96th Infantry Division Deadeyes Asssociation

THE LAST SKIRMISH
Marvin Margoshes, Co. C, 382nd Infantry Regiment

     I was wounded on Okinawa on April 7, the day after we came in sight of the main Japanese defense line.  It was a flesh wound on my arm, but at that stage of the battle even a slight wound was a ticket off the island it was what we called a ?million dollar wound.

 

     I was moved to a hospital ship that was anchored during the day in the midst of many vessels near the island.  Many of the patients on the ship were sailors who were injured when their ships were sunk or damaged, so I heard a little about the kamikaze planes.  From time to time, sirens went off and the ships around us made smoke to hide the fleet.  Many of the injured sailors went berserk each time that happened.  In turn, I was worried at night, when the hospital ship steamed away from the fleet and turned on its lights, including floodlights to illuminate the Red Cross symbol on the smokestack.  The more seriously burnt sailors were in wards below decks.  They were smothered in bandages, and the ambulatory patients were asked to volunteer to feed them.  It was a difficult task, because even if you touched them lightly it hurt them so much that they screamed.

 

     One day, the ship's PA system announced the death of President Roosevelt.  I was stunned.  I was too young to remember any other President. 

 

     After several days we left for Saipan, where I was transferred to a hospital in tents at the top of a hill.  From there we could see B-29s take off for raids on Japan.  They would come back hours later, and we could see large holes in some of them as they  flew over.  Clearly, the Japanese defenses were still active.  After two weeks or so, another soldier from my company came into the same large tent that I was in.  Two or three days later, he told me that he had contacted his brother, who was on a B-29 crew, and we were invited to go with him on a raid.  It took me seconds to decide on the offer.  "No thanks.  I've been shot at enough already."  

 

     Mostly, my stay on Saipan was a vacation.  Wandering around near the hospital, I found a small patch of pineapples.  They were small - about the size of a large fist - and tasty.  I didn't share them with anyone; they tasted too good.  In time the wound healed and I was put on the back of an Army truck to start the trip back to Okinawa.  I saw that the driver was a Japanese POW.   I was nervous as we went along dirt roads built on the sides of hills; might he decide to go to warriors' heaven by turning the steering wheel the wrong way?  But we safely reached a Navy base on a deep, flat beach.  At the back of the beach there was a cliff with many cave openings.  A large movie screen was set up where it could be viewed from the caves.  I was told that there were Japanese stragglers in the caves, but they didn't bother anyone other than coming down at night to steal food.  And they presumably enjoyed the movies.   

 

     A few days on a troop ship carrying mostly replacements brought me back to Okinawa in June.  When I set foot on the island that afternoon, I was astonished by how it had changed from the beautiful place it  looked like on April 1.  On a walk through a cemetery near where we would stay the night, I recognized the names of  several soldiers from my company on grave markers; it was a hint of how many casualties the Company had. 

 

     The truck ride south to join my company the next day gave more graphic evidence of the battle.  There were bodies of Okinawans and Japanese on the road, flattened by the trucks that had driven over them.  I didn't see a single standing building, only a wall-less structure of metal beams in the ruins of Naha.

    

The truck dropped me off near the location of what was left of Company C of the 382nd.   It was hardly a squad.  The 1st Battalion of the 382nd had been operating as a company since mid-May.  We were dug in as a circle of foxholes with a clear view of caves at the foot of the escarpment where the Japanese made their final stand.  On either side of our position there were gaps of a hundred yards or so to the next circle of foxholes. 

 

      The days were quieter than the nights for us, while other units were more actively mopping up we kept a blocking position.  The remaining Japanese soldiers must have been very hungry, because at night a few would risk venturing out to look for food.   They knew

where the gaps were between our circles, so they could creep by and find food not far back, where the security was lax.  Some of them managed to return to the caves with the food, no doubt, but others strayed onto our position or else the cans of food in their back-packs rattled so we knew they were near.  Shooting would break out for a while, and in the morning we would find their bodies. One morning we found a badly wounded Japanese soldier who struggled to get hold of one of our rifles as we tried to put him on a stretcher, until someone fired a single bullet into his head. 

 

     One day, however, we were deployed under the leadership of a second lieutenant who apparently had recently been comissioned - a "90 day wonder".  He explained that our task was to locate cave openings so that other soldiers, at the top of the escarpment, would lower satchel charges to seal the caves. 

 

     The operation was uneventful until we came in front of a cave that held some Japanese soldiers who were in a fighting mood.  There was a single shot from the cave, and one of our men went down.  His name was Jim Horstman, and he was with the company when we shipped out from San Franscisco.  There were several large boulders in front of the cave.  We all got behind them for protection.  The medic and I were behind one, and Horstman was behind another, about ten yards away.  The medic asked for cover so he could get to Horstman.  I stuck my rifle and my head in a cleft at the top of the boulder, and immediately a bullet from the cave bounced off the rock next to my head.  I dropped back down immediately, but I caught a good look at the direction to the cave mouth.  I put my rifle back up, pointing toward the cave mouth, and I told the medic to go with my first shot.  I squeezed off the whole clip, one round at a time, and the medic got over to Horstman safely.

 

     The rest of us settled down to wait for a satchel charge to be lowered and set off - except for the 2nd Looey.  He jumped up and yelled, "Follow me, men!"  The response was another yell from several men at once, "F... you".  The Looey got down.  What was he thinking?  Was that what he learned in OCS?  Was he looking to get a medal?

 

     Soon, a satchel charge was lowered from the escarpment.  There was a pop when the fuse went off, and laughter from the cave.  The same thing happened with a second satchel.  But the third satchel had a second fuse under the canvas, and the pop was followed by a big bang.

 

     That was the end of the excursion for us.  Horstman made it to the hospital, but he died there from his abdominal wound.  I never saw that 2nd Looey again; perhaps he was reassigned elsewhere.  I, for one, wasn't angry at him.  We all do dumb things the first day in action.  But I doubt that any of us would follow his lead in combat.

 

     After I got home in January '46,  I got a V-mail from Horstman's mother, who wanted to know more about what happened on the day he was fatally wounded.  She sent to me at the APO address, and it was forwarded to my home.  I wasn't especially friendly with Horstman, but perhaps he had mentioned me in a letter home.  After I answered the letter, I kept the V-mail with my other keepsakes.  Several decades later I decided that the letter would be more meaningful to Horstman's family than to mine, and I wanted to get it to them somehow. 

 

     It is easy to find people by using online phone books if you know the town where they live; but were they still there so many years later?  There were no Horstmans in the phonebook for eastern Ohio town the letter came from, or nearby.  I wrote to a Horstman in another part of Ohio, hoping he would know somebody related to Jim.  He never wrote back, and I put the letter away.  It kept nagging me, so I searched the Internet again for a veteran's club in Horstman's home town.   I couldn't find one, but I did find the Web page of a newspaper that served the town.  I wrote to the Editor, figuring that he might know any Horstman's that still lived there, or old-timers who could help.  Sure enough, he came up with a name and address of a family member, who I called.  She assured me that they would be delighted to have the letter, so I sent it on with a narrative of the day's events - except for the part about the Second Looey.