Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Battle of Okinawa - Part I


For the record: Here is my story of the Battle for Okinawa, the last great battle of World War II. I have already told humorous parts of this in "Grandpa's Stories" for the entertainment of my immediate family.

The Secret Orders

In the fall of 1944 as a brand new Second Lieutenant training Engineer troops in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, I received orders marked "S E C R E T" to proceed to Ft. Shafter, Territory of Hawaii, and report to the Commanding General, Pacific Ocean Area, for duty. At the bottom of the order was this ominous warning:

YOU ARE DIRECTED TO TAKE EVERY PRECAUTION TO SAFEGUARD THESE INSTRUCTIONS. THIS SHEET WILL NOT BE PLACED IN THE SAME CONTAINER WITH OTHER ORDERS AND RECORDS. YOU ARE PROHIBITED FROM DISCUSSING YOUR OVERSEAS DESTINATION EVEN BY SHIPMENT NUMBER OR SHIPMENT DESIGNATOR. IN CASE OF EMERGENCY THIS SHEET WILL BE DESTROYED.

Well, that was scary. What kind of a secret mission was I being sent on? The mystery deepened as I reported to Hamilton Field, an Army Air Force base north of San Francisco, and became the only passenger on a four-motored C54 transport plane heading for Hawaii. In those days the way you normally got from California to Hawaii was by troop ship. Well 11 hours later the C54 touched down at Hickam Field near Honolulu. I was met by an officer and handed assignment orders to an Engineer Spare Parts Platoon! How glamorous was that? Worse, after a couple days I was reassigned to an Engineer Dredge Company! Some secret mission....Then I reported to the 64th Engineer Topographic Battalion at Scofield Barracks (where eventually "From Here to Eternity" was filmed). It turns out all this was all an elaborate cover for the assignment of a replacement officer in an outfit which was making Top Secret maps for the next invasions, the Phillipines and  Okinawa. I ultimately was told that I replaced an officer who had committed suicide in remorse over losing Top Secret maps for the planned invasion of Yap. We never did invade Yap.

My first assignment was to spend every night at the printing plant of the Honolulu Advertiser, the local newspaper, where I was armed with a 45 caliber pistol and watched printing press operators (who looked Japanese) print large scale Top Secret maps of the island of Luzon. I was to see to it that none of these maps strayed and to destroy any spoiled copies. A side benefit of this job was that my days were free to swim or surf at Waikiki Beach...tough duty. 

My roommate at Schofield was Lt. Al Jacobsen, a handsome First Lieutenant from Chicago who was a champion swimmer in college. This almost led to my drowning in a rip current off the North Shore of Oahu where the TV shows of surfing contests are now made (I tried to keep up with him as he did a Johnny Weismuller-type crawl through the surf). He and I met and dated a couple of girls at Waikiki (mine was "Bubbles" Jones from Texas).

The 1746th Map Depot Detachment



One day I was was called in to see the Battalion Commanding Officer and he informed me that I was to form a separate detachment for the purpose of taking a large supply of Top Secret maps to Okinawa and establishing a central map depot on the island. He said he regretted losing me but orders were orders. I was delighted at the prospect but I did't let on that I would be happy to quit baby-sitting Advertiser printing presses. Ten men from the battalion were assigned to my detachment. I ultimately became suspicious that the various company officers were passing off their malcontents and goof-offs to my new 1746th Engineer Map Depot Detachment. However, I was happy to have them and determined to form the best damned Map Depot Detachment in the Pacific Theater.

First we were carpenters. My men built a humongous number of heavy-duty wooden crates from plywood and dimension lumber. Then we packed them full of maps, all Top Secret, and so stenciled the boxes. When we had all the maps crated we loaded them on a long flat-bed semi-trailer and headed for the Honolulu docks, a jeep with armed MPs leading and another following. Riding on top of the load was yours truly brandishing a sub-machine gun. At the docks we saw our conveyance for the next few weeks, the Coast Guard-manned USS Cepheus. If you saw the movie "Mr. Roberts" that's how we looked after loading and heading out across the Pacific in a large convoy. On board I learned that we were headed for Guadalcanal to pick up the 6th Marine Division.

Next: Part II - On the Way

Read Part II     Part III    Part IV 

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