Ed Darlington, an 18 year old replacement in 1945, sent me a twenty two page document recalling his time on Okinawa with the 96th Infantry, 3rd Battalion, “Item” (I) Company, Third Platoon, Third Squad. Ed stated that he found the letters he had sent home during the war while going through his mother’s possessions after her passing about 20 years ago. Reading these letters sparked many memories and caused him to write this memoir for his family. He has decided to share it with us. I have condensed his story for this website. I deeply appreciate his willingness to share the experiences he had from early May until the wars end. Words in italics are part of Ed’s letters home.
SPRING OF ‘45
My first look at Okinawa was deceptive because it was so beautiful. I had never seen a landscape to compare with it. It looked exactly like the ornamental Japanese prints with the strange writing, top to bottom, on one side. I had always thought those prints were an artist’s concept, but now I saw the steep little hills topped with odd looking pine trees and small farm fields between. The mists of morning gave it a heavenly quality
We had a hot breakfast that morning---the last I would get for a long time.
5 May 45 “The chow is as good as any we had on Saipan, if not better. They have a canvas stretched across a level spot in front of a tomb. This serves as a kitchen and they cook on gasoline stoves.”
There was a lot of activity getting the new replacements assigned to their destined Army units. In a short while I was told I was now in the 96th Division, an outfit that had just been pulled off the line into this reserve area after three weeks of hard combat. The division had been already under strength when it arrived because of battle losses at Leyte the previous fall. In time I learned I was in the 3rd Battalion, “Item” Company, Third Platoon, Third Squad. Some understanding personnel officer had put Pete Drakos and Kelly Wong in this same platoon; no doubt noticing that our home addresses were in Butte, Montana.
After Pete and I had our assignments we decided to look around. We climbed a little hill next to the campground. On the other side of the hill we found a ditch, about 10 ft. deep and 30 ft. long that had been gouged out by a bulldozer. The machine was parked at the end of the ditch and there was nobody around. Then I got a shock when I saw a row of bundles lined up alongside the ditch and I realized these were bodies! There were 15 or 20 GI’s wrapped up in their ponchos with just their booted feet sticking out. I felt a strange sense of embarrassment as though I had intruded into somebody’s privacy. Pete and I immediately turned and went back to the encampment where there was a reassuring crowd of live people.
A real effort was made to mesh the new replacements with the battle veterans. There weren’t very many of these guys. They chilled me relating their experience on Kakazu Ridge and Sawtooth. They told about the “flying boxcars”---huge mortar shells that were visible as they tumbled end-over-end toward their uncertain target. They told about attacking up hills so steep that a man’s own grenades would roll back at him. For a week we conducted training exercises similar to what we had at Camp Roberts, but without the long marches. We were drilled on “fire and run” and how to provide cover for the guys attacking. We had real pillboxes to practice on---recently abandoned by the enemy.
“7 May “We’ve been getting practice in flame-throwers and bazookas the last few days. It’s pretty interesting, especially the flame-throwers because I’ve never used one before..
We were told that we were going to make a long march and to discard anything that wasn’t essential. Our blankets and our musette bags were stuffed back into our duffel bags. A two day supply of C Ration---twelve cans---was handed out. Finally we were issued ammunition. I was surprised to feel how heavy all this ammo was—in training we never carried more than one clip at a time. Now I could appreciate the necessity for the heavy web strap suspenders holding up our cartridge belts. Without those suspenders our belts would have pulled our pants off! We were issued an extra canteen, which we filled with the heavily chlorinated water we had become accustomed to and extra chlorine tablets we were supposed to use in the event our supply of Army water was cut off and we had to resort to the indigenous H2O. We also carried a compress bandage, some APC tablets, and a little can of mosquito repellant.
We started our march as a “column of deuces”, maintaining five yard intervals as drummed into our consciousness in training. We kept going all night with no break periods. Before dawn we arrived at a steep ridge on the opposite side of the island. When we climbed to the crest of the ridge we found a cluster of foxholes waiting for us. We had just relieved our own 383rd Regiment. A sergeant directed us to the various holes that had been abandoned and I found that my close companion was Al Hess, the platoon medic. He was a complete stranger to me because the medics belonged to a unit of their own; however, he was a new replacement just like me and we had arrived on the same ship.
Our foxhole was a deep one, which was an indication of how long the previous occupants had been stalled there. Hess and I removed our harness and were trying to make ourselves comfortable when a huge sergeant, who we later learned was the company cook, paused at our hole and deposited a loaf of fresh bread, still warm, on my backpack, parked on the edge of our hole. It was a kind gesture, not the sort of thing I expected from the Army; sort of a “welcome to the front line”. He had set up a field kitchen a few hundred yards back at the bottom of the ridge and had baked enough loaves for every hole in our platoon.
