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C/O Art Curtis
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STORIES OF THE MEN

Charles A. Welsh

Charles Welsh

 

Okinawa in relationship to Japan

 

Japan

 

Okinawa

 

Okinawa 1

Okinawa in relationship to Japan


Probably because it was my fist full picture of invasion Okinawa was fascinating to me.  Of course, it was a fearsome sort of fascination, something like a bird must feel under the eyes of a snake, but that part slides into the background with time and the other picture stays sharp and clear.


Always before we had operated with the carriers, with the big, sleek, new battleships, carriers, cruisers that were only somebody's dreams put down on paper when the Japs struck Pearl Harbor.  This time we joined the pre-war fleet, much at the same Pearl Harbor.


Remember the long-ago movies of the fleet in battle line; the stately, tubby battleships plodding bobbing through the waves, splashing spray from their bows?  That was the picture I looked at day by day as we sailed toward the enemy.


It was a clear, bright Palm Sunday when we came out of the dawn mist to find Kera a Rhetto rearing sharp-pointed green hills out of the blue water.  A lovely place to look at, real land, when you haven't seen anything but yellow, palm-thatched coral and black volcanic ash for half a year.


Those hills rose sharp from the sea, fringed by only a thin strip of sandy beach.  Trees there were, of a stubby sort, and perched on almost every hillside stairways of terraced fields built by the people to husband their land and water from sliding down to the sea.  In the little flat places at the foot of a notch we could see tiny houses grouped in tiny towns.  Some of the houses had tile roofs, brick-red in color.  From a distance they looked neat, clean and orderly--and very deserted.


On the beach one of the long Japanese-type rowboats lay brown against the white sand, its blunt bow and stern each tip-tilted like a double-ended snub nose.  I did not then, or afterwards, see any people there.
Roads wandered zig-zag up and down the hills, seeming to lead from nowhere to nothing.  High up on one cliff a bare spot was scraped yellow across the hillside, showing plainly the round, black mouths of two caves.  I wondered if the Japs hid in there, waiting....
Between and among these

Island Hills glinted blue water sparkling in the sun. Later we were to find that water a sheltered, busy anchorage from which we drew as we needed, the sinews of war... fuel, food, ammunition. And, it came to acquire soubriquets of " Suicide Gulch" and "Death Valley."


Next morning we came back before the sun to find all the ships of invasion had materialized during the night; the big transports and cargo ships, the lumbering LST's, and all the mosquito swarm of the amphibs....suddenly there, as though by magic.  Some rocked lazily at anchor, some steamed slowly; the little boats darted like water bugs on a quiet pond.  We fired some more; we could see the troop-laden assault boats going in and the amphibian tanks clumsily splashing shoreward.

The next section of text was:
DELETED BY CENSOR
Challenge to the Reader.
"Can you fill in the missing event?" " Were you there?" if you were, "Are you listed on this Web site under the "List of Men Who Served?"


We were told the invasion was going smoothly, and while we couldn't see much of the land fighting we could see ships moving deeper and deeper in among the islands.


It was the next day, or perhaps  the day after that, that we got our first look at Okinawa.  From Kerama, the big island is only a blue haze on the horizon but we came up close for a good look at the nearest thing to civilization in a long time.  As the handout says, our station was Naha and the airdrome, and we got a close-up of the charred shell of a city that not long ago was as big and busy as Johnstown, PA.


There were some big buildings there, three or four stories high, and I could see one that looked like a church, or the remains of one.  The dock section looked as though it had once been very like a similar part of Philadelphia, and there were suburban sections stretching out into the valleys with here and there a big, wealthy-looking house.


The island itself was fresh and green; a rim of sandy beach giving way to gentle hills rising toward the middle where the higher ridges lay.  It was interlaced with roads that looked surprisingly smooth and wide as they wandered among the fields and over the hills.  And everywhere you looked closely there were little hamlets of a half dozen clustered-together houses; in valleys, along the road, in  a wooded copse.


