By William Hook, Sergeant, USMC Marine (Rt.)
Those who fell in battle, Okinawa Peace Memorial Park
Seventy-three years after I last visited Okinawa (actually it was not a visit, it was a military operation) I received a message from Lt. Colonel Howard Eyth, USMC Marine Attaché at the US Embassy asking if I would be interested in making a return visit to Okinawa with him. I jumped at the idea and we began to set a plan. It did not take long, however, for family members to join in. Gunnery Sergeant Leandros Rubio, Commander of the Marine Security Detachment, his wife Nicola and two youngsters, Simon and Lucas (who were born in Okinawa), Frank and Paula Berrios and my wife, Sally, all hopped on board. The show was on the road and we had set the dates from October 11 to 17 when the call to duty suggested an alteration. General Mattis, US Secretary of Defense, planned a trip to Singapore during that period and Colonel Eyth felt duty-bound to be here while the General was in Singapore. Consequently, the guy who set our plan in motion was now out of the picture.
Nicola and Paula busied themselves with all of the arrangements; travel, hotel, our eight-passenger rental car, the works. Leandros and Frank became my handlers, ensuring that Sally and I would not be alone. They arranged for us to fly up to Okinawa with Leandros, Nicola and the boys and fly back with Frank and Paula.
During the planning stage, I shared our plan with my 69-year-old baby daughter, Sharon, in the US who lives in Alburquerque. On our last visit there, Sharon’s husband, Curtis, and I visited the house where Ernie Pyle, a dedicated war correspondent lived. Ernie spent the entire European war with our troops there, but after the fall of Germany, he returned to his home in Alburquerque. However, he became restless and ventured to Asia to be with our troops as we progressed toward Japan. Ernie was with us in Okinawa during the campaign and was killed by Japanese snipers on the nearby island of Ie Shima where there is a memorial near where he died. Curtis knew I would be visiting there. To my surprise, his long-time tennis pal who also lives in Alburquerque said that his son, Major Brad Creedon, was stationed in Okinawa so I immediately contacted him. He became our official guide and did an excellent job of making us comfortable. He assisted us in deciding where to visit and he and his wife actually accompanied us on part of our travels.
Among the arrangements was an audience with Major General Thomas Weidley, Commanding the USMC 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. This was a pleasant bonus as I had had the pleasure of dining with General Weidley when he was guest speaker at the Marine Corps Ball last year and found him to be an excellent example of Marine Corps competence. In our meeting he was most gracious and the joy of being with him again was great.
Bill with Sergeant Natalie Dillon
Brad also arranged for an interview with me conducted by a fine young Sergeant, Natalie Dillon, who spent a lot of time with us. Another highlight of the trip was a luncheon for 40 Marines with a question and answer session. These Marines were really sharp and asked excellent questions about my previous experience on Okinawa, as well as other aspects of my military and civilian life. Naturally, Major Creedon was there as well as a few other officers. This was truly a high point, the memory of which I cherish.
Lunch with The Marines
One attraction all visitors to Okinawa should see is the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park, Itoman. After the longest and most brutal battle of World War II, the Japanese found a wonderful way to teach the horror of war and its consequences. We visited all of the features of this magnificent memorial to view the effects of a difficult battle and the recovery made for an everlasting peace, including the Peace Hall, the Peace Memorial Museum and the Observatory Tower. I was particularly impressed by the rows of monuments with the names of those who died here; Japanese on one side and those of Allied forces on the other, all in engraved in beautiful marble. Of those lost here, I shared in the loss of one of the officers in our section; Lt. Charles Rush who was ambushed on a trip between 10th Army Headquarters and our location.
Ernie Pyle Memorial
Also high on our agenda was the island of Ie Shima which was marked by our visit to the memorial of Ernie Pyle. The memorial was built near the area where he and a US Army Colonel he was travelling with were killed by Japanese snipers and it attracts many visitors to the island. Just below this memorial is a huge cave where as many as 1,000 Okinawa citizens attempted to hide from the Japanese soldiers. The heartiest of our group, including Sally, ventured down to it while I stood guard above ground. Lieutenant Baldridge then led us to many different locations on the island, including Mount Gusuku.
Bill, Sally and the Rubio Family
The trip to Okinawa would not have been complete without visiting sights and places which were familiar to Leandros and Nicola, including a house that they lived in during their four-year assignment and where both Simon and Lucas were born. We visited many restaurants, which brought back memories for the family and served to satisfy the hunger of our group, but of all the fine restaurants we went to, I particularly enjoyed breakfast while Nicola was behind the wheel of our car.
A special treat was that Colonel Eyth managed to slip away from his duties attending to General Mattis to join us for the last of our priorities, which was to visit Shuri Castle and Hacksaw Ridge. For this day, we engaged a walking encyclopedia as our tour guide. Chris Majewski, another Marine who was stationed in Okinawa, makes his home there with his Okinawan wife. His knowledge of Okinawa and a plethora of other history was amazing. He even corrected me on the beach I landed on in 1945!
Returning to Shuri Castle was very special to me since I was there the day our troops entered victoriously. Of course, the castle today bears no resemblance to my memory of that day. Like many other remembrances of Okinawa, everything seems much bigger now. When I was there 73 years ago, Shuri Castle was a pile of rubble and as we walked around we realized that there were bodies under our feet. I remember being astounded to see long black hair protruding from the ruins, indicating that there were women among the dead. It was more than I could handle and I shed tears of sorrow.
Chris, with his phenomenal knowledge of history, suggested that we make a trip up to Hacksaw Ridge which I never even new existed but not before taking the time to tour a museum he established with another chap. Frank satisfied his curiosity by suggesting that I actually handle an M-1 Rifle, which was the weapon of my day, although being a non-combat Marine, mine remained in the holder in my Jeep rather than constantly in my company.
We drove up as high as our vehicle could negotiate, then did some walking. With Frank on one side and Leandros on the other, we managed to make it up almost to the top. There we had a commanding view of much of the southern part of the island while listening to our guide.
We also met other folks up there including a young man who owns a film production company. Probably in jest, he suggested the possibility of making a film featuring my book. I’m not keeping my fingers crossed!
Bill and Sally
The time flew and our adventure was at its end. One could not have wished for a finer group of friends who extended every opportunity to make the journey comfortable for a senior Marine.