Popular Posts

Monday, June 1, 2009

Joel Z. Williams' Interview with a World War II Veteran of Okinawa

Personal Interview Record
Interviewee: James (Jimmy) Kane-Age 85
Title/ Position: Coxswain-(Boatswain -3rd class) U.S. Navy Veteran of WWII Battle of Okinawa
Location: Strafford, Missouri
Phone Number: 417-736-2371
Interviewer: Joel Z. Williams
Time and Date of Interview: 3:10 pm May 29, 2009
Length of Interview: 1hour, 23 minutes
Date of Record: May 30, 2009
Additional Info: a 26 minute supplementary video and several still photographs of the subject (taken by the interviewer) also accompany this interview.

1. The U.S. Navy drafted Mr. Kane and subsequently inducted him into service at 1:00pm on December 22, 1943 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Navy then discharged Mr. Kane from his duties as an enlisted sailor at the same location, at precisely 2:00 pm on December 22, 1945; making the overall length of Mr. Kane’s military service just short of two years, by exactly one hour.

2. Following his induction into the Navy at St. Louis, Missouri, Mr. Kane travelled to Farragut, Idaho where he participated in an eight-week Basic Military Training course. After completing Basic Training, the Navy sent Mr. Kane to Bremerton Naval Station located in Seattle, Washington, where he stayed for several weeks before shipping out to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

3. At the same time Mr Kane’s ship arrived in Hawaii (Pearl Harbor), the Navy was testing a battery of 16 inch shore guns, which had not fired in years. The concussive force created by the blast of those massive guns startled Mr. Kane, as well as other sailors aboard the incoming vessel. The shock waves from the shelling sent tables full of dishes, cups and bowls, stacked to the ceiling within the ship’s galley, hurtling to the deck where they shattered in a cacophonous rain of porcelain. “Welcome to the war, gentlemen.”

4. Mr. Kane stated that he and the other men attached to tank landing ship, number 353 (LST 353) trained at various jobs and practiced several surface exercises between the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Maui for several weeks prior to departing for Taiwan. During his time in Hawaii, the Navy was experimenting with using radar to detect approaching enemy aircraft and vessels. They assigned Mr. Kane to operate the new radar system recently installed on LST 353 after giving him approximately one week of training on how to operate the apparatus. The ship’s captain, eager to see just what the radar could do, ordered Mr. Kane to demonstrate its effectiveness. Radar technology was still cutting edge at the time and the radar return signatures on the monitor were inconclusive, at best. The captain was extremely dismayed by the results of Mr Kane’s radar demonstration and so he ordered a ship’s electrician, a man who had been trained by the manufacturer to service the equipment, to take over the radar. Despite his best efforts, the electrician also met with equally disappointing results with the radar. Frustrated with the poor radar data, the officer-in-charge immediately ordered the equipment secured and the men went back to using binoculars and monitoring radio traffic for the detection and early warning of approaching enemy ships and aircraft. Mr. Kane recalled that the officer who made that decision was a “mustang” or a naval officer who had worked his way up through the ranks as an enlisted man. The “mustang” officers Mr. Kane encountered skeptical of newer technology and therefore more prone to eschew newer tactics and devices and instead they relied more on time proven methods.

5. Mr. Kane was aboard LST 353 on May 21, 1944, in West Loch; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when a terrible explosion occurred aboard the ship which ultimately resulted in the deaths of 163 sailors and 396 wounded. LST 353 was tethered, side by side, along with six other ships as the group of vessels processed the loading of supplies and equipment intended for the Pacific island-hopping campaign. Mr Kane recalled that he and another sailor were relaxing inside the loading dock area after they had just completed their work shift of M.A. duty (master at arms, general cleaning and work detail). The two men were hanging around and casually observing the unloading of 105 mm mortar shells from an Army truck, which had just backed into the loading ramp, when the explosion occurred. The concussive force of the blast instantly ruptured Mr. Kane’s ear drums (causing permanent hearing damage), and sent him sailing through the air before it left him dangling from a railing on the side of the ship. Disoriented from the blast, deaf, and very much afraid, Mr. Kane’s arms eventually grew tired and he lost his grip on the ship’s railing. He then dropped several stories into the cold water below, narrowly missing hitting a metal beam by less than three feet. Once in the water, Mr Kane regained his wits, and swam around to the other side of the ship where the loading ramp was situated. Near the ramp, Mr. Kane discovered an Ensign (the lowest rank of a Naval officer) foundering in the water, apparently unable to swim. Mr. Kane grabbed hold of the drowning man and dogpaddled with him until he found something floating nearby to hang onto. Mr. Kane remembered looking up into the gaping maw of the LST’s two massive open doors and saw the entire loading bay of the ship totally engulfed in flames. The flames and billowing smoke were so thick that Mr Kane recalled that he was even unable to see the truck that had just backed into the stall immediately prior to the blast. Mr. Kane recalled that the bodies of six men, nearest the epicenter of the detonation, were never found, their remains apparently completely vaporized by the force of the blast. Of the seven ships that had been tethered together, only one survived destruction by the fire which spread quickly from ship to ship. Mr Kane remembered hearing the story of one decisive ship’s captain, who after realizing the inferno would eventually engulf his vessel as well made a fateful decision which ultimately saved his crew and spared the contents of the ship from the fire. The captain of the lone surviving ship ordered his crew to cut the tether lines and give the helm flank power. The ship’s engines generated enough power to speed the vessel free of the docking area and amazingly forced the ship all the way up onto the beach, leaving just a bit of its keel still submerged in the water.

