Okinawa Seabees

Story about Seabees attached to the 1st Marine Division at Okinawa, patrolling the Makibaru area and fighting Japanese; in close combat with the enemy.


The first few nights I foxholed by myself as the casualty group was fairly new in organization and I had not made any buddies. The Marines (1st Marine Division) in the group had been together for some time and were not new to combat. They already had a "wife" slang for a mate who was more or less a permanent foxhole co-inhabitant. The 1st Marine Division landed on L-Day near the Bishi Gawa river mouth. During the initial period of the campaign, this Division was responsible for, among other things, hunting down small bands of enemy guerrillas and infiltrators throughout the center of the island. This included the Makibaru area. The enemy force in this area was the 1st Specially Established Regiment, ordered to fight a delaying action and then retreat.Those of us assigned to the casualty group with the First Marine Division soon found a wife. Paul Gilbert SF1, was my choice. He was about my age, thus the necessary vibes were present. In mid morning of the second day the casualty group made of up Seabees and Marines moved out with a number of trucks loaded with supplies. We were attacked twice by small groups of Jap infantry, they had no heavy armament so they were killed or repulsed with but few wounded on our side. This was the first time I saw who was shooting at me and who I was shooting at. Regardless of the distance you were never sure if it was your effort that caused the target to fall or someone else's effort. But it gave you satisfaction to think it was your shooting that counted the most. At this time we did not have time to look over the kill or to search for trophies or souvenirs, In fact this pursuit was only practiced when we began to feel like victors and felt reasonably certain the bounty was worthwhile. Flush with the flowing adrenalin and the thrill of first combat action of exchanging fire with a seen enemy, I felt sure I had accounted for at least two Japs. It was later, on a very personal basis, that I could say "I killed him" He's mine. Our present mission was to get the truck convoy to it's destination. The assault was moving inland and in a few days the Seabee Battalion was well along in setting up camp near a captured airstrip. The term "camp" means temporary, "base" means more or less permanent. Twice, Jap sorties attacked the fringes of the air strip. But their numbers were such that they were more of a nuisance rather than a threat. The supplement to the casualty groups for the most part returned to their units. Thus, we were again reunited with our mates. I returned to my duty as a cook. We cooks had little to do galley-wise. We more or less just passed out prepared food. So I, becoming bored, often went exploring or joined the Marines I had been with in the casualty group. They were now a mop-up team whose job it was to hunt out the Japs who stayed behind the lines to act as snipers and to do diversion action. I could have got in trouble leaving my station, but from now on till the end of the war military discipline took second place to surviving and getting the mission done. Along with the Marines I shot at burning Japs as they fled from their cave hide outs. It was about this time that I got a Jap I could claim as mine. Four Marines and two of us casualty group members were sent on a side trail to check for any snipers or straggling bands that the Japs may have left behind. I would like to interject here that by now the members of the casualty group were accepted by the Marines as part of their cadre. The reason for this hesitancy is that in combat you like to know your comrades, who has had previous combat exposure, who is compatible and can be counted upon, and who may be questionable. So, the six of us made our may on full alert along the path that was about a wagons width and most likely once used by native farmers. Vegetation had grown high along its sides but the bombardment had taken a good share of this down. We were especially aware of and watched the craters and mounds caused by this bombardment. We were spread out in military fashion, a fair space about each individual. We had progressed maybe a mile or so from out take off point when out in front of us appeared four Japs. They must have been crossing the path's clearing as they were taken by surprise as much as we were. They yelled something as did some of us. In a twinkle of an eye, they started firing and charged toward us. We dropped to one knee or flat on the ground and returned fire. Both sides were firing as fast as a trigger finger would work. We had the advantage not only because there were six of us but also because we dropped to a stationary position. The charging Japs were also firing as a fast as possible but with little accuracy. It was all over in a few minutes. This time I knew I had got my kill. For in their charge one Jap got within thirty feet of me when I hit him in the head and gut, the head hit being what counted. The other fallen Japs were some distance from me and mine. Our leader told two of the others to be alert. The sound of our fighting could bring others from the wrong side. While the two assigned as lookouts remained on the alert, the rest of us looked over our kill. No one came to me or mine as it was evident to all who killed him. We stripped the Japs bodies which had become the custom, to look for maps or military information. In this case it may appear silly as these four appeared to be just lowly grunts. But, Jap officers were known to take the disguise of lower rank. What lay ahead was a second encounter with Japs within an hour. We first heard a laughing noise behind us then running foot falls. We all dove into the underbrush beside the path, half on one side and half on the other side. We were not setting up an ambush necessarily until we knew the numbers. Well hidden we were and a good thing as about 15 Japs came jogging at a good pace right by us. They were within 15 feet of us. Such was the game of hide and seek in the Pacific on land as well as on sea. Our leader said we should return and report what we had just seen. That many Japs behind the lines may be significant in association with other intelligence being collected by other groups such as our own. On returning and reporting it seems that from other information gathered, the Japs were pulling back their harassment groups and snipers to strengthen their rear lines. This proved to be true. My last assignment with the Marines was for our group to go back to the trail we had just returned from and cautiously prod forward till we found or met resistance; then to stop and send a runner back with the location. I imagine this act was repeated all along the area for some distance. We were not to engage if this ws possible; just locate. Of course, everyone knew the likelihood of this was slight. We got well beyond the point on the trail where we turned back from our last encounter with the Japs. It was getting dark and so we made our foxholes for the night with half of our force on one side of the pathway and half on the other side. We made the holes deep and the weather looked good. But in the island climate, minutes could change all this. Here the jungle had not received the devastation as some of the rest probably because we were in a gully or a narrow valley. The only sky you could see was directly overhead. We had been in our foxholes but a short time after darkness enclosed us when shouting and rifle shots assaulted us from all sides. Fortunately, for some reason it was a few seconds before the assault members exposed themselves. It was obvious at once we were out numbered and while we were dug in and ready it would only be a matter of time before we would be over run. But only moments after the Jpas attacked, a large detachment of Marines came from what seemed like nowhere and they far outnumbered those who just seconds ago had the advantage. The battle lasted but a short time. There were many downed Japs but only a few Marines. I never did know if we were used as decoys or were just lucky. The Marines who rescued us were so confident that the encounter was over they bedded down in convenient niches without going to the trouble of digging foxholes. The next morning the Marine body that rescued us proceeded on and our casualty group returned to our original base.


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