Stories from the Rock

Stories from the Rock: Okinawa in the late 50's and early 60's

Monday, April 11, 2005

Okinawa in the late 50's and early 60's

I was on Okinawa back in 1959 to '61, and again in '64., and
spent most of it exploring the island. I have some stories to
tell, and you have my permission to post as you like.

I was with H&S Bn., Camp Butler, but promptly went TAD to Camp
Koza for instruction in the use of explosives. While there, we
were shown some examples of how, and how not to blow up enemy
fortifications, bridges, etc.

Drive up the East Coast to Ishikawa, and you'll see an example
of how not to destroy a bridge. The retreating Japanese blew the
bridge to prevent Marine tanks from crossing, but actually
created a double apron ramp for the marines to cross. The
Marines just bulldozed some dirt into the breech, and made it
stronger than the original bridge. By '59 the dirt had washed
away, but you could still see how it was done.

We explored many caves and tunnels up north of Cam Schwab,
including some that are probably still being used to grow
mushrooms. These were not fighting tunnels, but were used by the
Japanese for storage, and artillery emplacements. They are hundreds
of yards deep with many side storage rooms. They were not blown
because you can't blow up a cave, or tunnel. You'll only make it
bigger by trying.

Camp Koza was just SE of the east end of B.C. St. in those days.
Of course, we all lived in quansit huts back then, but by '64
Futima had some brick bks. as did Camp Schwab, which was new
then. I just heard Camp Schwab is being closed down soon.

Anyway, another Marine and I are probably the only men who have
explored the wagonwheel tunnels complex under Shuri Castle. In
1960, we discovered an open Japanese pill box beside the road to the
University, about half way up at the switch back. We got several
rolls of kite string from the Kadena PX, a couple of G.I. issue
battle lanterns, and rubber boots, and went inside. We walked
for hundreds of yards in ankle deep water. There were many side
tunnels, but we had to be very careful because there were also
big holes you could fall into. We used long walking sticks to
test the water depth in front of each step we took.

We found these little cutouts in the side of the tunnel, and
each still had Japanese rifles, and grenades stored in them. The
rifles had all the wooden parts rotted away, and were so rusty
they were of no value. The grenades had the wooden stick rotted
out, and when we picked them up, we poured out what had been the
explosives inside them. It came out like a grey creamy gravy. I
shipped back about a hundred of them to my brother, and he sold
them to surplus stores in L.A. for $1.00 each. That was nearly a
months pay back then, and well worth the trouble.

At the time, we didn't know it was against regulations to enter
a tomb, but half way in, we started finding skeletons... lots of
them in the shallow water. There were thousands of them, and we
had been walking through them without even knowing it. They'd
crunch when stepped on, kinda like walking through dry kindling.

The other Marine, now dead, found several intact skulls, and
while I was collecting grenades, he collected skulls in his bag.
A week later, he got caught with them during inspection, and
almost got a court martial for having them. He smashed them up,
and put them in the dumpster, and didn't get to sell any of them
back home.

I wanted to know more about the fortifications there, so went to
see my 1st Sgt. who had been there during the battle. He said
they had bulldozed dirt over all the known openings, and dumped
1200 gallons of gasoline down the air vents up at Shuri Castle.
Later, they found survivors who said there were 20,000 Japanese and
Okinawans in the tunnel complex when the gas was set off by
grenades. They had all suffocated with the exception of a few
who escaped out of the pill box opening we had found.

Then I heard about She-She Omma, located about 1/4 mile south of
Cam Butler, and 100 yards off to the east of the highway. It's
an ancient castle fortress, and was a Japanese observation post
during the first hours of the battle for Okinawa. The Marines
captured their fist prisoner there. He had hid down in a crack
that no American could get down into. He came out when the
Marines told him in Japanese that they were going to throw
grenades in it. I couldn't hope to get in that crack, so put my
camera on a long stick, and shoved it down in there to take a
picture around the corner. It turned out my camera was out of
film, so I still don't know what's down there.

I used the same technique in that big rock cave on the golf
course at Kadena AFB. Right after you enter the Kadena back gate
at Koza, you'll go past the golf course. On your right, there is
a cave cut in a huge rock. I started working my way back in
there, but came across the biggest friggin' many legged red
thing I ever saw, and retreated. Didn't want that critter up my
pants leg, so took some photos with the stick trick, and sure
enough, there were many, many big red bugs down there. I
couldn't see any evidence of them, but Top said there should
have been four skeletons back in there. They couldn't get
them out after the battle, so left them in there to rot after
they tried to burn them up h gasoline.

I also did a lot of fishing from the cliffs at White Beach, and
from a boat in Naha Bay. You could hire a motor boat with guide
for $4/5.00 a day, and the fishing was great.

If you want a real treat, go to the South Docks at Naha, and
buy some baby octopus. They nail them to the wharf to dry, and
they taste something like chewy popcorn with a great flavor when
dried that way. Just bite off a little piece of each leg, and
chew, chew, chew it. Don't eat the squid, it smells and tastes
like shit. God it stinks.

I'd stay out of the caves on Sugarloaf Hill, and all of those
south of Naha. The U.S. shelled them so much that the caves are
unstable, and could cave in on you. I'd usually just take a look
inside, but they were blown to crap, and the Okinawans had
looted all the stuff out of them. Also, stay out of the
turttleback tombs. There is some Japanese stuff in them ,but they are
mostly Okinawan tombs, and they'll kill you if they catch you in
one of their tombs. Also, it's a crime to enter them.

There's a Japanese midget sub right off the beach on the Motobu
Point. I've been inside it, but the Okinawans had taken all the
brass stuff out of it.

Oh, did you know that a lone Japanese soldier was killed in 1956 just
north of Cam Schwab. He had been living in a Japanese supply cave
completely sealed off from the outside for 11 years until he ran
out of food. When the food ran out, he dug his way out, and
walked into town. On the way, he killed a 12 year old girl for
her dress. Apparently, he thought that was what people were
wearing. After the girl was reported murdered, an Okinawan cop
spotted this guy wearing her dress, and shot him on the spot.

So much for sea stories,


Ed Begley

PS: I've known Masahide Ota for many years. He's a former governor of Okinawa,
and once told that as soon as the Okinawans can get rid of the Marines,
they plan to secede from Japan. They know the Japanese won't fight them
for the island, and think that's why they keep the Marines there...
to suppress any revolt.


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