
Countless bodies, in rows and rows, stacked in piles, mountains of a wasteland.
Bloodbaths of wars, filling oceans across time, can’t wash clean the dirtied hands that
took up arms against another.
In our imagined and instigated disputes, we resort to our most primitive and baser
instincts. A great struggle to survive and dominate drives us to subject our foes, those we
see as a threat, as competition.
Lessons are not learned from previous mistakes. For every step we take ahead, we take another back. It’s been a never-ending cycle.
Options to resolve differences, to prevent conflict are tossed aside, once the taste for
blood has been stirred. Our eyes suddenly lose sight, our ears, cannot hear. Deaf to the
cries of caution and concern.
If you profess to be a Christian or a Muslim and hold the values and virtues so dearly
and faithfully as claimed, there should be a moral dilemma, an inner conflict with the
hypocrisy of the tenets that are so adhered to, with such passion and devotion.
There should be a sense of humility and reflection when one holds that stance so
The ideology of a fraction of a few presents a skewed and biased misrepresentation.
The statement, “freedom isn’t free” has been effective. It’s become a common and
accepted in our lexicon, but upon examination, what does it mean? There’s been a
deliberate impact to divide. It’s always been an effective means to an end.
The courage and sacrifices of the victims become diminished. Perhaps in hindsight
time and circumstance will afford a different perspective. The distances separating
participants memories and those of innocent eyes will disagree about conflicts and the
merits of necessity.
Survivors, innocent and damned on every side, pass down the consequences of their
actions, further casualties who seek solace and understanding.
I can’t make amends for that long ago stolen life. I feel a link, a bond to an unknown
man, one who was not my enemy. If I could, I would reach out my hand. I feel remorse,
and guilt that is deep. That man never had children, but here I am a child of the victor.
The man I knew as my father. I never knew his true feelings, if he struggled with what
he had done, was he sorry? Did he temporarily lose his humanity due to the extremity of
his circumstances that I could never understand? Did he ever see his face, pleading back
at him or hear his voice in his dreams? Did he ask for forgiveness?
I ask for it.
The three photos above were taken on the battlefield at Okinawa. My father is in the photos. I don’t really know which one is him except in the far left, he is on the right. Photos were dated June 15, 1945. Shima
Photos from Google searches. If any photos can be credited or infringe on copyright, please contact me.
“WAR is a racket. It always has been.
It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one
international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the
losses in lives.”
― Smedley D. Butler,
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