Costly Okinawa Battle Ends With U.S. Victory
Fifty years ago this month: Part of The Seattle Times series, appearing the first Sunday of each month, highlighting the events and people making the headlines in wartime Washington State. James R. Warren, director emeritus of the Museum of History and Industry, is an Army veteran and former German POW.
The long process of bringing order to the chaos of war-torn Europe continues throughout June 1945. On June 7, a month to the day after Germany's surrender, the Allies divide the country into four zones to be administered by the Soviet Union, the United States, Great Britain and France.
With the German surrender, the Allied militaries turn their focus to Japan, the remaining enemy. On June 21 the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War ends when the 1st and 6th Marine divisions and the 7th and 96th Army divisions take control of Okinawa, a large, strategic island 300 miles south of Japan. More than 12,500 Americans die in action on Okinawa, and three times that many are wounded.
On June 26 President Truman approves plans for invading the Japanese home islands. The plans, which later will prove to be unnecessary, call for forces already in the Pacific to land on the island of Kyushu Nov. 1 and troops brought from Europe to invade Honshu March 1, 1946.
Meantime all Japanese cities will be bombed heavily. The invasion projections estimate heavy casualties for both Japanese military personnel and civilians. Tens of thousands of allied
military personnel are expected to die in the clash with the fanatical enemy.
State POWs are freed
During June, the Seattle Times every day prints long lists of Washington state residents released from German prison camps. On June 8, for instance, among 3,655 freed Americans are 41 from Washington state, eight of them from Seattle. The next day 24 Washingtonians are listed, including five from Seattle.
On June 14, a front-page story describes how liberated American POWs crowd onto a homeward-bound ship at Le Havre, France. Nearly 7,000 board the ship built to carry 1,000 peacetime passengers. The happy Yanks accept a water shortage, crowded bunks and long chow lines with hardly a grumble.
Doctors aboard worry about the RAMPs (Recovered American Military Personnel) freed from German camps. These are "men who survived the death marches from camp to camp, and they have bad stomachs and they are eating everything . . . ham and chicken and steak." As one soldier said, "They told us they would give us six meals a day and special foods, but there are too many of us and they can't do that. Besides, this way we get home quicker, and I guess that's what we all want."
Casualties in final battles
Casualty lists continue to be published daily, names of men killed or wounded in the final battles of the European war and just now being announced, as well as men who fell during the battles that continue to rage in the Pacific. Examples:
First Lt. Jack Grant of Seattle, a B-24 navigator based in Italy, is killed nine days before the German surrender on May 7. He had earlier been awarded the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and was recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross. - June 5..
Sgt. Leonard Olson, 21, of Edmonds, dies of wounds received four months earlier when fighting with the 26th (Yankee) Division in Luxembourg. - June 21.
John Henry Gidlund, 21, a Seabee, killed May 29 in the Pacific Theater, had graduated from Franklin High School and worked at the Winslow shipyard before enlisting. - June 9.
Marine Lt. Donald Sculati, 25, a B-25 pilot lost in action in the Philippines May 30, was a graduate of Ballard High School and Willamette University. - June 15.
1st Lt. Starr Sutherland had been recommended for battlefield promotion and was awarded the Silver Star for bravery shortly before he died in action Jan. 4 while commanding an infantry platoon in Luxembourg. - June 4.
A front-page photo shows workmen adding 500 names of King County war dead to the replica of the Washington Monument in Victory Square, a war memorial on University Street north of the Olympic Hotel. The total number enshrined on the memorial has surpassed the 1,000 mark. - June 6.
A feature story about the Washington National Guard 161st Infantry Regiment explains that over 3 1/2 years of war, casualties and replacements have thinned the ranks of Washington members, "but many remain in positions from battalion commanders to platoon leaders."
The article tells of Col. James Dalton, promoted on the battlefield to brigadier general and later killed by a Japanese sniper. It mentions Col. Victor Johnson, a 1939 West Point graduate, at age 27 the youngest full colonel in the Sixth Army.
S/Sgt. Wilbur Triggs of Tacoma, a regimental hero and holder of the Distinguished Service Cross, helped lead men from the Walla Walla and Yakima guard units as they scaled steep slopes on hands and knees to take enemy positions atop Bryant Hill on Luzon.
Maj. Thorkel Haaland of Tacoma, formerly a Washington State College student, took command of a battalion in April. His executive officer is Maj. George Russell of Bellingham, a Western Washington College graduate.
"They are tired of war," the reporter writes. "They want to go home to the wheat fields of the Palouse, the orchards of the Yakima and Wenatchee valleys, to the fishing and the woods of Western Washington. . . . But they push forward doggedly with machine guns and rifles and demolition charges to root determined Japanese out of their holes on Luzon. They still rate among the top troopers in Gen. MacArthur's army. . . ." - June 4.
Congressman Hugh DeLacy is working to increase the 10-pound sugar ration for home canning of Washington state's soft fruits and berries. - June 7.
Sgt. John Hawk, 21, of Bremerton, home on 30-day leave, is notified he will receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his action in helping close the Falaise Gap in France which resulted in the capture of most of the German Seventh Army. - June 8.
Dave Beck, Teamster Union leader, speaking to the State Transportation School, declares, "no member of union labor has the right to cease working in the war effort for a single minute until this war is won." - June 9.
The Five Grand, the 5,000th Boeing B-17 built in Seattle after Pearl Harbor, is retired from combat and assigned to Boeing Field. Inscribed on the fuselage are the names of Boeing employees who helped build it. During its combat days with the 8th Air Force, the Five Grand bombed submarine pens, oil fields and several cities including Berlin, and was riddled by more than 60 flak and bullet holes. - June 28.
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