Storming the ramparts
By LCDR Joseph D Haines, Medical Corps, USN
Only the Normandy D-Day invasion surpassed Okinawa in its scope, preparation, and forces employed. More than 548,000 Americans participated in the Okinawa invasion on 1 April 1945, an Easter Sunday. Curiously, there was virtually no resistance as they stormed the beaches. They soon discovered that the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy had literally gone underground, having spent a year forcing Okinawan slaves to dig their underground defenses. Eighty-three days of fierce combat were required to finally defeat the Japanese.
The newly organized American 10th Army conducted the invasion of Okinawa. The 10th, commanded by LTG Simon Bolivar Buckner, was composed of the XXIV Corps, made up of veteran Army units including the 7th, 27th, 77th, and 96th Infantry Divisions, and the III Amphibious Corps, with three batde-hardened Marine divisions, the 1st, 2d, and 6th. LTG Buckner's tactics were summarized by his statement, "The main thing is to lick the Japs. It doesn't much matter where or how we do it."
One of the most significant milestones in the Okinawan campaign was the taking of Shuri Castle, the underground headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Army. After 2 months of fighting the Japanese, the 6th Marines and the Army's 7th Division were moving south, nearing Shuri Castle. MajGen Pedro del Valle commanded the 6th Marines. Following a hard fight at Dakeshi Town, del Valles Marines engaged in a bloody battle at the improbably named Wana Draw.
The draw stretched 800 yards and was covered by Japanese guns from its 400-yard entrance to its narrow exit. The exit provided the key to Shuri Castle. The Japanese were holed up in caves the entire length of the draw and had to be eradicated in man- to- man combat.
While the Marines batded through the mud and blood up the draw, the Army's 77th Division was approaching Shuri from the east. To the west, the 6th Marines were pushing into the capital city of Naha. Faced with this overwhelming force, Japanese GEN Ushijima's army retreated to the south.
On 29 May, Able Company, Red Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, commanded by South Carolina native Capt Julius Dusenberg, approached to within 800 yards of Shuri Castle. The castle lay within the zone of the 77th Infantry Division, known as the Statue of Liberty Boys. However, GEN Ushijima's rear guard had stalled the 77this advance.
Impatient, MajGen del Valle ordered Capt Dusenberg to "take that damned place if you can. I'll make the explanations." Dusenberg radioed back, "Will do!" Dusenberg's Marines stormed the stone fortress, quickly dispatching a detachment of Japanese soldiers who had remained behind. Once the casde had been taken, Dusenberg took off his helmet and removed a flag he had been carrying for just such a special occasion. He raised the flag at the highest point of the castle and let loose with a rebel yell. The flag waving overhead was not the Stars and Stripes, but the Confederate Stars and Bars. Most of the Marines joined in the yell, but a disapproving New Englander supposedly remarked, "What does he want now? Should we sing 'Dixie?'"
MG Andrew Bruce, the commanding general of the 77th Division, protested to the 10th Army that the Marines had stolen his prize. But LTG Buckner only mildly chided MajGen del Valle saying, "How can I be sore at him? My father fought under that flag!"
LTG Buckner's father was the Confederate BG Buckner who had surrendered Fort Donelson to then-BG Ulysses S. Grant in 1862. The Confederate Battle Flag flew only 2 days over Shuri Castle before the Stars and Stripes were formally raised on 31 May. Dusenberg's flag was first lowered and presented to LTG Buckner as a souvenir. LTG Buckner remarked, "Okay! Now, let's get on with the war!" Tragically, on 18 June, just days before Okinawa fell, an enemy shell killed LTG Buckner on Mezido Ridge while he was observing a Marine attack.
Author's Note: Supporting fact as may be found in I. VCersteiris Okinawa: The Last Ordeal, Crowell Company. New York, 1968.