Hess and I were looking forward to eating this warm bread with our morning rations when, with no warning at all, the Japs started a mortar barrage. The mortars were dropped, three in a cluster, at the top of the ridge; then the barrage quickly moved down the reverse slope, right through our platoon area. Everybody in our platoon was hunkered down in their holes as soon as the barrage started, but our 4th Platoon was moving up through our area carrying the heavy machine guns and out own mortars to a new position farther up the ridge, and these guys were caught out in the open. Two of them jumped into the hole with Hess and me, which made for a very tight squeeze. One of them had been hit in the chest by a small chunk of shrapnel, so Hess tried to tape a compress over the wound. The guy had hair on his chest that looked like steel wool and the tape wouldn’t stick. I was watching this procedure, looking over Hess’s shoulder, when the world ended.
When I came to, only a minute or so had elapsed, but I realized that the foxhole had caved in on us. My nose was bleeding and it seemed to me that I had gone deaf. All four of us were dazed, but it turned out that the mortars that had landed on the edge of the foxhole hadn’t done any permanent damage. My back hurt so bad that I could hardly move, so Hess had me strip down so he could wrap adhesive tape around my waist. The strips of tape were about 2 inches wide and when he finished it looked like I was wearing a white corset. He gave me a handful of APC pills, the Army cure-all. This helped, but my back pain lasted for a long time. The barrage continued on down the hill and after about five minutes it was all over. We later learned that this was sort of a wakeup call from the Japs that occurred on schedule every morning. That was my personal introduction to the front line. Three 81mm mortar shells had landed just a few feet behind me. One of them had disintegrated my backpack, ruined our loaf of bread, and worst of all---had sheared the front sight from my rifle that I had been holding upright between my knees. It’s hard to explain the sense of loss I felt when I looked at my dear old #2352194, now hopelessly crippled. All the hours I had spent cleaning and babying that rifle, wiped out in an instant! It was like a cavalryman losing his horse. In my rifle-ness I was assigned to be the runner for a new lieutenant who was put in charge of our platoon. This turned out to be a break for me because Lt. Walsh was one of the good guys and we hit it off at once. That day Lt. Walsh kept me busy running back and forth to the Command Post with message slips for the captain. When we pulled back to a less exposed position, a sergeant led me to a pile of equipment left behind by our casualties. I picked out another rifle, harness, backpack, and poncho to replace what I had lost that morning.
I could look for miles to the south of the island and all I could see was an unending series of ridges and hills. At the rate we were going it seemed like my chances of actually reaching the far end were statistically nil. It seemed to me that even on a good day our company took some casualties and there was an arithmetical certainty that sooner or later I would be on one of those litters that disappeared downhill. Even if I could go the distance, I knew that we would eventually have to invade the main islands of Japan. All of us, not just me, hoped for the “million dollar wound” that would get us back to the rear---and the farther the better. We finally chased the enemy off the ridge in front of Sugar Hill. It was almost sundown when I was trudging up the trail from the company CP with a message for Walsh. I heard mortars exploding and when I reached the platoon I saw that Walsh was down. He was flat on his back and, in the last rays of the sun; I could see his belly was opened by a wound as big as a saucer. Hess was bending over him, pouring Sulfa powder into the gaping hole. This awful sight really shook me up. All our previous casualties had occurred at a distance, but this was right in my face.
When it was time for out platoon to move we went “over the top” of the ridge and down the other side at a dead run. When we reached the bottom there was a field with an embankment on our end that gave good cover. But our platoon had to cross that open field, about 100 yards, before we could start up the slope on the other side. The Jap mortars were zeroed in on that field and the explosions were almost continuous. Our sergeant had us lined up, crouched behind the embankment, and would signal us to start running, about 30 yards apart. When he slapped my back I jumped up and started running as fast as I could. I had only gone a few steps when a mortar exploded about 20 yards in front of me! I ran right through the still smoking crater and got to the other side of the field almost like I was in a dream. Later on I was surprised to find my left suspender strap hanging loose. Apparently a piece of shrapnel had cut it, and I was impressed to see what a clean cut it made. I was lucky it didn’t cut my throat.
Later in that battle, our company was relieved and replaced by another so we went back in search of some place to get out of the eternal rain. The only dry places we could find were the tombs that generations of Okinawans had created on every hillside that was unfit to farm. Third Squad picked out a couple of these tombs and moved in; four guys in each. We lived in that tomb for three nights, and days too, because the rain was unrelenting. I felt guilty thinking of the platoon that had relieved us up on Sugar Hill, where there was no shelter at all.
