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5 Minutes of Hell - Poetic Reflections of the Battle of Okinawa and the Kamikaze attacks on the U.S. Invasion Force
The Battle of Okinawa also called "Operation Iceberg" by Allied Forces and "The Typhoon of Steel" by the Japanese forces, was one of the most devastating battles of World War II. Over 250,000 people lost their lives. The United States Navy suffered the largest loss of ships in its history with thirty-six lost and 368 damaged. It was also their the largest loss of life in a single battle with almost 5,000 killed and an equal number wounded. This battle was the peak of kamikaze attacks with hundreds of suicide runs on U.S. ships. The Japanese reported 2,944 Kamikaze planes lost. The attacks put at least 30 warships out of action. My Dad was on a warship in the middle of this battle.
My Dad was assigned to the USS Defense, a minesweeper. After clearing the way for the invasion force, they were assigned picket duty to protect the carriers and destroyers from air attack while they carried out air operations and fire support missions.
My Dad enlisted in the Navy when he was only 17. I believe for the love of his country.He was from a small town in the hills of southern Ohio. He had never seen the world beyond the borders of Ohio and Kentucky. I am sure he never imagined that one day he would be on a ship off the shore of Okinawa with the ocean on fire and kamikaze planes raining down all around him. If you can, put yourself in his place and imagine his thoughts and emotions and what he was witnessing. I can tell you one thing, it was burned in his memory forever. He related this story many times and it never varied except for the addition of some of the more gorier details when I was older.
Before the poem, I thought I would share what is on the back of this postcard my Dad sent my Grandpa. I had never "really" read it until today. You can read it for yourself below if you would like, but my Dad's penmanship is at times hard to decipher. Here's what he wrote:
This is what I am on. It's a small little ship don't you think so. Dad, This ships a part of me. I love it. For this I am ready to die. And for the things it stands for. The saying is, "Next to his wife a sailor loves his ship."
He wrote this poem after the battle in 1945. Maybe to help deal with what he had witnessed. It is really a snapshot in time. The details in his poem are pretty accurate according to Naval records and ship logs from the battle. LIke I said it must have been burned in his memory. He was always a great storyteller and could really paint a picture with words. One detail I remember him saying was, "the ocean was on fire". The ocean was on fire? Hard to comprehend the ocean being on fire when you're a kid. However, I think Dad and I both pictured the same scene.........hell.
My Father's Poem
5 Minutes of Hell
Carroll Williams -1945
We sail along horizon bound,
We never reach the end,
For every time we round a turn,
There's still another bend.
We sail along out o'er the sea,
Sailing to reach our destiny,
It is not known what it can be,
Death, perhaps, by the enemy.
The captain calls, and give us a talk,
And tells us things, not marked in chalk,
He tells of places we are bound,
And of the danger all around.
Says, "Keep aware, open your eyes."
You are responsible for all of our lives.
There're plenty of subs and enemy ships,
For heaven's sake don't make a slip!
We sailed on; nothing was seen,
Till we spotted a submarine.
We made some runs; nothing was hit,
He had given us the slip.
We steamed on to our rendezvous,
To join up with the convoy group.
They were headed for the isles of Japan,
Going to show them the meaning of messing with Sam.
Ahead we went, our minesweeping group,
A path to clear for the ships with troops.
Men that were to go ashore,
To flatten Japs like they were boards.
We cleaned up the area, waited around.
Marines went ashore; were mowing Japs down.
We went on patrol, a little to sea.
I'm glad there was someone praying for me.
April the sixth, a day on my mind,
A day to remember, the rest of my time.
The Japs came down, about 4 o'clock,
Dropping from clouds like showers of rocks.
Off went the alarm, our guns we did mount.
Planes coming in, we began to count.
One on the port, coming in low.
A suicide dive to wipe out his foe.
The plane is just about to hit.
The Jap, he must have lost his grip.
The plane shot up into the air.
The twenties marked him for their fare.
Our faces looked just like a bell,
We had knocked that Jap to hell.
Rejoicing was not yet to come,
Other planes were making runs.
Our guns we did then mount again,
Waited for the planes coming in.
A twenty then did open up,
Shot at a plane coming at us.
The plane was hit; it swerved around,
The pilot knew we were out of bounds.
He headed down, a long, low glide,
And hit a destroyer on the side.
We looked around, two more were to come.
We waited for them with ready guns.
The planes came flying out of the sun,
One on the stern, one on the bow;
Everyone thinking, "I hope God's my pal."
A hell of a thing, those planes coming in,
Living death flying on those wings.
The nerves of our stomachs were knotted and tight.
Every man's face was filled with fright.
One at the stern swooped in for the kill.
I'll bet that Jap had a hell of a thrill.
He took with him the trainers seat,
And knocked a few guys off their feet.
He crashed just on the other side.
A twenty threw lead into his hide.
The Jap looked up and with a scream,
Sank under the water, and was not seen.
The one on the bow was now coming in,
Swooping low like a flying fiend.
We poured everything at this flying plane.
He did not stop, for on he came
We shot him down, just off the bow.
The soud of his crashing was mighty loud,
A terrific explosion,
It shook the clouds.
A crash of lightening, the thunder roared,
Like flashing the hammer of the mighty Thor.
Some were wounded in the crash of the plane.
Their minds will never be the same.
Pieces fell upon the deck.
Concussion almost broke our necks.
We were a very happy crew,
Not a one had been slew.
We went to the rescue of a ship.
She looked like she was about to slip.
We picked up the crew, and took her in tow.
The rest of the story everyone knows.
We left for the states; it was on the eleventh.
Thinking of home was just like heaven.
We made a few stops along the way,
Got there on the 26th of May.
Leave was granted; we went home.
Twenty-six days we were free to roam.
Now it's over, it's the end of our time.
We're headed back out to sweep more mines.