Notes on Okinawa, by Julian Garrett

Boomerang is the American Red Cross publication for the far east theater of operation during and just after World War II.

Among the many services that the American Red Cross provided American military personnel during and after WW II were Club and Recreational facilities.

The U.S. military started taking over the management of the Red Cross Clubs between mid 1947 and mid 1948, at which time they became military Clubs.

The following essay is taken from the “OKINAWA” issue of Boomerang from June 1947.

COPYRIGHT©2010 Donn E. Cuson

 TO EDITORS: The BOOMERANG invites reprinting of its material, in whole or in part. Its material is not copyrighted.  Requests to the editor for reprints of illustrations will be promptly filled.

NOTES ON OKINAWA

BY JULIAN GARRETT

They gave us a free landing the morning of 1 April 1945.  In a way that was a super April Fool’s Day.  Our ships and our planes had been pounding the southern point of Okinawa and the Japanese commanders had decided with irrefutable logic that we were going to come ashore and sacrifice our strength scaling those impregnable cliffs.  And so it was that on L-Day, 1 April 1945 that the 10th Army came ashore on the western side of the island and Orange Beach and all of the other multi-colored beachheads were established.

          That was the first and almost the only mistake that the Japanese commanders made.  They gave us our free landing, and five days to consolidate it, but from there on in we paid for every foot of ground.  It was rough even for those who got there on L -plus 7 or 10 or 11.  We came into a harbor, jammed with ships, and went in loaded with gear that we shed along the beaches and the roads.  The Army had foreseen everything.  We had everything, but out of all the things we had there were few things we needed.  We needed our helmets, our foxhole shovels and for opening cans we needed our trench knives.  Most of the rest we discarded.  But we all realized, then and later, that we might have needed any and all of the things that the Army had provided.

          None of us will ever forget those first few days when we watched, with awe struck eyes, as the ships poured into the harbor, ran up on the beach, opened their cavernous jaws and spewed out an endless supply of food, ammunition, materiel, equipment and men.  This was not only war, this was the greatest engineering project that any of us had ever seen.  There were no roads on Okinawa, that is, not roads as we know them.  So we built the roads, and as the front advanced our network of roads advanced.  Where one day you would go down a steep bank into a ravine to cross a stream, the next day you would cross a solid steel bridge. Where one week you would use a hill as a landmark, the next week you would be lost because the hill would have been removed to make a landing field for aircraft.  It wasn’t only the big impersonal aspect of the operation that we saw.  It was a lot of little things.  It was the old beat up, out of tune piano that some GI’s rescued and brought to the Red Cross recreation tent at the 69th Field Hospital.  It was the things that a lot of us saw and that a lot of us never talked about.  It was the mail call line up, when everybody stood in line and hoped for the best.  It was the time that all went thru when we stood in the rain outside of a hospital tent and saw the pairs of combat boots brought out and set down in the mud—each pair with its own peculiar wrinkles, its own droop to this side or that.  They were boots that had been worn, and in the wearing had acquired personality.  To some of us those boots were the most personal tragedy of all.

          The principal island in the Ryukuan Archipelago, sometimes calledthe Luchu Archipelago, Okinawa has many ridges and hills interspersed with occasional flat planes.  It is not of volcanic origin but came into being as a result of sub-oceanic disturbances of the earth’s crust.  Okinawans of the upper classes resemble the Japanese, while those of the lower classes are shorter in stature, but better formed.  They have higher foreheads, eyes less deeply set, and their cheek bones are not so high so that their faces are less broad than the Japanese.  Unproved theory has it that when the Japanese race came to Japan from Korea they drove the native inhabitants to the north and the south.  It is believed that those inhabitants were the ancestors of present day  Ainus found only on the island of Hokkaido.  The Ainus give every indication of Caucasian origin.  If this theory is correct, then the appearance of the Okinawan can be explained by partial Ainu ancestry.  Prior to our invasion the capital of Okinawa was the town of Shuri where an ancient castle was situated.  There was one modern city with a fairly good port known as Naha, sometimes spelled Nafa, near the southern end of the island.  Both of these places were fiercely defended and were completely destroyed in the process.

          Under normal conditions Okinawa is a pleasant island with green fields and terraced hillsides.  There are few streams and, as a result, most Okinawans do without benefit of electrical power.  There are few old buildings on the island because the periodic typhoons destroy them with fair regularity.  Their lack of age in no way detracts from their picturesqueness because they have been built in the same manner for generations.  All over the island hillsides are the granite tombs in which most Okinawan families sink a great deal of their wealth.  Most of these tombs are oval in shape and are indicative of a belief common to many primitive religions.  They are symbolic of the womb from which man springs and to which, according to old belief, he must return.  We first realized this in the very beginning of the campaign when we found skeletons in these tombs in such a position that we knew that the bodies had been placed there and arranged as nearly as possible in the position of a fetus.  It is customary for the body to be allowed to remain thus long enough for it to be reduced to its skeletal base, then the bones are picked up, supposedly by a virgin, and placed in one of their ornate funeral urns.

          All of this is but a prelude to the present.  The task now on Okinawa is perhaps less dramatic, less poignant, but perhaps more important.  In those first days we had the excitement of action.  Now there is the excitement of achievement.  The people of Okinawa have been introduced to the ideal of individual human dignity, to the concept of self-government–to what we call democracy.  They have been introduced to conquerors who do not murder, pillage and rape.  They are being given a chance to develop their own government, to direct their own destinies and enjoy the fruits of their labor.  It is this unglamorous task that forces on Okinawa are accomplishing.

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