Marines visit Battle of Okinawa historical sites
Camp Kinser, Okinawa, Japan -- The Battle of Okinawa, often referred to as “the typhoon of steel,” was one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. During the battle, approximately 100,000 Japanese soldiers and 65,000 Allied service members were killed or wounded while tens of thousands of civilians perished.
To better understand the battle and the conditions endured more than a half century ago, Marines with 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, toured historic battle sites near Urasoe City April 29.
“War is brutish, inglorious and a terrible waste … the only redeeming factors were my comrades’ incredible bravery and their devotion to each other,” wrote Eugene B. Sledge, a Marine veteran of the Battle of Okinawa and author of “With the Old Breed,” a first-hand account of the battle. “Marine Corps training taught us to kill efficiently and to try to survive. But it also taught us loyalty to each other and love. That esprit de corps sustained us.”
Quarterly, the Marines of 3rd MLG embark on a tour led by David Leipold, the deputy information management officer for the III MEF command element at Camp Courtney.
“The Marines here today are standing on historic ground,” said Leipold. “It is a great opportunity for them to see the terrain and gain an appreciation for what happened here 68 years ago. It is part of their heritage as Marines.”
Leipold began the day with a lecture on the battle, touching on myriad topics from the commanders who led troops to the battlefield tactics used by Japan and U.S. forces.
“I think Marines have a vested interest in the battle due to our heritage,” said Maj. Alberto MartinezDiaz, the Service Company commander with Combat Logistics Regiment 37, 3rd MLG. “It is important for us to understand the struggles and the fighting that Marines before us went through.”
Marines began their tour visiting Kakazu and Hacksaw Ridges. Some of the bloodiest and most tenacious battles took place along these steep, cave-riddled ridges. Marines also provided presentations about logistics, communications and other elements of the battle during the tour.
“The fighting must have been very intense and completely different from modern-day battles,” said Cpl. Sean McCabe, an information management clerk with CLR-37, 3rd MLG. “Because of the conditions they were living in ... the mud and the rain, it just seemed like a horrible situation to have gone through.”
Later that afternoon, the Marines visited the Battle of Okinawa Historical Society display on Camp Kinser.
Tour members were reminded that there were tremendous losses on both sides.
“A large number of Japanese lives were lost due to the battle that occurred,” said MartinezDiaz. “It was a very unfortunate time. Japanese soldiers were following orders, just like American service members were. There were many innocent bystanders that were also killed. It is important to remember that we were not the only side to lose people during the battle.”
By the end of the 82-day battle, the island of Okinawa had been reduced to what many who fought referred to as a vast field of mud, lead, decay and maggots.
“The men digging on both sides of me cursed the stench and the mud,” wrote Sledge. “I began moving the heavy, sticky, clay mud with my entrenching shovel to shape out the extent of the foxhole before digging deeper. Each shovelful had to be knocked off the spade because it stuck like glue.”
Although the Marines who participated in the tour will never fully comprehend the conditions in which both sides valiantly fought, having walked where so many paid the ultimate price will have a lasting impact.
“To know that it was their individual actions and small-unit leadership of Marines making a difference in the battle makes me feel a real connection with them,” said MartinezDiaz. “As Marines today, we want to follow in their footsteps. Therefore, it is important for us to understand what they struggled through and live by the memories of those courageous men who fought in this battle.”