A Date with History (AKA Ernie Mansfield, World War II veteran)
By Alice Lin
I walked into the American Legion Post 282, a little wet and unsure of myself. The room was full of smoke and chatter with half the people at the bar. A dance floor away, the other half was playing cards at a table. Most of the veterans in the pace turned to look at me, a small Asian girl, too young to be one of them. I must have reminded many of them of the women they saw in World War II, Korea, Vietnam (one of the vets asked me what nationality I was). I asked for Ernie Mansfield and some of the men not playing cards pointed him out as one of the card players. He finished his hand and we went to talk at a table away from the card players. This seemingly healthy and genial man immediately lit up a cigarette (he extinguished one when he left the card table) and I offered him one of the cookies I brought along. We chatted for a minute or two about generalities and then got started. I asked him to be patient since this was my first oral history and he warned me that he might not remember too much since it had been over fifty years since the war. "That's OK, we'll just talk," I replied as I turned on the recorder...
My name is Richard Ernest Mansfield but everyone calls me Ernie Mansfield and I was born in Laporte, Indiana. I will be 74 on March 18. I'm one of 13 kids and I think right now there are seven still living. I'm next to the oldest---second oldest.
What did your parents do during the wartime?
During the wartime? Oh, my mother was a housewife and my father was a hairspinner.
What's a hairspinner?
A hairspinner? He takes cattle hair and spins it into rope. He did this for 47 years (wow), mm-hmm, that's what he did. And after he retired, he was a farmer in Indiana.
Then how did you end up in Ypsilanti, MI?
I was sent down through Hines Hospital in Chicago, the Veterans Hospital and I wound up at the VA hospital here and I've been here for the last 35 years.
What did you do, occupation-wise?
You mean after the war? I drove semis cross-country for 30 years, I was a truck driver.
Do you have a family?
Oh yes, I've got, uh, 3 girls and 2 boys (grandchildren?), Uh, yeah, about 15 of them. Great grandchildren, last I knew, about 5. All over the country.
Can we start talking a little bit about the war itself?
Well, it depends on what part of the war you want to know about.
Well, ok, you told me that you were stationed in the South Pacific.
Well, why don't we just start at the beginning. I enlisted the day I turned 17 in 1942. I enlisted in the CB's. What's that? CB's? It's a part of the Marines and Navy. It's a construction battalion...or combat. Is it official construction or combat? Well, it's stevedores, it's construction, it's combat, it's maintenance...it's everything. In other words, we're like the Army engineers if you know what they did. We build airstrips, docks, boats, landings, all that stuff. I took my boot camp at Williamsburg, Virginia. From there, 8 weeks later, we moved to, uh, Davisville, Rhode Island, and from there we went to Port Wainimi, which is where we shipped out from California. And like I say, I was in the South Pacific. I was with the combat battalion. I lucked out, I got a combat battalion...and we were CB-Marines. We were CB's attached to the Marines so we could wear either Marine uniforms or Navy uniforms...either way, didn't make any difference. And when we went over, we landed on Guadalcanal---it was our first invasion. Don't ask me the dates anymore, I can't remember. You can look it up. Let's see, from Guadalcanal, we went down to the Hebrides Islands. When we came back from the Hebrides, we went to New Zealand for R & R---that's replacement and rest and repair---from there, we reestablished and we hit Saipan. We left Saipan. We hit Bougainville.
I'm sorry, where's that?
It's in the South Pacific.
Are these all just small islands in the South Pacific?
Yep. We had to clean them on our way to... going to Japan. In other words, there were Japanese on 'em...and we had to take these islands on our way to ending the war by going into Japan. And then from Bougainville...onto Iwo Jima.
So then were you one of those soldiers who lifted the flag?
No, I didn't. I didn't lift the flag. When the flag was lifted I was only a third of the way up the mountain. I was just a third of the way up. After Bougainville, uh, Iwo Jima, we went back to a little island they called Pettilu Island. It was a recreation-based for Navy and Marines where they just rested and regrouped. And then we made the big invasion to Okinawa. (pause) Well after Okinawa, why it took us thirty days to get back to the States on an old Dutch ship where we ate cheese...cheese sandwiches and coffee. Thirty days, that's all we had, cheese sandwiches and coffee. You must have gotten pretty sick of the cheese...Heh...(laughing)....I still like cheese! Really? Yes! Well anyway, we got into San Diego around midnight and the next morning they had our leave papers ready for us...Get out of here, take thirty days and go home. And that was...just before Christmas. So I went home and I spent my thirty days at home, went to Great Lakes, they sent me back home 'til I got my discharge. And I was discharged January 31, 1946. That's when I got my discharge. So you see, that's a long time ago...you go way back...it is a long time ago. But I finally got my discharge. Now, I'm a disabled veteran...I got a pacemaker, I got wires in me, plates in me...But if there's anything else you want to know, just ask away.
