This is a copy of an original letter dated 1945
the men could sign it and send it as their own
USS JOSEPH T. DICKMAN (APA13)
% Fleet Post Office
San Francisco, California
1 May, 1945
Now that a month has gone by since the start of the invasion of Okinawa, we are allowed to write home about our experiences. There are some things of course that we still can’t tell about.
While we were down under the line in the South Pacific, I had a pretty good hunch we were going to the Ryukyus. We had a lot of practice landing on the beaches, simulating what we were going to do on the actual invasion. I enjoyed those a lot because I always got a chance to go for a swim and take a look around at the country there. Of course we made a few liberties too – I’ll never forget how good the cold beer tasted down in that hot climate.
One morning we took on a bunch of troops and it was anchors aweigh. I thought that was it, but several days later we came into an anchorage chuck full of all kinds of ships – carriers, battleships, were several beautiful hospital ships there too, all painted white. I felt pretty proud and a little bit insignificant as I looked over the huge fleet. I was told that this wasn’t the whole show either.
Finally one night at dusk all the ships started moving and I knew we were on our way then. It was quite a thrill. I could see the destroyers darting in and out from us, searching for any subs that might be lurking around. The battleships and carriers were up ahead of us some distance, which fact made me sleep better that night. We expected any moment to be routed out of our bunks for air attacks, as the Japs probably knew by that time that we were coming. Nothing happened however and we sneaked right up to within ten miles of Okinawa before the fireworks started.
What an Easter Sunday morning that was! No Easter egg hunt that morning – this was the real thing. First there was the rumbling of the big guns, and we could see the flashes too in the distance. We kept moving right in with the other Transports while the battleships lobbed shells over our heads toward the beaches. Just as it started to break day several small groups of Jap fighters made their way over us and you should have seen the reception they got. All the ships started belching out – anti-aircraft at once and the sky was full of tracers and flak. One by one the Jap planes would burst into flames and plummet down to the water with a big splash. (They were mostly suicide planes trying to crash dive on their target. A few of them made good on their mission and I felt sorry for the lads on the ships that got hit).
We poured out some lead at a Zeke, which made its way toward us, and with the help of some nearby transports managed to knock it out of the sky before it did any damage. About that time a barrage of shells splashed in the water ahead of us some fifty or a hundred yards, coming from the island, which let us know that this job wasn’t going to be a cinch. A few minutes later however a swarm of our bombers flew overhead toward shore and that was the last we heard or saw of the enemy shore batteries. The airforce sure did a swell job of blasting out the Jap defenses.
Just as the sun started showing above the horizon, all the transports as far as one could see in all directions started lowering the landing craft, filled with troops, tanks and “hot cargo”. For the next hour the air was filled with the drum of the small engines, interspersed with the ack-ack of machine guns peppering away at an occasional (suicide) plane trying to make its way to a kill. As the fleet of landing craft moved in toward shore we could hear the increased tempo of the big guns booming again, and the smoke from the fires started on the island were clearly visible. This wasn’t going to be another Tarawa – we had learned how to smash the enemy.
Well, there were so many things that happened during the next six days and six nights that I can’t remember them just as they happened. I do remember that there wasn’t much sleep and it would be very unusual if we had chow at the regularly scheduled times. Air raids kept us at our guns almost continually while we were there, and then too there were those Jap (suicide) swimmers that we had to watch out for. These swimmers would try to sneak their way thought the water to the ships, with explosives strapped to them, then when they reached their goal they would pull the string and blast everything to Hell and gone, themselves along with it.
Talk about fanatical tactics – those were it. We formed a rifle squad about the ship, day and night, and believe me we sure peppered away at anything moving in the water near the ship. Whether any of it was swimmers or not I don’t know, but we weren’t taking any chances. An LST ahead of us captured one of the swimmers alive, so some of them must have come close to us.
The Beach Party had quite a time ashore. A Beach Party isn’t the kind that has bon-fires and toasted marshmallows – this outfit sets up the ship to shore communications, controls the movement of landing craft to the beaches, salvages damaged craft and evacuates the casualties. They live in the sand dunes in foxholes and work day and night whenever conditions permit. Each morning and evening twilight they would get strafed by enemy planes and snipers would infiltrate down thought the lines to hamper them. None of our fellows got hurt though, and they felt pretty lucky. A dispatch came through the air from the Task Force Commander commending the Beach Parties for doing a swell job, so we felt pretty proud.
One of the officers was telling me about going up to an airstrip near the beach that our forces had captured the second day. He got there just as a Jap plane flew in, - evidently the pilot didn’t know the score. As soon as he discovered his mistake he made a run for it, but a tank nearby opened up on him before he could get back to his plane. It was like shooting a quail with buckshot – he just disintegrated and bits of him just disappeared in the air.
I don’t think I would want to live in Okinawa, although the weather wasn’t too bad. The people are small, like the Japanese, and their small thatched roof houses were very dirty. Health conditions were poor, and every thing looked poor, even the animals. Lots of civilians were either captured or they surrendered, and stayed in a camp in a little town near the beach. The women were thin and scrawny and dressed in kimonos, while the only men left were quite old, and work close fitting trousers and large straw hats made by hand.
They didn’t have any modern conveniences at all, and used earthen pot ware for dishes – no stoves, just improvised fireplaces. There were a few sewing machines found, but no modern equipment of any kind. I guess all the people around where we were rural farmers. They didn’t have any water system, but in the middle of this little town there was a cement pool full of green slimey water. This was where they took baths, if they took baths, and where they washed their clothes. No plumbing – as a matter of fact no “out-houses”. When they had to go, they just went right there where they happened to be. Men and women alike.
We were delayed quit a bit in unloading our ship; I believe it was on account of the beaches. They were the toughest ones experienced so far for landing boats. A coral reef extended out as far as 750 yards from the beach and it was full of potholes, nigger heads (parts jutting up from the water) and various obstacles. They could unload the boats only at high tide, and even then a lot of the boats would get stranded on the coral. They tried to blast channels through the stuff, but the holes would just fill up again with sand and broken coral. One night the wind came up pretty bad and the surf was too heavy to do much in the way of unloading cargo. The boat crews had to lay to all night in the storm with their cargo getting to leeward of some larger craft for protection. It rained pretty hard too and got rather cold, and believe me it was plenty uncomfortable.
One of the nicest things I can remember is the fresh water shower I had after our ship was unloaded and on its way out of that place. Up to then we hadn’t much time for showers, and even when we did they were cold salt-water showers.
Well folks, that will give you a brief idea of our week in Okinawa – I know I have left out a lot, but then I will have to save something for the time I get home to tell about. Besides I have to quit this some time.
Love to All