By Sarah Rohrs, Times-Herald staff writer, Vallejo CA.
Forwarded by 1stAdmPAO
April 1, 2005 - Sixty years ago today, a massive American military force invaded a small Japanese island called Okinawa and launched one of the fiercest battles of World War II. It's a day fewer and fewer veterans are around to remember.
One of those is Ken Barden, 82, of Vallejo, CA, who stood watch aboard an attack transport ship alongside the famous war correspondent Ernie Pyle, whose sensitive dispatches brought World War II home to millions of Americans.
Okinawa is often lost in the shadow of D-Day that launched the effort to defeat Hitler. “Many people don't realize Okinawa was the largest land and sea operation of the war - larger than Normandy,” Barden said.
Today's anniversary could very well go unnoticed. Local veterans organizations were unaware of activities, and a Department of Veterans Affairs spokeswoman said she was unaware of any national events.
The April 1 landing on Okinawa led to President Harry Truman's decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki - an act which eventually brought about the end of World War II, historians say. Located 350 miles south of Japan, Okinawa was large enough to hold a base for staging the invasion. The battle lasted 82 days, resulting in the deaths of 120,000 soldiers, and more than 150,000 civilians.
Barden, who was 21 at the time, said luck was on his side 60 years ago. Anchored quite a distance from the island, Barden and his crew awoke to a dark, cold and windy day. “Love Day,” the code name for the invasion on Okinawa, had begun. The USS Charles Carroll saddled up to a large chunk of corral reef, and the Navy set up transporters and took troops onto the island.
Barden and a colonel stood on the deck with Pyle, watching hundreds of U.S. Marines clamor across the beaches. The famous correspondent said little. He took a few swigs from a metal flask, and then handed it to the young lieutenant. Believing the flask held coffee, Barden took a drink and then spat out what he thought was probably rum or brandy. Barden watched Pyle leave and follow the Marines. “He gave me a little wave and off he went,” he recalled. Pyle was a slight, thin man who seemed profoundly weary and sad, Barden said. While on the USS Charles Carroll, he spent his time below deck with the soldiers.
The sense of impending doom that gathered on Okinawa all morning gradually lifted. Snipers killed a few soldiers, but the day's death toll was considerably less than expected. “I felt a tremendous sense of relief that the Japanese had pulled off the beaches. I realized that I would survive,” Barden said. “Even though I was wet and cold, I was grateful.”
Barden never again saw Pyle, who died 17 days later. After landing on the island of Iea Shimma, a Japanese machine gunner fired on a Jeep carrying Pyle and four soldiers. The group took cover in a ditch. The curious Pyle looked up and a sniper shot him in the head. On the road where Pyle died, soldiers erected a wooden sign that read: “At This Spot the 77th Infantry Division Lost a Buddy - Ernie Pyle.”
Three weeks later, Germany surrendered, and on Aug. 14, 1945 Japan surrendered. World War II was finally
over. More than 16 million Americans fought in World War II, but their numbers are dwindling quickly. Dying at an average daily rate of 1,100, just 3.9 million are alive today, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Barden said this year's USS Charles Carroll reunion probably will be the last. A 1994 reunion drew 300 people, but ten10 years later, only 60 came and half of those were wives. “A lot of them are in walkers and canes. It's sad to see the demise of the crew,” he said. Barden is fit and alert for his age. He is the emcee for Veterans Day and Memorial Day events at Westlake Gold Country senior living center, and he stays physically and mentally sharp through volunteer work and daily exercise.
Sixty years after Okinawa, Barden is amazed that the younger generation of today knows next to nothing about World War II. “Most of this generation is completely oblivious to the war,” he said.
Barden's memories of Pyle are part of The Soldiers' Voice - The Story of Ernie Pyle by Barbara O'Connor, a biography for young adults published in 1996.