The one thing American Marines learned in their drive to reconquer the
Islands of the South Pacific was that the Japanese were experts in digging
their underground connecting tunnels. They would be in front of you putting
up a strong defense and suddenly they would be on your flank or behind
This was uppermost in our minds when we landed on the beaches of Okinawa
which was to be the last great battle of the Pacific War. As we advanced
inland, a few of us would lag behind to look for cave openings that were
large enough to conceal enemy soldiers. If we saw one, the procedure would
be to have two rifleman cover the entrance, and my buddy Frank Enser and
myself would position ourselves on each side of the opening. Frank would
hold a grenade at the ready and I would call out, remembering that Okinawan
civilians could be using the cave for shelter. I would call out in a modified
voice, "Alright come on out, we won't hurt you, come on!" Then
Frank would count to ten, and if no movement was heard, he would toss in
a grenade and seal the opening.
Walking our way forward, we came upon a large area which had been designated
as a camp for the homeless Okinawan citizens. There was already a goodly
number of men and women in the camp and I was struck by the fact that the
woman were using picks and shovels to prepare the ground for tents while
the men were seated and playing cards.
I saw one of our officers approach these men, take away the cards, and
hand them the tools that he had taken from the women. When we returned
a short time later with some wounded and starving civilians, the men were
again playing cards and the women doing the heavy lifting. I remember saying
to myself that trying to change foreign customs was like trying to sweep
the sun off the roof.
A short time later, back in the field, I observed a partially covered
opening to a cave and we went into our cave routine. Frank was ready to
toss in the grenade as I called out. This time, however, I heard a movement
and warned Frank to hold the grenade. Then we saw an old man crawl out.
He used a staff to aid his walking and was bent over so that his long white
pointed beard actually touched the ground. Behind him appeared a young
woman leading a child by the hand, and behind her, another young woman
also holding the hand of a child.
The old man was hysterical and moaning something we could not understand.
I told Frank that we would take them to the homeless camp, so he placed
his hand on the old man's arm to lead him in that direction. At the touch
of Frank's hand, the old man screamed something to the two women and suddenly
they ran towards me.
In a perfectly straight line, they knelt before me and touched the ground
with their foreheads. The old man, using his hand with his fingers made
into the form of a blade, kept touching the back of his neck using the
'cut off my head' sign. Apparently, because I was the only one that spoke,
it gave him the idea that I was in command. For several horrible moments,
I heard the man plead for a quick death. I looked down and saw those two
4 or 5-year-old kids trembling. I just wanted to die.
I yelled to Frank and told him to pick up the old man while I and another
Marine grabbed the two children, and, knowing the mothers would follow,
we headed for the camp.
As we were walking, I felt the awful trembling of the child I was carrying
and whispered, "Don't cry, darling," in her ear trying to console
her. I looked into her face and saw tears and terror. I actually felt a
stinging sensation in my eyes and a lump in my throat. I had to do something.
Reaching into my dungaree pocket, I took out a tropical Hershey bar, ripped
the cover off with my teeth, and placed the chocolate on her lips. Those
little tearful brown eyes looked into mine but she made no effort to bite
into the chocolate.
Finally, we reached the camp, and several of the woman there recognized
the women with us and ran over to greet them and the old man. I sat on
the ground with the child and broke off a piece of the chocolate and placed
it in her mouth. Her eyes seemed to look into my very soul. She began to
chew slowly. I kept feeding her until she finished the bar, never taking
her eyes from mine.
Frank yelled and reminded me we had to catch up with the troops. I stood
up and reached into my pocket for the last Hershey bar, which would have
been my dinner for that evening, and placed it on the child's lap. Still,
her eyes never left mine. I turned and joined the other Marines, but I
had to take one more look at the child. I turned my head in her direction
and saw her still looking at me.
I walked away wondering if I could ever forget that little face and
those tearful brown eyes.