The History Place - Personal Histories

Don't Cry Darling!
by Peter Milo

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 you.

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.

Copyright © 1999 Peter Milo All Rights Reserved

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