For the past year or so I’ve been trying to find out what happened to my grandfather in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II.
I’ve read everything I can about that battle and my grandfather’s tank battalion’s role in it. He was a driver in the 193rd Tank Battalion, which was attached to the 27th Infantry Division. It was long before I found that my grandfather had fought in a devastating battle on April 19th, 1945, that resulted in “the greatest one-day loss of U.S. armor in the Okinawa Campaign.”
A few weeks ago, I discovered that the battalion’s “Operational Report” had survived the destruction caused by a typhoon that hit Okinawa in the summer of 1945 and was being stored at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Here’s what the commander of the 193rd wrote in his report about that fateful day:
“As the first tanks neared TA 8176B, they were taken under fire by a 47mm AT gun from the left flank. Two (2) flamethrowers and three (3) tanks were hit by this gun before it was spotted and destroyed by the Assault Gun platoon. From approximately 0830, when the movement of all tanks across was completed, to 1200, the remaining tanks, assault guns and flamethrowers remained around the town of Kakazu, moving to various firing positions and firing on enemy installations and personnel on the South side of Kakazu ridge, to the flanks and along the base of the prominent ridge from TA 7976H to 8075B. During this time five (5) tanks, one (1) flamethrower and two (2) assault guns were disabled by mines of various types which were buried indiscriminately over the entire area. One (1) assault gun stuck in a bog and the crew was later forced to abandon it. They were also subjected to intense artillery fire and mortar fire, but with little damaging effect.”
Shortly after the war ended, a small group of Army historians set out to write the official battle history of Okinawa based on (1) manuscript histories of the units that fought there; (2) interviews with the combatants; and (3) official records, including Japanese records and prisoner of war interrogations.
Here’s what they had to say about the battle for Kakazu Ridge. Notice the differences, not only in terms of the particulars, but also in the depth of what was reported: “As the tanks moved down the road in column, a 47-mm antitank gun, firing from a covered position to the left on the edge of Nishibaru Ridge, destroyed four tanks with sixteen shots, without receiving a single shot in return.”
“[The 193rd Tank Battalion arrived] in Kakazu shortly after 1000. They moved around and through the village, spreading fire and destruction; Kakazu was completely shot up and burned during the next three hours. Fourteen American tanks were destroyed in and around the village, many by mines and 47-mm antitank guns, others by suicide close-attack units, and more by artillery and mortar fire…. A majority of the tank crew members were still living after the tanks had been disabled, but many were killed by enemy squads that forced the turret lids open and threw in grenades.”
What did my grandfather have to say about this battle?
He never told anybody about what happened that day, or any other day while he was on Okinawa.
I wish he had.
I wish he had told his story. I wish he had let someone help him work through what he had experienced.
I wish that all veterans could find the courage to tell their stories. After all, if your life does not become a story, silence will become the story of your life.
David Chrisinger works to close the divide between veterans and civilians by helping post-9/11 veterans tell their stories of war. This past October, he ran a 50-mile ultramarathon to raise money for The Mission Continues.