The Last Day of the Emmons


The USS Emmons was one of thirteen naval ships sunk by Japanese aircraft while these ships were stationed as part of an early warning line between Japan and Okinawa during the Battle of Okinawa. This battle was actually the first phase of the Invasion of Japan. Realizing this, the Japanese decided to commit all that remained of their naval and air forces here in an attempt to make the capture of Okinawa so costly in ships and lives that the Americans would agree to a peace on terms acceptable to the Japanese military.

Against this backdrop of a massive commitment of forces including large numbers of suicide weapons and suicide personnel, this true account attempts to tell what the battle actually meant to the crew of the Emmons as well as to their enemies, who were mostly students selected from Japan’s finest universities. The Emmons’ crew would be facing heroic, well trained and determined opponents who were already resigned to death. On the island itself, American marines and troops faced equally determined forces resigned to fight to their death as many believed surrender to the Americans would bring horrible torture.


The idea for the Emmons story came about during a chance meeting between the author and Edwin Hoffman. When two old sailors started swapping war stories, it was obvious that Ed had a humdinger of a story. How often does a ship get hit with five kamikazes and how often does a sailor have two of them explode at his feet? Plus, Ed had accumulated a considerable amount of information dealing with the sinking and with the battle of Okinawa itself. Putting this information in a format for the Internet would not be all that difficult.

Ed, however, seemed a little reluctant to be the hero of the Emmons’ story since he felt that the injuries he suffered immediately after the ship was hit made him more of a liability than an asset trying to save the ship. While others were putting out fires, throwing overheated shells over the side and helping the wounded, he was just lying there. But, the act of Lt. Griffin carrying Ed down the ladder from the bridge while surrounded by flames and the act of his shipmates lowering him gently into the water to save his life did show what kind of a crew the Emmons had and even showed how the shipmates took care of one another. It seemed just about everyone aboard the Emmons was a hero.

For Ed, the most agonizing feeling of the whole experience for him personally was knowing that he was all right but realizing that his parents had no way of knowing that he was. It was three weeks between the announcement in the press of the Emmons’ sinking and arrival of his first V-mail letter at the home of his parents (written by a Red Cross gray lady from the hospital on Guam). Not usually mentioned in war stories is the suffering of parents and friends at home.

While most of the people in the world seem to have considerable knowledge about the Normandy Invasion off the coast of France, a relatively few, other than those involved, have that kind of knowledge about the Battle of Okinawa. Considering the differences in the length of supply lines and the number of aircraft that the Allies had to face, it is obvious, at least to the author, that considerably more importance should attached to this battle. And much more credit should be give to the navies involved, both Allied and Japanese given that most of the 7800 Japanese aircraft sacrificed were from the Imperial Japanese Navy.

In an effort to gain wider readership and therefore greater knowledge and appreciation for the efforts and sacrifices of those involved in this gigantic operation, the author attempted to generate interest by using personal stories where possible and to tell the story from the Okinawan and Japanese side as well as the Allied and American viewpoint.


The story of the USS Emmons is but one episode in the last great land, sea and air battle of World War II known as the Battle for Okinawa, code named “Iceberg.” The word “doomed” could be applied equally not only to the USS Emmons but to some 34 American ships that would perish here and some 368 that would be damaged in these waters in what was described as the “most audacious and complex amphibious enterprise” ever undertaken by the United States armed forces.

For Okinawa, a country with a long history as an independent kingdom of peaceful traders and a reputation for civility and hospitality, the invasion would introduce them to a new level of horror and suffering. Conquered by Japan in 1609 and only formally absorbed by the Japanese empire in 1869, the Okinawans were considered to be “insufficiently patriotic and loyal to the emperor” and were about to pay dearly for it. The Okinawans would be asked, not only to fight for Japan, but to sacrifice their lives in suicide in order to delay the advance of the Americans toward the home islands of Japan.

