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.

Four years in the Army

June 5, 1945

Well, yesterday was my 4th anniversary in the Army. It’s hard to believe that it has been so long. It seems only a short while ago that I was saying adieu to you at [Fort] MacArthur, not knowing when I would see you again. Time certainly seems to have passed quickly when viewed retrospectively; but now each day seems like a month, because I am looking forward to the Great Day. Everything is going well and I am in the best of health. I’ve even begun to comb my hair as it grows out, so that I will look half-way civilized and won’t frighten the kiddie. As usual, the rain is pouring down. In spite of the fact that it slows things up out here, I still enjoy the rain very much. It’s so relaxing to hear it beating down on the pup tent as you prepare to go to sleep. Like a regular concert, sometimes fortissimo and at other times falling very gently and smoothly. We’ve managed to keep pretty dry. The tent is on a little knoll with a good natural drainage. As I lie here, I think what fun it will be to go camping with Willie & you, and teach you all about the fun of living out of doors. It will be even more fun with no artillery shells whistling by overhead. Of course, it will be nice to enjoy the comforts & conveniences of a home, but I will always enjoy the out-of-house life — the close contact with the good earth, the trees and birds and little animals — the rain— and the vast starry skies. We’re now sharing our 2-man apartment with a little nest of field mice — and outside —enjoying the rain and the mud are a lot of tiny little frogs. There are also a couple of little white goats, a he & she, living peacefully in the midst of it all and completely uninvolved in this unfortunate human folly. They’re very friendly little goats too, in spite of the fact that they are Japanese. Willie would have a lot of fun with them chasing at his heels and rubbing against his legs, waiting to be petted and spoken to….

My own “creative urges” are being directed toward making little objects out of the good clay of Okinawa. It has been a pleasant way of passing time. I think I’ll enroll in a sculpting class. The time is dragging so slowly that I’ve had to organize some sort of diversion. I’ve been trying to read “The Plumed Serpent” in spite of all of the difficulties & interruptions…..

In An Immense Tomb

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 no one is interested in the orphans. There are 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.