OKINAWA -- In many ways, Okinawa was even worse than Iwo Jima. Nearly 8,000 kamikaze attacks sank 36 American ships, the most in any battle. On land, it was the muddiest, bloodiest, most brutal combat ever experienced or imagined.
But somehow, Okinawa was overshadowed at the time by the Mount Suribachi flag raising picture in March, Germany's surrender in May, the massive fire bombings of Japan in June and July and the atomic bombs in August.
The lesser attention to Okinawa was good news to our leaders in Washington, because to those who did pay attention, the losses on Okinawa were unacceptable and forecast even worse to come.
U.S. casualties were the highest in any Pacific campaign. The fighting resembled the trench warfare of World War I. In the battle of Sugar Loaf Hill, more men were killed per square foot than in any other battle of the war. The Navy lost more of its men than in any other campaign. A third of the civilians on Okinawa lost their lives. And it was the only Pacific battle in which both commanding generals lost their lives.
Controversy also raged around this battle. For starters, the invasion began on April Fools Day, an irony that wasn't lost on the troops. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, who commanded the Army on Okinawa, made the decision to grind it out against the enemy instead of fighting a tactical battle as the Navy and officials in Washington wanted. It cost us dearly in terms of lives.
It also cost in terms of the soldiers' mental health. As the brutal battle continued, attitudes hardened. Soldiers became more cruel. The fighting degenerated into a "kill everyone; take no prisoners" mind-set on both sides. The locals eventually became the greatest victims of this situation.
Okinawa was the first battle fought on Japanese soil and the enemy was determined we would go no further. If they couldn't stop us, they wanted to inflict such heavy losses that the American people would say the war could not continue and that we must agree to some sort of peace terms.
The attitude of the American people was very important in this war. Unlike today, taking continuous polls was not necessary. At that time, America had a much better method of taking the public's pulse.
You see, taxpayer money did not finance the war. Americans financed it directly out of their pockets through buying war bonds. Eight separate drives were conducted during the war. They involved everyone down to elementary school children, each of whom had a stamp book.
I was one of them. We bought little red stamps for 10 cents apiece and pasted them in a war bond book. When we got $18.50 cents worth, we traded them in for a bond that would be worth $25 in 10 years. The stamps were sold at school. As I recall, the secondary school students bought 25-cent stamps that were green.
They let adults play too. Bonds also came in bigger denominations for them. The seventh war bond drive was the biggest. James Bradley describes it well in Flags of Our Fathers, because the three survivors, one of which was his father, were used to promote the drive.
That drive met its $14 billion goal. The United States had a population of 160 million people at the time. That means almost every man, woman and child in the nation had to average $100 apiece at a time when the national average personal income was $1,700 a year. It was less than a decade after the Depression. Bradley notes that a hotel room in New York City cost $3 at the time, and breakfast was 32 cents.
The American people came together on that war and provided the support necessary to win it. In fact, they were a vital part of our victory.