National Geographic : 1945 Oct
Okinawa, Threshold to Japan BY LT. DAVID D. DUNCAN, USMC VISIBILITY over the western Pacific was zero. Rain swished past the win dows as we roared from Guam toward Okinawa. The pilot held the giant plane low, nearly clipping the crests of the waves. Suddenly the wheels unlocked with a rumble, our plane banked, engines thundered, and in we went, splattering mud, scaring horses, and skidding to a stop. The Yontan Airfield on that blustery April morning gave truth to all the dire stories I had heard of Okinawa. Now, months later, most of us are wonder ing where such dismal reports originated. We are inclined to believe that it was from the Jap himself. We feel that Okinawa is the most scenic island with the finest climate of any the United States has taken in the Pacific war. Okinawa is not a big place; it is only 70 miles long and averages about 7 miles wide.* If placed on a map of Florida, it would cover little more than the stretch of sand be tween Palm Beach and Miami. It has approx imately the same north latitude as those two resort cities. The East China Sea, which sprawls between us and Shanghai, vibrates with the same incredible blue as the Gulf Stream. However, there is one tremendous geo graphic difference. Were we to fly about 400 miles north, instead of visiting Charleston, South Carolina, we would be in Nagasaki, Japan. As a base for the knockout of Japan, Oki nawa was of high value. Fighter planes and bombers from our many fields could strike in three directions. By-passed Formosa f lay paralyzed only two air hours to the southwest. Four hundred miles separated us from the Jap occupied mainland of Asia. Up north loomed Kyushu, one of the heavily fortified and indus trialized Japanese home islands. Island Reminds Americans of Home Okinawa reminds nearly every man of some spot close to his heart at home. Whether from Maine, California, Tennessee, or Virginia, he finds sections which look familiar to him. Eventually, my bet is that Okinawa will re main one of our mightiest Far East bases and become a vacationland. Flying with Marine artillery control planes behind Jap lines, I had many opportunities to look over the southern end of the island where the Japs were making their final fanatical stand. Except around flattened Naha and the front itself, ripped by mortar artillery, naval shelling and bombing, this densely pop ulated section remained practically unmarred. Farms were small, not more than an acre in area. We flew over a vast patchwork quilt of yellows, greens, and browns. Square patches in the pattern were the fields where rice, wheat, and vegetables grow; the background was the rich red soil of Okinawa, and the fringe the unbelievable blue of the East China Sea (Plates VII, XV). Each tiny farm looked freshly raked and immaculate, yet not a soul was to be seen. It was the same over the farms of Jap-held Bougainville, New Ireland, and New Britain. Crops seemed to sprout, grow, and be har vested by magic. Just how the Japs concealed themselves from aerial observation while farming was one of the mysteries of the war. North of Naha the picture changed com pletely. Americans were everywhere, except for the Katsuren Hanto (peninsula) and a few refugee centers for Okinawans. The northern part of the island teamed with Marines, Sea bees, soldiers, and hundreds of thousands of tons of equipment. SBulldozers, steam shovels, scrapers, and other equipment were lifting the face of Oki nawa, scratching airfields across its surface. Seabees and Army engineers were blasting and bulldozing four-lane highways the length and breadth of the island (Plate II). Not a day went by but there was some dras tic alteration in the countryside. Frequently Marines returning from the front lines got lost in places where they had known every hut, lane, and tree. My favorite spot on Okinawa is Hedo Zaki (cape), the northern tip of the island. Penny sized fields of wheat creep right out onto the cliffs that knife up from the sea (Plates VI, IX, XIV). Scrub palms border each garden. The heart of Hedo Zaki is a jagged, heavily timbered, cloud-capped pinnacle-formidable, but beautiful as a lonely pagan land. Here is where I'd like to build a home after the war. Perched on the crest, its windows would open over the Pacific on one side and face the evening sun sinking into the East China Sea on the other. Of all the places I have seen, Hedo Zaki is the most romantic. * See "Peacetime Rambles in the Ryukyus," by William L. Schwartz, and map of Okinawa, on page 545, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, May, 1945. t See "I Lived on Formosa," by Joseph W. Ballan tine, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, January, 1945.