Returning to Okinawa: The Story of Bill Hook
It was a beautiful morning in Hawaii. Though it was partly cloudy, the sun was out. As the warmth of the sun kissed their skin, couples were found strolling beaches and families were just waking up. It was a perfect Sunday morning.
When the clock struck 7:48 A.M. on Dec. 7, 1941 this beautiful Sunday morning was overshadowed by chaos and panic. In the distance, explosions were deafening and the roar of planes made it clear that Pearl Harbor was under attack. The Japanese had bombed the harbor. Though the attack lasted just two hours, it felt like a lifetime for the families and military members of Hawaii.
"Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan," said the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Shortly after the attack President Roosevelt announced that the U.S. would join the Allies in the fight known as World War II. Just eight months after the U.S. announced they were joining World War II, William Hook enlisted in the Marine Corps and this is his story.
Cpl. William Hook, who prefers to be called Bill, was born on June 16, 1925 in Norton Hill, New York. He joined the Marine Corps on Aug. 1, 1942.
Hook’s mother did not mind the idea of him enlisting because his brother was already in the corps. Shortly after graduating from boot camp, Hook was quickly stationed in Guam and preparing for the Battle of Okinawa. His unit was training in Guam because the climate is identical to that of Okinawa. Most of the year the air is humid and muggy.
As a lance corporal, Hook was an incredibly competent Marine, leading him to be hand selected to be the driver for Col. Gale T. Cummings for the 3rd Amphibious Corps, now known as III Marine Expeditionary Force. The billet was for noncommissioned officers only, but Hook was meritoriously promoted to the rank of corporal while preparing for the amphibious assault of Okinawa, Japan.
Hook landed in Okinawa on April 1, 1945, Easter Sunday.
“We just walked onto the beach,” said Bill Hook. “There were no Japanese here to defend it—we didn’t know they were heavily concentrated toward the center of the island.”
Once his unit came ashore, they joined forces with the Army and moved south. On May 25, 1945, the USS Mississippi shelled the Shurijo Castle for three days and on May 27 it finally burned to the ground. When Hook arrived, all that was left was rubble.
“I had mixed emotions about the whole thing, I was happy that we got the job done,” said Hook. “But there were so many lives lost in the effort. As I walked on top of the rubble, I knew there were [casualties] under me.”
Seventy-three years after Hook first stood atop Shurijo Castle’s rubble, he returned to Okinawa. After being received by 1st Marine Aircraft Commanding General, MajGen. Thomas D. Weidley, Hook toured the island.
Over a one week span, Hook visited historic battle sites and memorials with in the Pacific, such as the Okinawa Peace Park Memorial and Ie Shima’s Ernie Pyle Monument. Hook personally knew Pyle, an American journalist and correspondent who documented the events of World War II.
One of the stops was Shurijo Castle. Here he went on a tour through the restored castle. During the Battle of Okinawa, Shurijo castle was the main focus for the American forces. If the American forces gained control of the castle then we have control of Okinawa.
“There is no comparison between the castle then and how it stands now,” said Hook. “It feels good to see it the way it was intended to be.”
After seeing the castle, Hook made his way to the Battle of Okinawa museum located on Camp Kinser. There he handled the M-1 Grand, looked at photos and historic clothing of both the U.S. military and the Japanese Imperial Army.
“These artifacts are more recognizable to me than the rest of the island," said Hook. “There’s a uniform in here like the one I used to wear and I haven’t seen one in a while," he continued.
His tour ended with a visit to Maeda Escarpment, commonly referred to as “Hacksaw Ridge.” The ridge is roughly a 150 foot slope, but Hook insisted on taking the challenge. No longer a young man, he set off scaling the ridge at the age of 94.
“So much has changed,” said Hook. “The buildings make this place look totally different. When I was here last—the scenery made Okinawa look much more level.”
After a long weekend of sightseeing, Hook’s visit began winding down. According to Hook, it felt more like being on Okinawa for the first time.
“This has been a wonderful experience,” said Hook. “On top of that, being my age, the Marines treat me like a million bucks.”
Before Hook departed, he was given the opportunity to share his experience with roughly 40 currently enlisted and commissioned Marines at the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma Habu Pit.
“Do the right thing, obey orders and enjoy the corps,” said Hook.
As newer generations join the corps, there are fewer opportunities to cherish these moments with veterans. They are the legacy and history of the Marine Corps and it is the current generation’s turn to grab the torch. We must make veterans like Bill Hook proud, and we will.
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