WE PLAYED THIRD BASE AT OKINAWA
You know how it is with the boy riding the "hot corner" in a ball game when his own pitcher is clipping the corners and the opposition is going down in one-two-three fashion. He might as well be up in the bleachers. That's the way it was with us. Our ship was in the "hot corner" closer to the beaches and Jap-held shoreline than any other except landing craft and patrol vessels.
0f course, anything can happen to the fellow playing third. The pitcher might ease up or a pinch hitter line out a hot one putting the third baseman in the middle. But it never happened to us. Our side was doing the most hitting and the best pitching. Nothing came our way, so there we were-first row in the bleachers.
We were so close we could easily watch the tide of battle (the tide rolled in and never came out.) So close, in fact, we were within easy range of light artillery. A pretty target.
It was Easter Sunday for you lucky birds back home. It was April Fool's Day for a bunch of little yellow bastards on Okinawa. It was "Love" day for us, a name probably picked up by some armchair sailor who has been away from the States too long.
From- my vantage point on the bridge of my attack transport I could see a large section of Okinawa's western shore line-watch our troops go into action-watch the navy's supporting fire blast hell out of Jap positions-watch flame throwers burn 'cm alive in caves-watch a city burn-watch a mighty air force bomb and strafe.
A news reel in technicolor.
But I'm getting ahead of my story.
Where were you the night before Easter? Seeing a show? Bowling? Going to church? In bed with your wife? You lucky bum.
Considering that we were less than 100 miles from what Japs consider their homeland, we didn't do too badly. You know that as long as I can eat, I'm not too perturbed. In the wardroom we sat down to the usual linen-covered table and destroyed some Australian steaks. Through open doors we could see an expanse of choppy sea slowly turning from blue to grey as the sun turned smokey red and dropped over the horizon.
From the wing of the bridge I watched the day become dusk and turn into night. The only warlike manifestation was the columns of transports and the circle of escorting destroyers-a reassuring sight-slashing their way through
the sea in a purposeful manner.
Then the ships became black shapes floating along between a dark sky and a darker ocean. Life aboard was as usual. The watches changed. Doors were closed so that no lights showed. But we would have done that the first night out of New York or Frisco.
There was no discernible quickening of the pulse in anticipation of the morrow even though one of the boldest strokes of the Pacific offensive was at hand. There was a bridge game in the wardroom and the usual amount of lounging about. I was scheduled to hit the deck early so I turned in and slept like the proverbial babe.
A messenger awakened me at 0330. What were you doing at 0330 on Easter morn? Don't tell me.
A pale moon was shining overhead as we made the "approach to objective." That's Navy for saying we were on our way in to turn a nice quiet island into an inferno of death and destruction. There was still nothing to indicate that this was going to be THE DAY.
Dawn came as we arrived in our designated area. Weeks before, the very spot where our ship was to stop had been decided on and placed on charts of the island. The dawn revealed hundreds of ships of all shapes and sizes. But the beaches remained hidden in smoke and fog.
Here and there through the haze we made out the shapes of battleships and cruisers.
Then came the warning of an air attack. A minute later all the ships to the north let loose a curtain of fire. Tracers carved steep red arcs into the morning sky leaping upwards toward the mushrooms of shell bursts so thick a pilot could get out and walk. And what a racket.
A plane burst into flames and came down in a long glide to crash into the sea and burst into flames. It was soon followed by another. We never saw them until they were caught by the firing. Just as suddenly as it started the firing stopped and we received the "all clear" signal.
In a matter of minutes we heard the hum of many motors. High up in the sky there were planes by the dozens, all bearing the familiar star wheeling over us and over Japan's stronghold. We were thankful.
As the smoke cleared away from the area, it seemed that every few thousand yards there was a combat ship, and a big one, while in between were the little fellows whose bite and bark both are pretty big. Destroyers, escorts, gunboats, and others too many to count.
But the smoke clung stubbornly to the beaches as the troops were loaded into small craft for the assault.
Shortly before Zero hour, the thunder of a thousand Thors shook the sea as all the combat ships in the area opened up with shell fire and rockets. The smoke along the beaches became more intense. Boat crews returning from the assault told of the shoreline and the adjacent hillsides leaping into a solid mass of flames as the Navy knocked the hell out of Okinawa waterfront real estate values.
