All personal stories are true and printed in italics as spoken.

After eight days of heavy naval bombardment against Okinawa, landings were finally underway. The invasion force consisted of Marine Major General Roy S. Geiger’s 3rd Amphibious Corps with its three Marine divisions (the 1st, 2nd and 6th) and four infantry divisions of the 24th Army Corps (the 7th, 27th, and 96th). The Navy would be under the command of Admiral Spruance. The Army would be under the command of Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner (10th Army). Landings would take place over five miles of beaches on the west coast of southern Okinawa. Although it was April 1st and Easter Sunday (not to mention, April Fool’s Day), Marines and Army troops storming ashore did not expect to find colored Easter eggs nor chocolate bunnies waiting for them. Instead, they found something even better, the beaches and approaches were deserted—nobody there. An April Fool’s Day joke, perhaps? Not likely. Not willing to leave well enough alone, they had to go looking for trouble. They would soon find it.

With no opposition, over 50,000 troops were ashore by late afternoon and were ready to advance. The marines were to head north and west while the army headed south. “Where are the Japanese?” was the question, as if anyone really was hoping for an answer. Soon the answer was apparent. The beaches intentionally had been left undefended. Japanese troops, hidden in caves, cement tombs, and fortifications, were well protected from the pre invasion bombardment.

By following a wall of heavy fire power from off shore and local artillery, defenders, when encountered, were quickly pushed back. By April 8 however, the U.S. forces were stopped cold at the first major Japanese defense line. Pill boxes with steel doors impervious to flame throwers and strongly prepared defensive positions with interlocking fields of fire and interconnected tunnels proved extremely difficult and costly to overrun. Thrown against these fortifications was the firepower of six battleships, six cruisers, nine destroyers and 650 Navy and Marine aircraft in addition to the Marines and soldiers on the ground.

For student nurse Miyagi Kikuko, even at her location far from the shoreline and behind heavy walls, this heavy shelling was making life difficult. She was graduating from the nursing school. We had our graduation ceremony in a crude, triangular barracks on the battlefield. While the bombardment continued, we knelt on a floor lit by two or three candles. It was so dim we could hardly see our classmates’ faces. “Work so as not to shame the First Girls’ High School” was the theme of the principal’s commencement address. We sang a song which went, “Give your life for the sake of the Emperor, wherever you may go.” Our music teacher, only twenty-three, had earlier written a song for our graduation. It was called a “A Song of Parting,” and was really wonderful. Not a war song at all. We’d memorized it while digging shelters. I especially liked the verse with the refrain “We shall meet again,” but there was no time for it at graduation. It was already after ten o’clock at night. Still, with the reverberations of the explosions shaking the ground, we sang it on our way back to our cave. The next morning that triangular building wasn’t there anymore.

In no time at all, wounded soldiers were being carried into the caves in large numbers. They petrified us all. Some didn’t have faces, some didn’t have limbs. Young men in their twenties and thirties screaming like babies. Thousands of them. At first, one of my friends saw a man with his toes missing and swooned. She actually sank to her knees, but soldiers and medics began screaming at her, “You idiot! You think you can act like that on the battlefield?” Every day, we were yelled at: “Fools! Idiots! Dummies!”

Now they (casualties) were being carried in one after another until the dugouts and caves were filled to overflowing, and still they came pouring in. Soon we were laying them out in empty fields, then on cultivated land. Some hemorrhaged to death and others were hit again out there by showers of bombs. So many died so quickly.

For the crew of the USS Emmons, there was neither terror nor suffering, so far, and as the 6th of April, 1945 dawned, no enemy had yet been sited. The word was that the invasion was progressing according to schedule and there was little reason to believe this day would be any different than the preceding days. In the pilot house, Quartermaster Third Class Ed Hoffman was getting all of the action that he had ever dreamed of as the Captain’s Talker to the engine room. The Captain in this case being Lt. Commander Eugene N. Foss. From his location, Ed had a good view of all activities and would be in the middle of any action that might be encountered. With him, in the pilot house, was the Chief Quartermaster at the helm and another Quartermaster keeping the log with two more enlisted men acting as talkers, one to the main battery and one to the repair parties. The Officer of the Deck was present but Captain Foss had the con (control of the ship).