31 May “Right now I’m the dirtiest, filthiest, stinking-est hunk of humanity that ever staggered up to your back door and asked for a cuppa coffee! Remember---as long as dirt isn’t dangerous. I’m perfectly safe”.
When we finally emerged from out three day hibernation in the tombs, we were sent back up to the front line. To our utter amazement and great relief there was no front line! The Japanese Army, what was left of it, had abandoned the Shuri Line and retreated to the second defensive position at the extreme southern end of the island. They didn’t leave gracefully. They had left a scattered rear guard in place, but we could see the big battle was over and we were going to win!
We were instructed to take prisoners because Army Intelligence wanted to question them. Fat Chance! All the Japs we caught up with were dead. Most of them had been killed by our artillery days before. As an alternative to taking live prisoners we were told to search dead bodies for maps or any other printed matter that could possibly be useful when translated. All of us were eager to find a freshly killed Japanese officer---not because we might find important documents so much as the possibility of picking up valuable souvenirs! We especially wanted a Samurai sword or a pistol, but we would settle for a battle flag. Some of the common soldiers folded a handkerchief-sized copy of the “meatball” and carried it in their helmet space.
Boy, I sure wish I had something to read! I’m getting to the point where I’m repeating the numbers on the ammo cases. This old combat business is 99% waiting and I guess this is a good thing because that other 1% sure wears a guy down.
Somehow, on the grapevine telegraph that connects the lowest ranking members of any military outfit, the news that we could profit from the carnage around us reached our platoon. We gathered a few armloads of Japanese rifles and four of our troops crossed through the 7th Division sector, behind the front line, and bartered with one of the Navy ships that patrolled the shore. Our emissaries returned that evening with a large insulated container filled with ripe oranges! Not only that but a gallon of “torpedo juice” ---pure grain alcohol. Most of us were strangers to anything stronger than 3.2 beer, but we found that half a canteen cup of alcohol flavored with lemon juice powder from C-ration was a real improvement to the water the Army brought to us in GI cans that had previously carried gasoline. This feast of oranges and alcohol was the closest thing to an orgy that and of us could remember.
The first sergeant just announced that all of us guys got our PFC’s and the Combat Infantry Badge starting May 15. That means $10 for the badge and $4.90 a month for the stripe in extra pay
Too much time in wet fatigues and saturated leather boots and I had developed a world class case of Jungle Rot. We all had it, but my condition warranted a hike back to the Aid Station whenever our platoon was pulled back in reserve. The treatment was simplicity itself. A medic would hand me a bottle of Purple Gentian and a roll of cotton. I would sit on an empty ammo case, remove my boots and drop my pants. The smell of Jungle Rot was pretty bad, but the effect of the medication let me ignore the stink. It felt like running a blowtorch across my groin and down my legs!
Right now I’ve got a beautiful case of Jungle-Rot on my feet, but I’m treating it and it’s clearing up.
Over the next few weeks I make the hike back to the aid station several times and each time something interesting happened. One afternoon I had almost arrived back to the outfit when I met a guy from Love Company on his way back to the rear. He was in high spirits and paused to talk. He told me, “The war is over for me and I’m heading back to the States!” He looked healthy to me so I asked him what he was talking about. He pointed to his foot and I could see a neat hole in the front of his boot. There was hardly any blood and his foot was numb. One of the Jap snipers had drilled him through the instep with one of their little .25 caliber rifles that were designed to cripple---not kill. It sure worked for him---he had collected the Million Dollar Wound that we all coveted.
On another occasion I thumbed a ride with a weapons carrier that was headed my way. When I swung myself aboard I was startled to see that the only other passenger was ;a Jap soldier! He was sitting on the bench facing me, stark naked, and his skin from his shoulder on down was hanging in blackened shreds. I realized that he had been sprayed with a flame thrower and I also realized I was looking at a dead man; there was no way he could live long with burns this severe! He didn’t appear to be in pain; just sitting there hunched over, staring at nothing. When we reached the aid station I jumped off and didn’t look back. It was a very unpleasant experience for both of us. `
When we first landed on the island, we had learned that Ernie Pyle had been killed there a couple of weeks before. His articles about the war in the ETO were published in “Yank” and were of great interest during our training period when we were scheduled to be sent to France. It seemed unfair to me that a guy could survive the campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Normandy, only to be killed when he had barely arrived in the Pacific.
Not long after that we learned that a full bird colonel-possibly Colonel May--commander of one of the other regiments in our division---had been killed.
