Thanks to all the Luke Allgood’s
Dick Hodgetts; Columnist
A man who writes slightly amusing stories about our neighbors, has a real challenge in attempting a serious message concerning the heroism of those who defended our nation. Such is the challenge today. This is a story about a young man who leaves Georgia and goes to fight in the South Pacific in 1945. It is not a pleasant, nor jovial story. And, if you shed a tear or two in reading this, I did in writing it as well. And those who fought shed gallons of their blood, and they cannot recall these episodes without heart wrenching emotions. They are entitled.
In 1944, young men graduating from high school were registered with the Selective Service or soon would be. In Georgia, most of the boys in this category, had hunted, fished, fought with their brothers or others in school, and they could usually fix anything that broke. All these are skills they would need to survive. American Generals were publically shouting that America was not producing enough infantrymen to wage war against both Germany and Japan. The Allgood family had seven boys; six went into the service and three went in harm’s way to Burma, the South Pacific, and France. All returned home. One son cannot explain how he survived; we are fortunate he returned to Madison.
Luke Allgood took his physical, was sent to Fort McClelland for basic training, and seven weeks later was on his way to the war. Basic training was normally 13 weeks-our needs were great.
He embarks from Portland, Ore. Hollywood would show a new Liberty ship loading thousands of men and their material. The reality is a wooden ship from India with a Hindu crew, and a cargo of 2,000 somewhat ill US Army soldiers headed for Leyte in the Phillipines. The smell would knock you over and did.
In Leyte, the US had declared the island “secure”. That meant it was okay for airplanes to land on well-guarded airfields, but scores of Japanese snipers were still in the jungles hills willing to die for the Emperor. PFC Allgood and his comrades start to search them out. This is what we call “advanced combat training”; usually it is not live fire with the enemy involved. None surrender. They fight until they are killed, and in some rare cases they hide for decades. Then PFC. Allgood with his BAR and ammunition carrier are loaded up and head for Saipan. Again, the island had been “won”, and yet hundreds of Japanese infantry men continue to wage war. More of the same. PFC. Allgood has developed a reputation. He has leadership skills and that magical: “combat luck” he figures out a way to stay alive. For those who have not fought in combat, my congratulations. But to understand this scene you need to know that the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) guy was a marked man. He carried a heavy weapon that quickly became a lethal machine gun. The ammunition was heavy and usually an Ammo Carrier was assigned as support. Any enemy soldier wanted to kill the BAR operator as these guns could do a lot of damage very quickly. Usually the Ammo Carriers died as they followed the BAR and were slower to reach protection. Cpl Allgood lost two ammo carriers in the South Pacific. Each was a married man with children at home. Luke went to war weighing 138 pounds, his equipment weighed 70-80 pounds, the heat was wet tropical heat. If the enemy did not kill you, the bugs, disease, dysentery, and rot lined up to give you a shot at mortality.
On April 1st 1945, a fleet of over three thousand US ships appear off the island of Okinawa. This is a volcanic island that is considered to be part of the Japanese homeland. There are a considerable number of civilians on the island, Japanese civilians. It has 107,000 well trained, well motivated troops, who have built a network of interlocking tunnels and defensive positions across the island. The island is 8 miles wide and forty miles long. PFC. Allgood is part of a US Army company with 210 soldiers. Most have fought in Leyte, Saipan, and other islands. They too are well armed and determined. The US soldiers watch as the naval ships and aircraft bombard the island until it appears it will sink into the sea. The Japanese troops hunker down and wait.
The Imperial War Command has developed a strategy: the US will go home before suffering severe causalities. For the first time they launch hundreds of kamikaze planes at one time to target our fleet. About forty US Naval ships are sunk or battle damaged and lost to the invasion, as are nearly 5,000 sailors. The Japanese only functioning battle ship is sent to attack our fleet with enough fuel for a one way trip. It does not return home.