In those days we saw no people.  Later there were a few but I never was quite sure whether they were civilians or Jap troops.  Several times we saw horses, diminutive shaggy things they seemed through field glasses, standing in the fields.  Once I saw one standing forlorn on a tidal flat; head down, not moving.
All that week we bombarded, patrolling slowly up and down our sector by day, fighting of air attacks morning, noon, and night.


Bombarding soon becomes a boresome task.  You stand long watches, get little sleep; the roar of the big guns rings in your ears day and night and often, when you must stand too close, the concussion of the guns is like a physical blow.  Sometimes it felt as though I were being struck sharply on the throat.


Where the shells land you see only grey-brown blobs of smoke and shattered earth.  Curiously, the snapping crackle of the five-inch guns I found more annoying then the deeper rumble of the eights.  Sometimes from a distance we felt the jarring thud of the 12-14 and even 16-inch battleship guns, heard the ghostly rustle of the shells overhead.


But there are, sometimes, little incidents.  One was the day we wrecked the lighthouse.


Now the lighthouse stood on a promontory of rock a the entrance to Naha Bay.  The rock, on the three sides we could see, rose straight up 75 feet or so from the water and the land.  It was level on top, and there were built the round lighthouse, some 60 feet tall, and a pleasant-looking house which I guessed was the residence of the light-keeper.  Both were solid-appearing buildings of tile or large-size mosaic brick, topped by the neat brown tile roofs that mark the better buildings of Okinawa.


Obviously the place was an excellent observatory from which Jap binoculars could chart our moves, and eventually it might be an easily defended fort.  So the eight-inch guns went to work.


The salvo was over; we could see the brown dust and rocks fly from the hillside beyond the target.  The second was a little short and a corner of the rock crumpled into the sea.  The third was to the right and a portion of the house caved in. 


Forth salvo..all this in five minutes..was "on target."
A great cloud of smoke and dust sprang up, hiding the whole top of the rock.  When it cleared the lighthouse had vanished completely!


We went on to other targets.  On the airdrome were the gaunt steel skeletons of two hangars, either never finished or else burned out.  We left them alone.  And we left alone, too, some realistic-looking dummy planes the Japs had left on the airstrip.  But we blew the hell out of some underground hangars and neatly demolished a couple of real planes the Japs thought they had hidden safely in revetments.


All that week we bombarded methodically, and Easter Sunday brought a big-scale duplication of Palm Sunday at Kerama.  Saturday night we steamed away from a deserted island.  Sunday morning before dawn hundreds of ships were there.  Then began the real bombardment and for an hour or more shells of all sizes rained on the beach and the adjoining hills.


Slowly and deliberately, while we shelled, the little landing craft circled, loaded, circled again and then in lines moved toward the beach.  With them went the rocket ships and as the warships fell quiet the little fellows went to work.  It's awesome to watch flight after flight of rockets spring upward from the little ships; first an arrow with a tail of fire, then nothing until the shattering showers of death and destruction on the beach.


The sound came out to us---whoosh, whoosh, whoosh; then a solid roaring as they struck and exploded.  A great cloud of dust covered everything.  The troops went ashore.


That first day the fate of Okinawa, the course and ultimate outcome of the battle, was signed, sealed and delivered to us.  The soldiers and Marines swarmed onto the beach; we watched them race almost unopposed up the hill, and by nightfall they held Yontan and Kadena airstrips.  You read that in the papers, I know, but I can't resist repeating it here.


0Through that first week the carriers and pilots of Task Force 58 stood between us and Japan, covered us with an aerial umbrellas that, while it didn't keep out all the rain of planes, enabled most of the a Kamikaze to attain their divine objective of death for the emperor with comparatively little trouble.  And as we held and developed and began to use Yontan and Kadena the pressure gradually eased.


