WWII Memoirs – 1945 – You See Things In War That You Can Never Unsee

First Marine Division Cemetery

First Marine Division Cemetery

I was seated in the uncovered bed of a military truck, returning to camp from a work detail. We had been on the Island only a few days and were still getting our camp established. Everything was new and we were curious about our strange surroundings and the many activities of the military. But we were not prepared for what we were about to see in the next few moments.

Up ahead I saw a bulldozer was gouging a trench in an open field. As we got nearer I saw several workers with a covering over the lower part of their faces. And suddenly I realized why. The most awful stench of decay I have ever experienced almost overwhelmed me. Then I became aware of the row of lifeless forms laying on the ground. They were dead soldiers and these remains had probably been on the battlefield for some time, before being brought here.

I stared in disbelief. It probably was the most unsightly scenes I had ever witnessed. My gaze was fixed on it for only a few moments, but it is a sight I can never “unsee.” Fortunately, the truck I was in kept on moving.

By now I realized that we were witnessing the first excavations of a new military cemetery. Later we heard that It would be named “The First Marine Division Cemetery.” But that day it did not have the appearance of an official burial place. The ground was cluttered with equipment, workers, freshly turned soil, and lifeless forms. A feeling of disorder and disquiet prevailed.

As we drove off, my shock and revulsion were gradually replaced by sober reflection.


First Marine Division Cemetery, Okinawa

The graves registration people would handle the deceased with dignity and care, and they soon would be interred. But to the pathetic figure out on the ground, who was already losing all semblance of this former self, it would not matter. Part of him was already returning to the soil.

And the folks back home? Service protocol, no doubt, had been followed. Telegrams and condolences have been sent. Perhaps a serious, sympathetic officer in full dress uniform had already paid the Services’ respects to the “next of kin.” Applications for survivor’s benefits would be filed later.

We were bivouacked only a short distance from the cemetery, so we were able to watch as new crosses and stars of David were added. Eventually the number would reach 1,500.

I sometimes wondered how many of the young guys under those crosses were among the marines that had shared their meals with us when we first arrived on the island. And I wondered how many had little children back home who would never see their Daddies. And I realized that none of those Daddies would ever feel the joy of their own families again.

I know that that cemetery is filled with brave, heroic men who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. And that this is one of our truly hallowed places. But looking back today, those rows of crosses increasingly remind me of wasted lives and the mindlessness of war.

Next Entry: WWII Memoirs – May 1945 – A Desperate Enemy, The Raid at Yontan
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