Tombs of Okinawa

June 9, 1945

Received your letters of May 25 & 27. Have been busy the last week or so. Hope this last push will bring my career as a soldier to an end. Everything is going along fairly well. It certainly isn’t as rough as it was at the beginning. Even the weather has been cooperative. It has been warm and sunny, so we finally got out of the mud. We are now set up in a spacious, grassy court yard of an immense Okinawan tomb. You have probably seen pictures of the tombs with the court yard enclosed by a massive stone wall.

We’ve been running into thousands of civilians again. The poverty, filth and malnutrition are almost indescribable. They’ve been living in dark, dank caves since March, coming out only at night. As a result their skins are a ghastly white from being denied sunshine. There are immense natural caves in the area, cut through coral mountains by the streams. There is running water in the caves. Sometimes you will find 300-500 people living in a cave—full of lice and fleas and with a nauseating stench. Most of the people are scaly with dirt and pores—some gangrenous.

One heartening factor is the great humanity of the dogface. It is amazing what risks they will take to get these people out of areas in which the fighting is raging. They go into caves with flashlights, not knowing whether there are soldiers or civilians inside. There is always the danger of running into an enemy position. In some cases soldiers have been in caves with civilians and have wounded our men who went in to try to get the civilians out.

And as they come out, blinking in the sunlight, what a pitiable picture. The little babies are strapped to the backs of their mothers—so tightly they can hardly breathe with one band of clothe across the back of the neck and the mother’s shoulder and another band around the buttocks & tied about the mother’s waist. Their heads fall back, arms to the side—hanging almost lifelessly. Many times you will see little kids of 6 carrying the babies on their backs. Some women carrying babies on the back & tremendous loads of food or clothing or cooking utensils in a bundle on the top of their heads. And then there are the orphans, and everyone has so many troubles of his own that one is interested in the orphans. There any many abandoned babies. We found one little girl of 2—stark naked—thrown into a muddy ditch. We made one of the men pick her up. 10 minutes later we found her in the ditch again. We picked her up & gave her to to another man & threatened to shoot him if he threw her away again. And still life continues. Babies are still being born. The medics are performing miracles. Aid men with only elementary training are performing operations with pocket knives that would tax the skills of a surgeon in a modern hospital. If anyone at home thinks he has problems, he should see these kids—ill fed—wounded—gangrenous, stinking wounds with maggots crawling around inside.

I’m fine, but the experiences are very depressing.

Memorial Day

The grandpa that I ate burgers with as a kid in smoggy San Pedro, CA was no adopter of high technology and could not have predicted his return on the Internet. When the court’s IT staff installed a 1980s monochrome terminal in his judge’s chambers, he rejected the device as a mystifying intruder.

“What is a computer?” he used to ask us from his large black easychair. I don’t think he wanted to know the answer. My brother would say something about 6502 machine language and Grandpa would lose interest.

But this year when we received word from advertisers in New Zealand that they wanted to use one of Grandpa’s letters to promote Stephen Spielberg’s The Pacific in their country, we agreed, to pay respect to Grandpa and his service.

Grandpa was one of three brothers who served in World War II, triggering the Saving Private Ryan Rule. Along the way, he interrogated POWs, became a guerrilla chieftain and saw himself as a soldier in a struggle between Japanese feudalism and American industrialism, as he wrote home in 1945 to his wife Clara in L.A.

He would have been the last guy to get sentimental about some fuzzy idea that Americans owe him our Bill of Rights for witnessing horrors in Okinawa and sleeping under artillery shells in Leyte. Instead Grandpa agreed with General Smedley Butler, who called war a racket.

But Abe hated brutality in all forms. And in the yellowed box of letters that my dad and I converted to blog entries in the last couple years, you can see Grandpa’s distrust of warring nations mingling with hope of helping people like Acquilino, a young Filipino with med school dreams blocked by poverty and a brother imprisoned by the Emperor’s troops.

And so that’s why people waiting for their MAXX buses in Auckland, NZ can look up from their iPods at a poster reprinting the story of an Army mail call in summer, 1943, when GIs dug a hole in the earth for a candy bar.
– John

The story of Tarawa

December 11, 1943

Do the people at home really think the “war is over”? Here in Hawaii there is a much clearer realization that regardless of the collapse of Germany–our real fight is in the Pacific against Japan–and that the road to victory is a long and hard one. How can there be such complacency when the story of Tarawa is so widely known? There will be many more–and bloodier Tarawas before the war is over.