Not that it was easy, or pleasant.  I have no records but it's my recollection that we were under air attack for 18 or 20 consecutive days and nights.  The bugle seemed to be blowing almost hourly, and we griped and lost sleep...the Japs lost planes and pilots.


There was one day, the communiques said later, the combined scores of our planes and our guns was something over 350 Japs.  We shot down at least four, and everybody had a hand.  When the attack started we were in Kerama, taking on ammunition and as one of the guys laughed later, "we used up more in shooting our way out than we loaded while we were there."   That was the day "Suicide Gulch" started.


For a long time after that we kept on bombarding, moving with the troops down toward Naha, watching through field glasses a little of the fighting---tanks, men and guns streaming along the Okinawa roads, past burning houses where the war had touched through fields cratered by shell and bomb.  We were bombarding day and night, and sleep came where you found it....and when.
Star shells, some silver and some gold, ours and the Japs outshone the moon in lighting the nights.  Yellow and ruby red arches across the night sky were the tracers of the big shells.  (Ernie Pyle wrote of "red hot shells, visible 10 miles at night," but he really was seeing these same tracers.)


Ernie wrote, too, of one nightime AA (Anti-Aircraft) barrage that saw and never will forget.  Hagushi anchorage was jammed with ships, hidden under a dense cloud of artificial smoke, when the three planes came in quite high.  Searchlights, long fingers of white probing up into the night, reached for them, found them, held them, lost and then found them again and again as the battle went on for more than an hour.


Each time a shaft of light caught and held a silvery dot of plane all the other lights would swing to it until the plane became a fly caught in a basketweb lacing all the sky; spread at the bottom, all converging to that one pinpoint, diffusing above each on its own course to infinity.


And each time the light caught and held the guns below would open up, spouting red and gold tracers in a rainbow curve that, too, seemed to hold the plane at its apes.  Eventually the planes were shot down or went away.  I tumbled into bed.

The next section of text was:
DELETED BY CENSOR
Challenge to the Reader.
"Can you fill in the missing event?" " Were you there?" if you were, "Are you listed on this Web site under the "List of Men Who Served?"


There are two other things I shall always remember about Okinawa, the planes and the little ships.   You couldn't forget the fliers, when you knew that day and night they kept watch above us.  And they were attacking, too, bombing, strafing, rocketing day in and day out.  Sometimes at night, too, we could see ghostly tracers spurting mysteriously from the air toward the ground, and knew our planes were working.


And it was at Okinawa that I saw for the first time one of our planes shot down by the enemy.  Four fighters were attacking a gun emplacement; four went in, only three came out.  It seemed to all of us watching that we hd lost a friend...that pilot whom we never saw.


It would be hard, too, to forget the little ships, the gun-toting pickets of the vast screen that warned us of the approaching enemy...and very often themselves kept the enemy from approaching closer.  We of the big ships think we ARE the Navy, but those little guys are Navy too; theirs is long, lonely, hard duty, and we know and appreciate it.


When we left Okinawa the troops had moved down to, and all but stalled at, the Shuri line.  Behind them were green fields and hills, little wooded patches and towns.  Ahead of them the constant rain of shells ripped away the green of tree and grass, leaving the ugly yellow dirt and rock were the Japs holed up end and died.


But Okinawa, in retrospect, is not the ugly nightmare that Iwo left me.  Perhaps that's because it was green...and if there had been neon signs spelling out BEER I might easily have thought it civilization!!


I had told Betty the story, earlier, of shooting down or helping shoot down, my first Jap plane, so it isn't here and I'll have to tell it to you in person someday.  But if it's any consolation to you, I'm counting that one as mine, and the next will be the one I promised to "get for you."


The next three paragraphs are handwritten and I'm afraid I can't make out what is being written. The content appears to be personal comments to his wife, Betty, and they have nothing to do with Okinawa.
                                                                                                                                      

Charles,

 

Charles A.Welsh

Charles A. Welsh Poem

Message- All Hands on Deck

Charles A. Welsh Diary

Charles Welsh in Okinawa

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