And it was effective. Assault troops secured their beachheads with a minimum amount of resistance, escaping almost entirely the deadly loll of lives, which is the usual price of merely getting ashore. As the hours passed, the smoke moved away to reveal an attractive island-the most promising place we had seen since leaving Hawaii. And that seems a long time ago. Gentle slopes were terraced in irregularly outlined but neat and varicolored patches of farmland. The ridges and steeper slopes were crowned by woods and heavy underbrush. Along the ridges, the silhouettes of cedar trees were duplicates of Japanese prints. Here and there were clusters of houses, villages protected by groves of trees. White, horseshoe-shaped, flat-topped structures on the lower hillsides were tombs containing the remains of ancestors whom the defenders were speedily joining.
There were sugar mills with clusters of outbuildings. To our right lay a city, the largest on the island, the capital of 60,000 persons. Smokestacks and radio towers were outlined against the sky.
As if flaunting our might before the warlords who made us eat dirt not so long ago, the ships moved in closer to the beaches to facilitate movement of cargo and troop carrying small craft. The "hot corner" could have become hotter but it remained a spectator's seat at a turkey shoot.
After we had moved in, our carrier planes gave us a first hand demonstration of precision bombing, rocket firing and strafing on live targets. It seemed incredible that anything or anybody could survive. But men do.
Later in the afternoon a Tap battery on a hillside opened up on our beach positions. We itched to take him under fire ourselves but it wasn't long before the closest cruiser's secondary battery was tossing curves at the hillside. Soon the Japs were silenced. Next day one came to life again, but the second was done for good.
Strange sights for a country boy.
As night fell we made ready to retire to the open sea where we would roam and come back with the dawn. Then came another air attack. Again all the ships to the north opened fire. Their tracers cutting the evening into a million red ribbons. Again we saw no planes until one came tumbling down in flames to burst into a big blossom of fire in the water. The firing ceased within minutes and we got to hell out of there.
We thumbed our noses on the way out, though, passing between the city and small Jap-held islands-a stone's throw either way-as we headed out lo sea. Again I slept soundly to be awakened too early to make another run into the beaches. Again we had the morning anti-aircraft show. Before noon, the carrier planes gave us another exhibition as they supported infantry advancing across the island. It was getting to be an old story.
In the afternoon, a destroyer which had hung about in our shadow leveled off at Jap strong points, dropping phosphorus shells which burst into white clouds like cotton bolls above the green of the hillside woods.
A new but grim feature was added during the afternoon as a dazzling white hospital ship anchored nearby. But my binoculars failed to reveal a feminine form along the rails.
Damn!! What a war.
That night and the next day it was the same thing all over again. Just like seeing (he same movie twice. During the day we seemed to be on the seaside end of a front line angling across the hills. American trucks and tanks chased each other up and down the hilly roads and disappeared into wooded sections and villages.
There was one spot near the beach where a road angled down the hill and dropped into a grove. As it emerged on the shore side of the trees it doubled back along the beach. Vehicles dashed into the trees coming down the hill at breakneck speed. Then there would be a long wait before we saw them emerge slowly and carefully, stop as if looking carefully both ways before coming out into the open and turning along the beach.
Every once in a while, a destroyer or cruiser would hit the jackpot up in the hills, with the payoff in big explosions and fires, which we hoped were ammunition or fuel dumps.
The town burned all day and heavy firing could be heard in the distance. Just beyond the beaches, flame throwers were at work, methodically going from cave to cave, dugout to dugout, house to house, carrying out a slogan of "let's not bring 'em back alive," By contrast, soldiers were swimming in the surf.
The sun was warm too. It was a lovely spring day at Okinawa. From then on, we stayed right in there at night. My slumbers were troubled as a cruiser right behind us lobbed shells over my bunk, while a destroyer off our bow maintained a steady fire of five-inch shells past my topside ear.
The coming of dawn rolled back the curtains on a now familiar scene. Same noise, same shooting, same commotion ashore. The planes had evidently lost interest and were busy elsewhere. I lost interest too, staying below to lake up routine prosaic tasks where I had forgotten them several days before. I even grabbed some sleep in the afternoon.
When we finished our business I thought we might leave but we didn't. On the final night we laid down a smoke screen so thick our own boats couldn't find us. It must have been effective. Nothing happened and I really pounded the sack.
But on the next day we bid Okinawa adieu. We were off again over those ever-so-long reaches of the Pacific, bound for other scenes and other missions. Here's hoping that when it comes our turn again to play the "hot corner" we set 'em down hard again with no hits, no runs, no errors, and none left on base.
The History of the U.S.S. Neshoba. Cover: U.S.S. Neshoba. Anon. San Angelo, Tex.: Newsfoto Publishing Co., [1946?]. 58 leaves, embossed blue hardcover with title and silhouette of APA 216, 20.5 x 27 cm, photos, ports., map, roster. Dornbusch 1950: 954, Smith: 7631