We had been at sea over a month, fighting the Second World War against Japan, when we dropped anchor off the Okinawan shore in July 1945. Although the island was secured in June, our incoming outfit was to man the huge new air base being built to launch B-29 attacks on the Japanese homeland.
Spread out in all directions were huge numbers of American warships. These ships were vulnerable to deadly kamikaze attacks.
Japanese kamikaze pilots were young boys, who were trained to fly small planes that carried one bomb on a one-way suicide flight. Their objective was to dive their planes into our ships. Whole armadas of kamikazes attacked our fleet. That tactic had been used successfully, and the loss of ships and lives had been horrendous.
We assembled, complete with backpacks, and began to descend the nets into landing craft alongside when mayhem broke out all over. Air-raid alert sirens sounded throughout the fleet. Loudspeakers blared, "All troops back aboard. All troops below decks." Gunfire came from all quarters.
All our ships immediately laid down a heavy smoke screen to hide themselves from incoming aircraft. The sky became a gigantic cauldron of death, as all anti-aircraft guns sent up a continual barrage of fire and tracers, leaving a fiery pattern across the sky. To those of us observing, it was a tremendous fireworks display that we weren't permitted to watch very long.
As far as we knew, no ships were lost, but for the Japanese pilots, their mission had been a one-way trip to death.
That raid was a last-gasp attack. The Japanese were out of fuel, out of planes and out of pilots. We had witnessed the last big kamikaze attack of the Second World War. Within two months the war was over.
Several months later, I was called out one night to help refuel planes on the line. A big transport landed, and a group of gaunt, sick-looking American servicemen unloaded and were taken to a nearby Quonset hut. We learned that they were some of the first repatriated prisoners of war from Japanese prison camps, heading home at last.
So often, we are witnesses to great historic events without realizing or appreciating what we have seen.
as told to Jean Kristiansen Nashua, Iowa
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.