What kind of feelings are going through the heads of those on the bridge? In Ed’s words: “normal apprehensions when facing combat. And thinking back on it, we didn’t know what to expect nor how to react—this kamikaze thing was all new—it wasn’t like shells coming at you or even bombing threats.” Since the ship was part of a enormous task force however, confidence was high.

Traveling alongside the Emmons was another destroyer also converted for high speed mine sweeping operations, the USS Rodman. These two ships had been operating together for almost two and a half years and had been in a destroyer squadron that been with the British and had the assignment of “bottling” up the German battle squadron in the North Sea. This meant such nasty duties as convoys through the North Sea and up into Russian waters.

After that frigid adventure, both ships took part in Operation “Torch,” the invasion of North Africa. They were part of a British and American force of 106 ships that put troops ashore at French Morocco and Algiers. This operation was deemed necessary to block any attempt by German forces to move on the Mideast oil fields via Egypt and to forestall any move by the Germans to take over French colonies. It would be a down payment on the second front that the Allies had promised Russia and would provide for an excellent dress rehearsal for the real thing.

In this operation, the Emmons and Rodman were becoming really seasoned and felt they could handle just about anything that came their way. Not so for two of the escort carriers under their protection. On the USS Sangamon, approximately fifty percent of the ship’s company were men who had never been to sea and about the same percentage had only been in the Navy a few months. On the USS Santee, the carrier’s air group had operated aboard only one and a half days and had only five experienced aviators. Only a bare handful of officers and men had previously seen salt water. Training was from scratch. Nevertheless, Operation Torch was a success and the task force that was assembled to launch it was able to return to other duties.

For the Emmons and Rodman, it was a quick return to the States and Boston only to be in port for one of the worst disasters ever to hit that city. On November the 28th 1942, a flash fire took the lives of 491 patrons of the Coconut Grove night club, many servicemen died and several men from the ship who happened to be nearby when it happened gave what help they could at the hellish scene.

The two ships would remain on stateside convoy duty providing escort service for such ships as the USS South Dakota when it returned from being heavily damaged at Guadalcanal. This duty was not hard to take after the rough seas of the North Atlantic and was more or less routine but with plenty of drills.

The Emmons’ next assignment was Operation “Overlord,” the invasion of France. The ship’s excellent gunnery record got her an invitation to a front row station taking the place of another destroyer that was damaged by a collision. On June 5th, invasion day, the ship supported the mine sweeping operation close to shore and provided cover for assault troops off Omaha beach. For the next four days, it was close-in fire support but on June 22nd, the ship switched to providing antiaircraft screening for the transports.

With the invasion of Northern France well under way, the Emmons rejoined her squadron joining up with the Rodman again to proceed to the second part of the invasion, that of Southern France (Operation “Dragoon”). As part of Destroyer Squadron 10, the ship provided antisubmarine and convoy protection for the the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, and, by the end of September were doing patrol duty at Marseilles. For the Navy, the invasion of France was just about completed so it was back to Boston for their next assignment. By now, the crews and officers of both ships had developed a bond of friendship that would not be easily severed.

At Boston, the two ships were converted into high speed mine sweepers for immediate duty in the Pacific. As large numbers of ships congregate, as with an invasion force, mines present a threat. The Japanese could be expected to seed large areas around Okinawa with mines hoping for a lucky hit on some battleship, carrier or troopship.

Although designated as minesweepers, the Emmons and Rodman were still fully operational as destroyers except their torpedoes and one five inch gun had to be removed for the new equipment. Additional anti-aircraft guns had been added but the five inch gun would be sadly missed.

The nature of war is such that hazards may develop that the captain and crew may not be aware of. Today was one of those days. Unknown to those aboard the ships of the sweep force, the Japanese High Command had its deadly retaliation of fighters, bombers and kamikazes ready for a major strike. Up to now the Japanese had been unable to do anything to hinder the buildup on Okinawa except for a few scattered kamikaze attacks or an occasional attempt to sneak a suicide boat through the protective patrol lines. Today would be different.

On this day, April 6, 1945, the Japanese were finally prepared to launch an attack (code name STRIKE 1) consisting of about 450 planes with 296 of them being suicide bombers. It would be the largest and most successful of the ten attacks mounted before Okinawa surrendered. The attack would be made by the kikisui (“floating chrysanthemums,” for the imperial symbol of Japan) and made up of mostly very young and dedicated airmen. Hardly more than a kid and having barely entered adulthood, twenty-one year old Flight Lieutenant Araki Haruo was one of these.