One day the word came down that General Buckner, the three-star in charge of our entire army had been killed! This seemed almost impossible and I realized that nobody was safe.
The very next day after this news I was making one of my periodic trips to the Aid Station when I learned that our own Division EXO, a brigadier general, had been killed only hours before while visiting King Company in our battalion. (Jeez! Two generals in two days. This is serious.) When I reported back to the company CP, I related this news to the captain. Lt. Fitts who, heard me and, said, “That’s yesterday’s news, and it was Buckner that was killed---not Easley”. It was hours before the news was delivered to the company and I had the satisfaction of knowing that Fitts had to eat his words.
One night I had pulled guard duty on our perimeter while we were dug in on a little hill surrounded by farmland. The OP was right on top the hill and I could see in all directions while I enjoyed four hours of peaceful silence. When I was relieved it was about 2 AM and I had a dry hole to crawl into. The next morning, while we were still getting organized to move out, I heard the guys talking about the unusual bombardment from Jap artillery just before dawn. They were discussing how the guns must have been zeroed in the day before. I asked, innocently, “What artillery?” The guys looked at me, disbelieving. The fact was, I had slept right through the commotion.
We had a damn good first sergeant! In the few weeks I had been in Item Company, I had come to the realization that I had lucked out. McWhorter was the prototype of the Hollywood version of a grizzled combat veteran who looked out for the welfare of his young and inexperienced replacements. (Much later I was mildly shocked to learn he was only 28 years old---not 40 or 50.)
One afternoon, when we were in a forward position, I overheard one side of a conversation on a field telephone. I realized that Sgt. McWhorter was talking to our battalion commander, Colonel Nolan. It was apparent that the colonel was ordering McWhorter to take a position held by the Japs, immediately to our front. Instead of blind obedience, our sergeant explained why that action would be too dangerous, and he offered an alternative plan. It was no small surprise to me when Nolan agreed with McWhorter and no small relief to realize that our platoon would stay put while another platoon could flank the Jap position and take them out with no casualties on our side. It impressed me that an enlisted soldier could say “No” to a superior officer.
Just a few hours later from our vantage point we could watch a squad of Marines from the division that were deployed on our right flank approaching a Jap machine gun emplacement. The gun was dug in at the end of a narrow gulch and we could look down and see that the Marines were heading into trouble. Mac wound up the telephone and asked the operator to patch him in to the CP of the Marine company next to us. When he reached a Marine officer, Mac explained that if they could hold up a few hours, our company would be in a position where we could flush the Japs out of their nest. The Marine officer wasn’t even civil and told Mac to mind his own business.
Mac had a resigned expression while we watched the Marine squad move up the gulch. Six went in, but only three came out and my estimation of McWhorter went sky high.
One afternoon we were ordered into a reserve position; we made camp in a safe location behind the front line. McWhorter announced that trucks would arrive to carry us back to a place where we could clean ourselves. When I was singled out to stay behind and guard the area, I was fairly insulted. A few hours later the whole outfit reappeared, wearing new fatigues and looking white and freshly shaved.
McWhorter told me to ride back with the trucks, stay overnight at the QM depot, and report back as soon as possible the next morning. So I got a three mile truck ride and was dropped off at a shower facility the Corps of Engineers had rigged. It was pretty impressive---a large tank mounted on a steel frame with half-a-dozen shower heads over a platform of duck boards. A gasoline heater and a pump powered by a truck battery was used to fill the tank with hot water.
I had the whole thing to myself and there was still plenty of warm water in the tank.
What bliss! It was such a sensation to take off my boots. The skin of my ankles had started to grow into the fabric of my socks, but the pain of pulling them off was delicious. Then I stepped onto the duck boards with a bar of yellow GI soap and took my own sweet time for the most luxurious shower of my entire life.
Eventually we approached the place where we all knew the Japanese forces that had retreated from the Shuri Line we were going to do battle. It was obvious---a great, white cliff that extended completely across our sector. It was a limestone escarpment, encrusted with coral, left by some ancient ocean and it appeared that the highest part of the formation was directly in front of Item Company. The Army’s artillery, the big guns from the Navy ships, and Air Corps bombers worked diligently to eliminate every possible stronghold. It was reassuring to see the clouds of smoke from the bombardment. I was hopeful we could step over the rubble without too much difficulty. I should have known better---the escarpment was riddled with caves and tunnels, just like Conical Hill.
Our entire battalion spread out along the base of the cliff where there were lots of huge boulders for cover; but on the other side of these boulders was a talus slope that extended up the side of the cliff for a hundred yards or more. This slope was wide open; no cover at all.
