|04-01-2005, 07:50 AM||#1 (permalink)|
Join Date: Aug 2004
Okinawa vet recalls terror, mud and fish-flake stew
April 1, 2005
Like so many other combat veterans, Robert Sorensen of Shakopee remembers the mundane as vividly as the monumental: the fish-flake stew as clearly as the Japanese grenade that rolled into his foxhole.
"Write it down," a son urged not long ago, and the 80-year-old Sorensen sat at a typewriter and told what it was like to be a Marine on Okinawa 60 years ago.
First, last and many times in between, he remembered food.
He had set out from an Iowa farm in May 1944, boarding a train for California. "At some stops, ladies would come through the train with baskets of cookies and such for us."
Two years later, the war won, Sorensen had his last Marine meal in Chicago, where he was discharged. It is the final entry in his 23-page remembrance.
"There were turnips that looked like potatoes, and most people took them but could not eat them," he wrote. "They had a man at the garbage cans to make sure you didn't throw away food, but he wasn't saying anything about the turnips. Maybe he had tried them."
Between the cookies and the turnips, there was a war.
Sorensen served in the 1st Marine Division, and as a great invasion force gathered off Okinawa, he watched Japanese kamikazes dive at the U.S. armada. "They seemed to be trying to hit the battleship West Virginia, which lay near our ship."
The Japanese had decided not to contest the beach landings, withdrawing instead into the ridges and caves where they would be less exposed. "Other than an occasional sniper, we did not encounter any enemy the first day," Sorensen said.
That soon changed.
"After failing to take a hill on three tries, we were told to take it and hold it at all cost," he wrote of a day later in the campaign. "We overran the hill and there was mass confusion, with Japanese in front of us, behind us and among us. After we pushed them off the top, they were still trying to put ladders up a sheer cliff. ... Hand grenades were being thrown up at us. ... I saw one explode no more than 5 feet away, but I was lying prone on the ground and it did not touch me."
It wasn't like what you might see in a movie, he said.
"Not a thing about it was glamorous. You were dirty and wet and scared all the time."
He still can hear the "Banzai!" screams of attacking Japanese soldiers, the muffled tumbling of incoming mortar rounds.
"It rained for 30 days straight and the mud was everywhere," he wrote. "Our foxholes filled with water but we had to have the protection, so we sat and slept in standing water.
"The stench of death was always around as there were Japanese bodies everywhere."
He saw men break.
"I can fully understand why some men couldn't handle it," he said. "I can't imagine how the troops in Vietnam dealt with the situation there."
One pitch-black night he heard a grenade land by his foxhole and roll in.
"When it exploded, it apparently split in half and one half hit my helmet and knocked me backwards but otherwise didn't hurt me. Normally a grenade would break into dozens of pieces and I would have been like a sieve."
Another night, he crouched in a front-line trench and glanced down to read his watch. He looked up to see a Japanese soldier racing toward him.
"I was squad leader by then, so I had a Tommy gun," he wrote. "I fired until the bolt slammed shut -- all 30 bullets were gone -- before he finally fell.
"Nearly every day I heard bullets whiz by my head. Fate and the long arm of God are really all that is between you and the enemy."
After 82 days of desperate fighting, Okinawa belonged to the Marines, and they began to prepare for their next assignment: the invasion of Japan.
"They said women and children and everyone who owned a pitchfork would be there on the beach to meet us," Sorensen said. "Somebody estimated that half a million people, both sides, would have died the first day.
"It was a great relief when they announced the war was over."
|fishflake, mud, okinawa, recalls, stew, terror, vet|
|Currently Active Users Viewing This Thread: 1 (0 members and 1 guests)|
|New To The Site?||Need Information?|