It was late afternoon – 18 months ago today – that we boarded our ship and got ready for sailing – the next day. We had taken a train from Camp Shanks, and then the ferry. When we got to the piers – we saw no evidence of a convoy, but the Aquitania was being loaded. Despite all the secrecy supposedly connected with the transport of troops, there was actually a band there – playing music as we marched the 200 yards or so from the ferry – to the loading spot. The Red Cross was there with coffee and donuts – but few of us could take the time or trouble for that – we were loaded down so with horseshoe pack, aid kits – in case of the medics, gas masks etc. For most of us – it was a question of getting on that damn boat and unloading some of our stuff. And although we joked a bit, etc. – we weren’t a happy lot. We knew we’d sail the next day – unescorted – and make a dash across. Not only that – but we knew we were going away for a long time. I know I wrote you a sort of serial letter during the trip, dear. I wonder how I sounded in that letter. I know how I felt.
And now – well that’s all gone by and I’m looking forward to that homeward trip as I’ve looked forward to nothing before this. I just can’t wait to get going – and yet – the more we stay here – the more the war in Japan develops and that’s O.K. with me. I took part in the initial stages of one major assault landing – and that’s enough for me.
Say that was a coincidence – meeting that volunteer whose brother-in-law is Joe Auerbach. Gosh – I hadn’t thought about him in 5 or 6 years. He was a helluva nice kid and went to the Law School after getting his A.B. That’s when I lost track of him. I ran into him a couple of times – but not when he was married. And Leonard Kane (né Cohen) was at School with us. We did sell mags together one summer in Conn. and had one swell time. He didn’t go to Graduate school – but into business – and I lost track of him for several years – until one day when I was a student and having a couple of months of medicine at the B.I. – I ran into him – as a patient. He had developed diabetes and associated thyrotoxicosis (toxic goiter) and was pretty sick. But he snapped out of it. I haven’t seen him since. I didn’t know any of the others you mentioned. It’s funny how you lose contact with old friends. In my case – it was due to med. school. And you lose your medical school friends when you go away to intern. Sometime after the war – I’ll have to pick up some loose threads.
And by the way, sweetheart, a thousand apologies for not remembering to ask you about your smoking. Do you mean to say you haven’t smoked since February? It’s hard to believe – hard to believe. But I think it’s an excellent idea – and honestly they say – or as the French put it – on dit – that you have healthier babies if you don’t smoke. Now I really don’t know much about such things, sweetheart, but I’m sure willing to help you give it a try; meaning by that, darling – that I love you deeply and that I find myself more and more thinking of you only in the most intimate of ways. Hang on – dear – hang on!
Well – I hate to stop right there – but what else is there to do. See you later, sweetheart, take care of yourself, love to the folks – and
|Battle of Sugar Loaf Hill, 16-17 May 1945|
Sugar Loaf Hill. A casual glance at the name might take your mind to one of those special squares on a Candy-Land board. You know, those special cards you draw where you move forward or backward a bunch of spaces – the Molasses Swamp or the Dew-Drop Inn or whatever - that add a little excitement to the game. It sounds sweet and happy, like a vacation destination for Strawberry Shortcake or a place where My Little Pony can prance and play. Sugar Loaf Hill exudes all that is cotton-candy nice and right with the world.
That’s what you might think. The real-life Sugar Loaf Hill is none of those things.
As the Battle of Okinawa (the final battle fought by the U.S. in World War II) worked through its second month, the Sixth Marine Division was tasked with moving down the west side of the island to sever Japanese lines and then move eastward behind the heights of Shuri. On top stood the bombed-out, shelled-out ruins of Shuri Castle, the visible part of elaborate network of tunnels and pillboxes that comprised General Mitsuru Ushijima’s main defensive fortifications on the island.
In front of the Sixth Marines stood three small hills, though “hill” is kind of a strong word as none of them was much more than 50 feet high. “But“, as Bill Sloan writes in The Ultimate Battle, “the identities bestowed on them by the Sixth Division Marines who repeatedly tried, failed, and tried again to take them would become synonyms for the most horrific struggle in the division’s history…Among those who survived the three hills, they are inevitably remembered at Horseshoe, Half Moon, and Sugar Loaf.”
For twelve (mostly rainy) days, the Marines fought the Japanese over this seemingly insignificant hillock, no more than three football fields in size. On eleven different occasions, the hill was assaulted. Men sprang into action, clamoring up the hill, only to be shelled and shot at with such accuracy and ferocity that they were forced to retreat. It became apparent that all three of these small hills would have to be taken together due to the covering fire each hill provided the others.
16 May 1945 proved to be an especially trying day, as four times the Sixth Marines reached the summit…and four times were driven back. Bob Sherer, a First Lieutenant, spoke to everyone’s struggle.The frustrating thing about those hills was that they just looked like barren little humps covered with tree stumps left by Navy gunfire. There was no outward indication of all the caves and tunnels inside.
The morning of May 18, 1945 provided the breakthrough. The First Marines were able to take Wana Ridge, which housed Japanese 75mm guns used to shell Sugar Loaf. This allowed tanks to be brought in, encircle the hill, and provide suppression along with artillery while Marines worked to dynamite and seal the caves. General Ushijima’s efforts to reinforce Sugar Loaf failed under intense American artillery, and the Sixth Marines stood atop Sugar Loaf Hill… never to relinquish it.
Sugar Loaf Hill, 18 May 1945
But the cost had been tremendous. Over nearly two weeks, regiments had been reduced to company strength, and companies to platoons. Many platoons were wiped out to a man. More than 1,600 Marines died in the fight for this 50-foot-high strongpoint, with another 7,400 wounded.
The fight for Sugar Loaf Hill would come to epitomize the brutal battle of attrition that was the experience not only in the fight for Okinawa, but in many far-flung island battles of the Pacific campaign.