6. The Navy had originally planned to send Mr. Kane’s task force to invade Taiwan, but other developments in the Pacific such as the battles at Leyte Gulf and Iwo Jima forced the military leadership to divert the massive flotilla group to Okinawa. Mr Kane recalls that it took the fleet of vessels, men and equipment more than six weeks to arrive at Okinawa. The fleet of ships intentionally delayed steaming straight toward the island for several weeks, and instead the group cruised around Saipan and the Philippine Islands, as they awaited the assemblage of the entire 10th Army task force before embarking on the invasion.

7. Mr. Kane vividly recalled his first impression of the island of Okinawa, remarking that, “It’s shaped like a fiddle, big on both ends and narrow in the middle.”

8. Mr Kane said that the U.S. Army made their initial invasion on the northern end of the island while the Marine Corps invaded at the southern end. “The Japs took off from the north and then went immediately to the south, and the Army took off after them… they got right on their tail. The Japs had orders to sneak around to the south side of the island at night on little boats.” Once the Army and Marines had pushed the Japanese resistance to the southern end of the islands Mr Kane recalled, “That’s where the fighting really took off…the Americans just hit a brick wall at that point.”

9. Mr. Kane recalled that his worst day of the battle came after he had lost his ship, due to an explosion and fire, and the Navy re-assigned him to a beach-master unit which consisted of 4 officers, one chief petty officer, and fifteen enlisted sailors, (the group’s alpha- numeric designation was B4D4). As part of this group, Mr. Kane said the worst day of the war for him was when B4D4 made their initial beach landing. Although most of the fighting had already moved south, Mr Kane remembered that it drizzled rain all day long as the group labored from before sunrise until well into the evening, setting up their beach markers and tents. The efforts of the men on that day were so exhausting that they eventually gave up on setting up their sleeping cots and simply laid down a sheet of canvas and went to sleep on the ground.

10. B4D4 used rods and canvas signs to demarcate the offloading zones for incoming transport ships. The signs typically read: AMMO, MEDIC, WATER, GAS, RATIONS and etcetera. As the beach-master group, B4D4 also had a group of African-American soldiers attached to their unit as laborers. Just a low, chain-link fence was all that separated the black and white sailors from each other, and they often traded cigarettes with each other. Mr. Kane recalled an incident where a black sailor was wounded fairly significantly, receiving a deep gash on his leg. Instead of simply hoisting the wounded black sailor over the fence and carrying him to an aide station less than 100 yards away the Navy leadership decided to place the injured black sailor in an amphibious tracked vehicle (duck) and float him about a mile or more around the entire staging area to get him to medical treatment.

11. Mr. Kane recalled a Japanese pilot the small band of Americans nicknamed, “Washboard Charlie”, due to the sound of his aircraft, who would buzz their area each day right around dusk. The plane never shot at them, nor dropped any bombs, but provided a source of harassment for the men.

12. Upon being asked whether he agreed if the United States should have dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, Mr. Kane remarked, “We had to do something drastic…the Japanese people had been so indoctrinated with the idea of not giving up that we had to do something big to convince them.”

13. One day, during some down time, Mr. Kane and a smaller group of men made an impromptu scouting incursion into the Okinawa countryside where they encountered an elderly Okinawan civilian who was starving. One member of the group of Americans, a Navy Seabee construction worker, wanted to shoot and kill the unarmed man, but Mr. Kane and the others, “would hear none of that”. The small band of soldiers took the man along with them as they continued to forage for war souvenirs and scouted a location in which to shoot their brand new Thompson 45. Caliber sub-machine guns.

14. Mr Kane showed off several items he picked up from the battlefield of Okinawa including a hand crafted abacus (used for calculating numbers) a Japanese mortar (approximately 60mm) a Japanese heavy machine gun round (approximately 20mm) and a Japanese hand grenade. It remains unclear if these items are safe or inert.

No comments:

Post a Comment