April - 65 Years Ago

My dad was a soldier in WWII.  He was a rifleman and platoon runner in the 96th Infantry, 381st Regiment, L Company.  While he was overseas he wrote to Mom regularly - as regularly as he could - and we are fortunate to have all the letters she saved.

Dad artfully managed to avoid describing the atrocities he witnessed (and he wasn't permitted to discuss casualties or his letters would have been censored), but occasionally his words inadvertently revealed the losses they were suffering.  There were 40 men in Dad's platoon in October 1944 when the battle of Leyte began, yet in a letter dated January 4, 1945, he wrote, "Just got some mail in.  Only five letters for 30 men."  They were missing 10 men after 3 months of fighting.

The last letter Mom received from the Philippines was dated March 24, 1945.  The battle of Okinawa began April 1st, but there were no letters from Okinawa.  Mom didn't hear from Dad again until May 21st when he wrote from the hospital.  That letter contained only one sentence about Okinawa:  "It was as bad as hell can possibly be."

On April 29, 1945, the 307th Infantry took over for the 381st Infantry.  By the time it was relieved, the 381st had been reduced to about 40 percent combat efficiency and had suffered 1,021 casualties; 536 of them in the Maeda Escarpment in the previous four days.  Some platoons were down to five or six men.  Many of the men were so exhausted that they did not have the energy to carry their equipment down the slope to the road below where trucks were waiting to take them to the rear.

Decades later, we asked Dad to write his memoir and this was what he shared with us about Okinawa:
         We had easy going for a couple of days, but I was very uncomfortable during that period.  My intuition said, "This is just not right; I have a bad feeling." And sure enough, a couple of days later all hell broke loose.  I am uncertain as to the time frame, but one night when we were receiving artillery fire, I did four hours on watch and then went to sleep.  From that point, I don't know what happened.  Later, in a hospital on Saipan, I saw my medical chart which indicated minor injuries from rocks and other debris, and a severe concussion that left me comatose for several days.
         One of the survivors of our Company later sent me a picture taken just before the battle on Okinawa was over, which showed five men.  This was the remainder of my 40-man platoon.  Of the five surviving at the point the picture was taken, only two were original members, and three were replacements; one of whom was killed before the battle ended.

It's hard to believe that 65 years ago today my father was 7000 miles away from home on an island in the Pacific.  It's hard to imagine him as a 20-year-old soldier carrying a rifle, sitting in a foxhole up to his waist in water and mud while machine guns blasted and shells exploded around him.  It's hard to imagine the things he saw and the fear he felt.  According to the statistics, 12,513 American men died on Okinawa and 38,916 were wounded.  It's hard to comprehend how many boys and men just like my dad didn't come home.

I remember when I was a teenager we drove past the cemetery and I asked Dad if he was going to be buried at Fort Snelling.  He shook his head, no.  When I asked him why, he said, "I'm no hero."

He was wrong about that.

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