The battle took place on Okinawa, a 70-mile-long by 7-mile-wide island, located only 400 miles south of Japan’s mainland and 1,000 miles from Tokyo. It was April 1, 1945. The fighting in World War II continued, and the American military was about to mount an attack on the heavily defended island.
The reduction of enemy resistance by our naval bombardment before the invasion was so successful that our ground troops encountered only four Japanese soldiers during the first 24 hours of the campaign – and they were eliminated. Most of the Japanese forces had moved to the southern half of the island and were entrenched in underground tunnels. The tunnels had their own railway system and the surrounding area included fortified caves and manned pillboxes. The main battle was yet to come.
I was on a transport eating in the mess hall on a lower deck when a kamikaze pilot hit by naval artillery began to target our ship. Our commander directed constant firepower at the plane as it headed toward us. The plane crashed onto our deck and slid into the ocean without doing its intended damage.
The Okinawa campaign claimed the lives of about 110,000 Japanese troops and estimates of up to 150,000 native Okinawans. U.S. casualties saw 12,520 dead and more than 36,000 wounded – more than Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal combined.
On June 18, 1945, Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, commander of U.S. forces on Okinawa, was killed by Japanese artillery fire while he was inspecting front-line positions. Four days later, Japanese Gen. Ushijima and his chief of staff, Gen. Isamu Cho, committed ritual suicide. Neither would suffer the disgrace of being taken alive. This effectively ended the Okinawa campaign.
In the Battle of Okinawa, there were more American deaths and casualties than any other campaign during World War II.
(Factual data in this article was provided in the book “Absolute Victory: America’s Greatest Generation and Their World War II Triumph” by the editors of Time magazine.)
– Glenn Masek
Note: Glenn Masek served as an artillery mechanic in the U.S. Army during World War II. He enlisted in June 1943 and fought overseas from April 1945 until his honorable discharge in March 1946. He qualified as an expert marksman. In addition to his Overseas Service Bar, American Campaign Medal and Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Bronze Battle Star, Glenn was decorated with a Meritorious Unit Award, a Good Conduct Medal and a World War II Victory Medal. A proud member of the Greatest Generation, Glenn turns 94 on Friday.