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Okinawa Anniversary – Never Forget

Posted on Thursday, April 14, 2022
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by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
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20 Comments
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American history is filled with forgotten, solemn events that changed everything.  We breeze along, checking iPhones for news, mostly irrelevant, calculated to light up neurons, worry or entertain, all totally forgettable.  Most of it is junk.  Not junk is history.  One epic anniversary is here.

In that year, Easter was approaching, as now. Across the United States, a stout, courageous, worried population waited for news.  Snow was receding, snowdrops popping, hope lay to the east, Far East.

Millions of young American boys – and they were boys, 16 to 20 mostly, were dragging.  They were bone-tired, had already been through hell and back, and now looked hell in the face again.  April 1945.

Already, these weary boys had fought and won horrific battles. Just read their gut-wrenching memoirs, US Marines like EB Sledge and Robert Leckie, dozens of others.  They had prevailed against the odds, against a ruthless enemy, and at a terrible cost in places like Guadalcanal, Leyte, Midway, and Iwo Jima.

They faced 100,000 enemies, dug in and well-prepared for their assault on Okinawa. How many Americans can find it on a map today?  Every kid then knew it – and how ugly the fight would be. 

Three hundred and fifty miles south of Japan, a distance from New York City to Virginia, Okinawa was the last major Japanese outpost to be conquered before an all-out assault on Japan’s homeland.

As one WWII veteran from my little Maine town – himself on Okinawa in 1945 – relayed, “the Japanese exacted a terrible human cost …”  These boys knew what awaited – but they knew the stakes, too.  To win the war, America had to beat Japan and take the big island. To do that, they needed to win Okinawa.

No battle was more costly to both sides.  Some 1,465 Japanese kamikaze pilots sank 29 American ships, damaged 120, killed 3000 sailors, and wounded 6000.

Today, young kids ski and hike mountains called “Sugarloaf,” from Maine to Maryland and Michigan, but for Americans in 1945, Sugarloaf was a hill 300 yards long, Okinawa – that took 2,662 young boys’ lives.  

By the time American boys had taken Okinawa, numbers were – by today’s standards – astronomical. We suffered 65,000 casualties, 14,000 dead – 7 times the number America lost to hostile action in Afghanistan during 20 years of fighting.  We lost those 14,000 American boys in less than 90 days.

Japan lost roughly 100,000 soldiers, many committing suicide when the tide turned, plus another 100,000 civilians.  Such numbers boggle the modern mind, but they are all real. 

Were it not for that battle and the commitment of those young men, the war would not have turned, permitting the past 80 years without a world war, seeding of a global system – now challenged again – that has kept civil norms at the forefront of civilized nations, led by the Allied nations that prevailed in WWII.

But this anniversary and victory on Okinawa 77 years ago meant more than an opening for the final invasion of Japan’s homeland. It was a sobering lesson – in carnage.  The Japanese were willing to fight, to the last man, to the last moment, to the death in defense of Okinawa and the homeland.

That changed the American calculus.  In mid-1945, a flotilla of hundreds of Allied ships left to invade Japan. The war room experts estimated that this battle would make Okinawa pale by comparison. As many as a million deaths were expected.

On April 12, 1945 – this week 77 years ago – FDR died.  An untested, plain-talking, poker-playing mid-Westerner named Harry Truman suddenly became President of the United States. 

Briefed on battlefield losses, past and anticipated, he took a decision that would cost at least 130,000 deaths, but arguably saved millions of Japanese and Allied lives; he dropped two atomic bombs. That was summer 1945, the war was over in days.

As we look at Okinawa, the cost of liberty becomes agonizingly clear – yet is so easily and often forgotten.  Some generations bear that cost in high numbers; our grandparents and great-grandparents bore that cost, and for some among us still, a few parents.

Today, of 16 million onetime WWII veterans, we have a mere 240,000 still among us.  In their 90s or more, they die at a rate of 230 a day.

In perhaps three years, we will stand alone on the great hills of this free nation, free by their labors and courage, able only to thank them again in prayer and memory, which we will, of course. 

But today, we can – on this anniversary of Okinawa – take stock of what they did, listen if they speak, thank them for defending liberties we count a birthright.

That American is America, Americans truly free, is not an accident. What it means is that when the chips are down, the onus is on us.  American history is filled with forgotten, solemn events. We honor those who were part of those events, by remembering – never forgetting, as they never forgot us.