For the Japanese War Lords, this would be their most desperate hour as they moved into the final phase of the war with their introduction of “THE DIVINE WIND SPECIAL ATTACK CORPS” known to the Americans and the World as Kamikazes but more widely known in Japan itself as “Tokko.” These Tokko included not only the Kamikaze (suicide aircraft) but also the “Oka” (Cherry Blossom) or “flying bomb,” the navy’s Shinyo (Ocean Shaker) and the “Kaiten” (Turning of the Heavens), which was perhaps the most sinister of the suicide group. These would be Japan’s new secret weapons.

Volunteers were requested to man these craft but when the proper numbers were not stepping forward to join, the military high command resorted to using trickery to get young men into this service. When the general population of Japan became aware of this after the war, most would be horror struck on finding out what the military had done not only to the Okinawans but to their own citizens.

For Edwin Hoffman, Okinawa would bring an end to his short naval career. He left his home town of Berwick, Pennsylvania in May of 1943 at age seventeen and joined the United States Navy. Two and a half weeks out of boot camp, he boarded the USS Emmons and launched his career. After ten months of patrol and training in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, it was off to Operation “Overlord” (the Normandy Invasion). Ed watched from his battle station on D Day as the five inch guns of the Emmons pounded the mobile shore batteries at Omaha Beach.

After that action, it was off to Southern France and the second part of the invasion (code name “Dragoon”). Before Ed came aboard, the ship had been a part of many runs in the cold North Atlantic waters on convoys to England and into Murmansk, Russia and had taken part in the invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch). Through it all, the ship and crew had survived these battles without so much as a scratch.

The captain and crew could brag of more battle experience than most ships but were quick to admit that you had to be lucky too. As the ship passed through the Panama Canal and headed out into the Pacific, the crew was no longer the inexperienced young kids that started their voyage some two years earlier in Boston and were now thoroughly seasoned and ready to match their skills with anything that the Japanese could throw at them.

The term “doomed” could apply also to Miyagi Kikuko, a sixteen year old Okinawan girl. She had joined as a Student Nurse in what was known as the “Lily Corps.” These girls, ages fifteen to nineteen, were from the First Prefectural Girl’s High School and the Women’s Division of the National Okinawa Normal School. Kikuko was in her fourth year and was sixteen years of age. “We were so naive and unrealistic. We had expected that somewhere far in the rear, we’d raise the red cross and then wrap men with bandages, rub on medicine, and give them shots as we had been trained. In a tender voice we’d tell the wounded, Don’t give up, please.” The reality would be quite different.

For Japanese kamikaze pilot, Araki Haruo, life would be short, sweet but tragic. He knew of the importance of his assignment and felt the fate of Japan could well be in his and his comrades’ hands. In early April, he returned home unexpectedly from the Special Attack Plane training camp after having been given a special permission for an overnight leave. In his first words, “I have one request to make, although it’s selfish. I want to marry Shigeko, if possible.” For Shigeko, she was stunned. “I knew at that moment he was going to die.” Shigeko would live on after the death of Haruo but eventually would make the trip to Okinawa to visit the site where her husband of four hours had perished as he dove his kamikaze into the American fleet.

Tragically affected also was Nishihara Wakana an eleven year old girl living at home with her parents in Numazu City, Japan. When her brother returned home suddenly from the service, her family was elated. We were ready to retire for the night when the entrance bell rang. It was raining hard, close to ten o’clock. We opened the door and there was my brother! “Minoru-chan’s home!” We roused the house. We woke up Mother and Father . . . This would be his last farewell prior to his departure in a Kaiten.

When Okinawans awoke on April 1st the invasion day, they looked out to see what appeared to be a large city that miraculously had sprung up overnight. They were looking at a fleet of 1,300 ships and transports sitting off shore. This invasion—code named Operation Iceberg—would see the assembling of the greatest naval armada ever. Admiral Raymond A. Spruance’s Fifth Fleet was to include more than 40 aircraft carriers, 18 battleships, 200 destroyers and hundreds of assorted support ships. These were the ships that would land over 182,000 Allied troops and would start a ferocious shelling which the Japanese would call the “typhoon of steel.” The 100,000 Japanese and Okinawan troops dug in to defend the island were quick to realize that they were doomed, since surrender was out of the question. But, deep in natural and man made caves they would hold out for ninety days and, at the end, would see death and suicide on a massive scale. (continued)