Our platoon tried for three days to climb up to the base of the cliff and find a crevice with a path that would lead us up to the crest. This was a fool’s errand. I wasn’t anxious to be the first guy to reach the top and stick my head over the rim.
Finally one of our other platoons was able to find a route that allowed them to reach the rim of the escarpment and clear a perimeter. Third platoon followed and we climbed up at dusk in time to scoop out foxholes and prepare for the counter-attack..
It was still dark the next morning when there was a terrific explosion. I was lifted out of my hole and found myself scrambling through a patch of thick grass, trying desperately to locate my rifle. I was only half-conscious, but my hand closed on a chunk of warm meat. I dropped it in horror and kept wiping my hand frantically in the grass to remove the awful feeling. When I found my rifle my hands were shaking so violently that I couldn’t pick it up. I was a very weird sensation because my mind cleared in seconds but I couldn’t control my movements. It was like I was standing beside myself watching but I couldn’t control my actions. At that instant any puny little Jap could have picked me up and pitched me over the cliff and I couldn’t have done a damn thing to save myself. `
We never knew exactly what had happened to us. The consensus was, after much debate, that a Jap had climbed up the cliff behind us and tossed a satchel charge into our area. Personally, I’ve never believed this theory but I couldn’t come up with an alternative. Maybe it was a rogue artillery shell; who knows? It cost us about a dozen troops, including a sergeant that I had come to consider a real friend, who was KIA.
Next morning our company was in reserve, but the two forward platoons ran into resistance and our 3rd Platoon was directed up on the right flank we were advancing and firing at a low ridge of limestone across our front. We were trying to force a group of the enemy that had taken positions behind a broken row of boulders.
McWhorter yelled at me and pointed to a boulder far out on my right. I stopped suddenly and turned to see what he wanted. In that same instant a Jap rifle fired and I heard the familiar “crack” that told me that I was the target. The slug missed me but hit a new replacement who was coming up the slope behind me. Later on I learned that he wasn’t “new” at all. He had been one of the original troops that had trained with the division when it was still back in the States. He had been wounded on Leyte, had been hospitalized, and had re-joined our company just a few days before.
We took the ridge and when I went back to see how bad the wound was, I found Hess, our medic. He told me the shot had gone clean through and destroyed the liver and predicted that the man would be dead in a few days. It turned out he was right.
This proved to be the last battle for the island and then we got our orders to move back up the island to a permanent camp; the battle was over. The weather was warm and sunny and we were all in a good mood. We came to a narrow ravine that headed in our general direction. It had been untouched by the fighting and looked like a piece of Eden, with a creek between steep sides covered with forest. We followed a trail and as it started to climb out of the ravine we saw, about 50 yards ahead of us, a man was running away on the trail. From pure reflex our entire squad fired a volley and he went down.
We found him lying on his face, dressed as an Okinawan civilian, with gray brain matter leaking out of a crease just behind his right ear. Only one of our bullets had hit him and it went in just deep enough to kill him. I looked at him and I couldn’t help thinking that if he hadn’t panicked and broken his cover we would have passed him by. If he had showed himself and held up his hands we would have taken our first prisoner.
It was a five day march before we reached or new camp, which was not far from where we replacements had landed on the island two months before. We found that squad tents had been set up and inside were canvas cots folded up and placed in neat stacks. Our duffel bags were in a pile. We each located our own by the names and serial numbers stenciled on the side. When I opened mine I discovered some rear-echelon bastard had rifled the contents, but the only things missing (of all things) were two pair of civilian long-johns that my mother had sent to Fort Ord when we were all expecting to be assigned to the ETO.
We retrieved our mess kits and headed for a nearby mess-tent, falling into our old routine of standing in line. It was the first hot food in six weeks. We had been 40 days on line, including 8 days in reserve.
On 2 July 1944 we were told that the island was officially “secured”. It was my 19th birthday.
Ed Darlington provided a short summary of his life since returning home.
When the Deadeyes moved to Mindoro after the war unexpectedly ended, the division was decommissioned. Most of us replacements didn’t have enough points to go home, so we were transferred to the 86th division up on Luzon. So it wasn't until Nov 47 that I could get my discharge.
The GI Bill enabled me to graduate with mechanical engineering and MBA degrees. I first worked for Westinghouse; then Boeing brought me to the NW.
In 1960 I married and we had two boys. Now we also have four grand-kids. All of us live in Tacoma, WA.
I wish express my appreciation to Ed Darlington of Tacoma Washington for sharing his war experience with me. It has truly been an honor to read and help share his story.
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