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Mario Capparuccini
Mario Capparuccini
2 years ago

An outstanding reminder. It is up to us to bring the fight against the woke, communist, blood sucking radicals that would spit in the face of the greatest generation. Freedom is not free. It must be defended every generation and not just on the military battlefield.

Russ
Russ
2 years ago

There are few left who actually fought in WWII and our youth have been taught CRT and gender identity instead of the history and sacrifice of the greatest generation. Our country would be much different if people learned about what it has taken to get here. They wouldn’t be so willing to destroy it.

Brenda
Brenda
2 years ago

That was beautiful !
Thank you!

Suzanne
Suzanne
2 years ago

My Dad was one of those U.S. men who fought-and lived. He had PTSD (not called that then) from fighting in the South Pacific. It was not until I joined the military did he share any of his experiences. It was horrific.

Morbious
Morbious
2 years ago

Well spoken RBC. I was never in the military. I honor veterans by reading about what theyve done so when the scarce moments arise when a young person will listen i can explain the seemingly superhuman efforts of our service members. Both leckies and sledges books are well written but sledges is a masterpiece. Many people know truman decided to drop the bombs but some think it was a heartless or thoughtless act. Not so. Truman was a gruff but deeply religious man. He knew he would answer for what he did, to God and history. Every so often revisionism erupts and the way we won the pacific war is publicly questioned. I stand ready to answer those who imagine a peaceful solution to the war with japan.

Lawrence Greenberg
Lawrence Greenberg
2 years ago

As a student of history for most of my 68 years, I am well aware of every major battle of WWII and what it cost in blood. I have nothing but the utmost respect for those who fought, and I think often about all of those who died so we can be free. And then I look at what is going on in our country today and I get sick, thinking about the sacrifice made by so many just so we can end up sliding down a steep path toward a Leftist dictatorship and an end to the concept of “freedom.” So sad.

Vietvet6769
Vietvet6769
2 years ago

A historic of bloody battle HACKSAW RIDGE”

Harold
Harold
2 years ago

I will never forget! I was in grad school then and when walking home from school, often I had tears in my eyes as I see another small white flag with red star in the center in a window meaning one of our young people was missing in action. Seeing Harry Truman when he made that decision. And I seen the news reel at the movies of actual plumes of the atomic bombs as they were dropped. It was a very sad day. I had many relatives that were in ww1 and ww2. It was terrible! It’s inconceivable to see how our Government is ignoring there Services and sacrifice .All Americans were part ww2.We had rationing Victory gardens, civil air patrol and religion and respect for authority and each other. It was so different, l could go on

Max
Max
2 years ago

RBC, thank you for your article. I was stationed in Okinawa from 1982-1984 on CTF 76 staff working with the Marines. I was able to tour the many different portions of the battlefield while there. Now I work with my sister from time to time who helps keep tabs on cemeteries in our Ohio county. I go through each cemetery taking note the many veterans that have served and have been laid to rest. I pay my respects to those service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice. The Okinawa campaign was hard on this county where 3 marines, 2 soldiers and 1 naval aviator paid that sacrifice so I had a few more tears to add.

PaulE
PaulE
2 years ago

RBC,

As you say, most people today neither know history nor have any interest in learning from it. The almost total lack of historical knowledge and a near complete absence of intellectual curiosity in the general public is amazing. For most people, not just the young unfortunately, history is limited to what they themselves have experienced in their own lifetimes. Ask most people about important events in world history, even relatively recent ones, and what important lessons the public should have learned from it and what you get back is a blank stare in most cases. Seriously! Try it sometime by bringing up a significant world event of the recent past and ask what lesson we should take away from it and how should we have handled it differently to achieve a positive outcome based on past history.

As for most people being able to find the island of Okinawa on a world map, good luck with that. Take away their cell phones and Google Maps and you’ll be very disappointed in the results. Geography isn’t a particularly strong suit of most people either these days.

We record history, so perhaps mankind can learn from both the mistakes and the successes of the past and avoid repeating serious mistakes in the present and future by building upon past successes to advance mankind as a whole. In essence history provides us with a roadmap of what works, how it was accomplished and also with what doesn’t. So hopefully we are intelligent enough to appreciate those that came before us and benefit from the wisdom being handed down. At least that is how it is supposed to work.

Unfortunately, we have become a society based on the here and now, with the attention span of a typical 5-year-old and intellectual curiosity of a toddler. Too harsh? The apparent tolerance of the American public for the current set of man-made disasters would seem to argue not quite harsh enough. As such, we routinely just end up following the latest shiny ball being dangled in front of us by the media and politicians with disastrous results.

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