The 96th Infantry goes ashore to fight the battle for Okinawa. The entire battle force is unloaded and lands without opposition. On the fourth day, Hell breaks loose. The Imperial forces have scores of guns with every US position sighted in for full effect. Machine guns have been hidden is every culvert. Mortars are manned and ready for fast fire. The US forces have a mess of a battle on their hands. Fire is coming from every direction. Causalities mount with alarming speed. In Cpl. Allgood’s unit they lose four Captains and so many Lieutenants they stop counting. The sound is ear splitting. Everyone around you is shouting and dying. The dead pile up on both sides. It is hot, the smell becomes unbearable. Your friends die every hour-every single hour you lose someone you know and depend upon. The Japanese soldiers will charge you and expose themselves to certain death just to kill one enemy. It appears they are completely brainwashed, it also appears they are hopped up on opium-which they were. They still want to kill you. A small area is taken and you establish a defensive perimeter, then one or two Japanese soldiers pop up out of spider holes and shoot as many Americans as they can before they too die. And they all die, they never surrender. They are nuts.
At night, the American leaders attempt to organize from the days fighting. Corporals become Sergeants, and men receive battle field commissions. Cpl. Allgood becomes Sgt. Allgood.
The next day more of the same. The fighting goes from April 1st to July 8th.- America loses its commanding General Simon Bruckner, plus General Beasley, Colonels, and officers-to enemy fire. The Navy ships and naval air squadrons provide close, very close support. Then, Sgt Allgood is hit. He has shrapnel wounds in several places including his eye. The most painful metal is removed, he is given a patch over his eye, his BAR is taken away from him and he is given a flame thrower. It requires less vision. But, the Japanese know to target flame throwers for obvious reasons. A flame thrower is a weapon that has an effective range of thirty to forty yards. He is promoted once again to Sgt E-6 as American causalities mount, and he continues to defy the odds. He lives and fights on. He looks after new guys, he writes letters home to those who cannot write, he reads letters to those who cannot read. He buries them the next day.
The fighting lasts until July 8th. Essentially 107,000 of the Japanese soldiers die and a few surrender at the end of the campaign-these typically were Koreans or Okinawans pressed into service. Sgt Allgood’s Company has gone from 210 American soldiers to 36. Those non-Americans remaining are mostly Japanese civilians who have been told to kill themselves rather than surrender. Mothers and children jump off cliffs to keep away from our forces. Some civilians attempt to attack American troops with hand grenades. Put yourself in this scene. A kid comes at you with a hand grenade, do you attempt to defuse the situation or do you kill the kid? If you want to live, you kill the kid, or his Mother, or his younger brother. There is nothing in Western thought to deal with the insanity of the situation. This is what Japan is going to be like-it is the next invasion target. Over 130,000 Japanese civilians die during the battle.
After each island invasion, American officers evaluate the tactics and determine: what will the next fight be like? It is clear, the Japanese leaders have told their people to fight to the death. They will do as they are told. If as an American soldier, you somehow survived Okinawa, it is not likely you will survive an invasion of Japan. If everyone fights to the death, you simply have to kill them all. Everyone. Think about that statement: to survive you have to kill everyone. The Japanese simply do not operate with the same value system we have. To soldiers fighting against the Japanese they were simply nuts. The war was lost and they continued to fight to the death. Soldiers and civilians, soldiers hidden amongst civilians, civilians who have been told to act like soldiers, children who have been told Americans are some type of monster.
The American President from Independence, Mo. hears from his military and civilian advisors: if you use this new Atomic weapon we save 500,000 US troops and the Japanese population avoids 10,000,000 deaths. Harry Truman saves Japan from itself.
The War ends. Master Sgt Luke Allgood returns to Georgia. The informal veteran network tells him of an opening with Southern Bell. He marries the girl who has waited for him: Miss Ruth, who has known him since Sunday School in 1932 becomes Mrs. Ruth Allgood. They raise great kids. He cuts over the Madison phone system to dial service-the last area in Georgia to gain dial service. He is Mayor of Madison for years & years. He has three heart attacks, and even today still bakes a mean cake. Lunch is with friends at Madison Drug-where he is honored daily. He has earned it.
What I have described here is just a fraction of the sheer terror and chaos that was Okinawa. And, I have only attempted to describe the American experiences.
Luke Allgood and his comrades are why we have Memorial Day. We can never repay the sacrifices this generation made for us. It is why they are called: America’s Greatest Generation.
Printed in the May 28, 2009 Edition.