A Guy Named Joe

May 18, 1944

And here–it’s the same old routine. I’m still working in the hero department–and going to the movies almost every night. Ronight it’s a fairly good one for a change–“Song of Bernadette”. Yesterday I saw Spencer Tracy in “A Guy Named Joe”. Don’t waste your time. They should get wise to the fact that soldiers aren’t interested in war stories and imitation heroes.

Girls for Dances

April 21, 1944

The local U.S.O’s will have some competition as soon as the [recently arrived] WACs become available for parties. Up to now, the U.S.O.’s have been supplying all the girls for army dances, and many of the girls are Japanese. Some U.S.O.’s specialize in white and Hawaiian girls exclusively, and refuse to furnish girls for dances with [when] some Japanese girls are invited. They claim the soldiers don’t want to dance with Japs! Could it be jealously? I’d never heard of any discrimination against Japanese girls by soldiers. In fact, one them came to our camp the other day, seeking the Chaplin, for advice on what to do about her pregnancy. And who should be on guard at the main gate but the prospective daddy. That’s quite a situation.

Queen of the Battle

August 23, 1944

I forgot to answer your question about the Combat Infantry badge. It is awarded to all infantryman [sic] who have been in combat with forward echelon, and whose recor is otherwise good. The theory behind the $10 pay raise was to recognize the fact that in spite of all other arms and services, the infantry is still the “queen” of the battle–and is the decisive force. Artillery; air & navy bombardment still don’t win battles or war.


Incidentally, speaking of politics, all men in the 7th Div. were given a copy of Roosevelt’s speech, the one he made during the recent review. Would you call that a political move?

Roosevelt at the Parade

August 3, 1944

3 August 1944

Several days ago we had a Division parade, and among those present was your old friend Roosevelt. He spoke to us for about a minute, although I could not hear what he said. He certainly looked old and haggard. His face was grey and flabby, except for the large blue circles under his eyes. I don’t think he’ll last another term. He really made a very poor impression.

Speaking of presidents, we received our applications for state absentee ballots for the presidential election. The Army is doing everything it possibly can to see that every
man is given an opportunity to vote. A lot of hard work has been done to make things easy for the men. I’ll be very interested to see how many ballots are cast by the armed forces. Unfortunately, there seems to be a great deal of apathy among the men — as though it didn’t make much difference as to who was elected.

Today we had another parade and I received my Bronze Star award from General Arnold. Some pictures were taken and you may see them in the L.A. papers.

Oahu, Hawaii Territory

August 4, 1944

August 4, 1944, Oahu, Hawaii Territory

I suppose that everyone in the U.S. thinks the war is over for all practical purposes. You’ll find a very different attitude among the guys have to do all the fighting. It’s allvery well for the arm chair strategists to proclaim that the war is over, butfor the “dogfaces” the war won’t be over until the last shot is fired—because the last shot may still be the one with his number on it. For me, the war won’t be over until I can hold you and Wm close and know that I can stay with you as long as I like, and that is forever.

Pictures: Everyone has copies of those negatives I have mailed you. So no need to make additional ones. I am enclosing another picture—taken just before we departed for the parade in honor of F.D.R. You’ll probably have difficulty in recognizing me—but it really is. I expect soon to have some more pictures for you—taken during the parade yesterday—showing me shaking with the General as he congratulated me on the decoration! People who don’t know better will think I killed at least a thousand Japs.

Is anyone living together happily

July 27, 1944

July 27, 1945, Oahu, Hawaii

Bronze Star: There were 8 awards in Hq. Co. Although it is not a high decoration, it is still one degree higher than a Purple Heart—However, there has beenso much unfairness in the award of medals and decorations that they mean nothing to the men in the ranks, although civilians are probably very much impressed with them.


Is anybody living together happily? I think they should join the Army and then they will get so sick of fighting that they won’t have any energy left for fighting with each other.

Cake for the interpreter

May 21, 1945

As you may have read in the papers,10 men from the 17th have already left for home, on May 18th and 7 more left yesterday. I hesitate to arouse any false hopes, but if the process continues I should be on the way home in a month or so. I am now number 63 on the quota list. I hope the thing keeps rolling along regularly.

I meant to ask you about the Bronze Star medal. I would like very much for you to give it to my father, because I think it means much more to him than it does to you. I know it would give him a lot of pleasure to exhibit it to everyone. It has already served its purpose so far as you and I are concerned. The medal was worth 5 points and the [oak leaf] cluster was worth 5, which helped a lot.

I gave a slice of cake to Tommy—a Hawaiian Japanese—who serves as an interpreter, and he especially instructed me to send his thanks and compliments. It wasn’t your best, but still pretty good.