The worst thing that happened in Okinawa was a typhoon that hit the island on November 22, 1945. Our camp consisted of a bunch of tents, which were flattened by the typhoon. We had to look for shelter. Initially, we took cover in a quonset hut, but then that blew away. Finally we moved into a tomb, which had numerous skulls staring at us. We knew that we were entering a tomb and were respectful of the remains that were there.
Despite the end of the war, the battle fleet went into Tokyo Bay while we sailed around outside Yokohama Bay and eventually went into the port the following day. We were told that if we wanted to “live dangerously” we could go on liberty for a few hours in Yokohama, which we did.
Everything looked deserted. We could see faces in windows and people on the road at a distance but they never made eye contact with us.
When the green light goes on, the jumpmaster slaps the first guy on the butt, signaling him to jump. The rest of us shuffle up as fast as we can, because once the first guy jumps, there can be no hesitation from the rest of the guys. You have to realize that the plane is flying 110 mph. Every second of hesitation puts you further off your drop zone, and into enemy territory.
Twice we were attacked by American planes. The first time was at night. An American P-61 “Black Widow” night fighter saw a large amount of troops on the ground and thought we were Germans. The second time it was daylight and we were attacked by an American P-47 “Thunderbolt.” There was an ammunition train in front of us. When he attacked he killed two German guards.
During the attack, we broke out of the rail cars into a field where we formed the letters “POW” with our bodies. For the rest of the day we had air cover. American POWs had the USAAF flying air cover, protecting us from both Germans and American.
One day, I translated a three-page handwritten document written by a Russian astronomer. It described how one could send up a rocket at a certain speed with a certain payload. It went on to explain that at a certain speed and weight, you could launch what he called a sputnik, to circle the earth like a satellite. Reading the document then seemed like science fiction.
I did not think anything of it until October 4, 1957, when the Russians launched Sputnik. Little did I know that the satellite I thought was science fiction would be part of the space race between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.
During the last year of the war, my mother hid two men who participated in a strike and who ran the underground in our area. One of them was the head of the police in a province south of Friesland, and the other was a train inspector who was from our village … If my mother had been caught hiding these two men, the Nazis would have burned the barn and the whole farm. And my mother? When someone was caught helping the Allies, they were shot.
We then returned to Ulithi where a Jap submarine torpedoed and sank the USS Mississenewa while it was anchored about 1,500 yards from us. The sky turned black from burning oil, and it rained black rain. We sent rescue boats for survivors from the oiler.
Most of the crew on the stricken flaming ship escaped and were rescued. We watched the ship break in half and go down. It left us with a sickening feeling. It could have been us. Subsequently, three Japanese subs were sunk the following day.
My scariest WWII experience in the Navy occurred when we were on our way to Seoul, Korea, through the China Sea, which had been heavily mined by the Japanese. The Navy had minesweepers in the area cutting mines loose and exploding each one as it was found. They were not visible from above the water despite their huge size, sometimes 10 feet across. They were laid so deep that you couldn’t see them until they bobbed to the surface. I’d pictured them in my mind as lying on top of the water, like in the movies. When the first one came to the surface I was amazed to see how large it was. No wonder one could blow apart a huge naval vessel. Very scary! Fortunately, we never hit one.