OK, well, it sounds like you've seen a lot. So if I could just delve a little bit and if you remember things, we can talk about it. For instance, what was your feeling about the war before you first enlisted? What was your perception of the war?
Well, that'd be hard to say. The war was going for a year before when I went in. I was just a young kid and I thought it'd be new adventures. Well, when you go into boot camp, you get to shoot guns, play with grenades, all this stuff...you know it's actually a lot of fun! You learn a lot. But when that first bullet comes at you, you're scared as HELL. You are scared to hell when that, you hear that first bullet coming in. The ones that hit you, you never hear, but the ones that whiz by, they sound like hornets going by.
Did they prepare you at all for your first battle?
Oh they just tell you that it's going to be altogether different from training. And everything you learn in training, believe me, when you hit that first beach, you forget it.
You're like an ostrich....you try to bury your head in the sand... And not get hit? Right. That is exactly what you try to do. You try to save your life. You want to come out alive.
Apparently you did a very good job of that.
No, not too well. I got banged up. But I got back in one piece. But anytime you go in on a new invasion, you know there's going to be a lot of them killed...can't be helped. And you just pray that you're not one of them. When they say "over the side," from then on 'til you hit the beach, you don't know what's going to happen. You just get in on that beach as fast as you can get there. And find some cover.
So, going into battle, made you grow up a lot?
You grow up fast. You grow up real fast.
You went in at 17 and by the time you were discharged, you were about 21...
I was just turning 21...I hadn't quite turned 21 when I got out.
How old did you feel?
'Bout 90. (laugh) See basically, I try to forget about the war. People around here get talking about the war and I change the subject. To me, the war is over. Done. We won World War II. With Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm...those weren't wars, they were conflicts. They were just some ways of killing off Americans and their allies. Haven't gained a thing by any of it.
Can you explain what you mean by that?
Well it's simple. If they had a war, they go to war to gain something. All right, Korea...they didn't gain anything. North and South Korea are still fighting. All we gained over there was losing a lot of merits. Vietnam...they couldn't shoot anything like we could in World War II. You see anything in front of you in World War II you killed it. In Vietnam they couldn't. It was altogether different... it was a conflict. When they went to Saudi Arabia. That was no war...that was, uh, more of ground protection, is what it was. That's all it was.
So what do you feel that America gained by fighting in World War II?
World War II? Well the only thing they gained was supremacy. It just proved to the rest of the countries that nobody is as strong as the United States. That's all it proved.
Do you think it was worth it, then, to fight that war?
Oh yeah. (a guy comes over and steals a cookie...."I wasn't a World War II veteran but I'm going to steal a cookie"...we all laugh) Uh, it's kind of hard to answer that question really, because when you come right down to it, what did we really prove? If we hadn't gone in, and fought the Germans, and fought the Japanese and won, they'd be over here killing American kids, raping our daughters, having their ovens and fires going like they did in Germany---they'd be right here in the United States doing it---and you wouldn't have a country. That's exactly what it is.
What about the war in the Pacific?
Same thing. If we hadn't stopped the Japanese---if they'd a kept coming when they hit Pearl Harbor, they'd have come right on in to San Francisco. That was their mistake. If they had kept right on coming in, they'd been fighting right here on United States soil. For some reason or other, they didn't fulfill it. And that was the Japanese big mistake. They got the Americans mad and they went after them. And we got 'em.
Can I ask you what your perception of the enemy was? How did you feel? What did you think of them as?
(Pause) Termites. Termites? Termites. Now, you want to know the reason for that? They lived underground. They had tunnels built all over those islands. They'd bomb an island for six months at a time before invading and when they invaded, the Japanese would come right out of them tunnels. Didn't even hurt them. See, that's what termites do... they live underground...rodents. They live underground. There'd be a mountain on this side, and the way they had it undermined, you might come out over here six, seven miles away where they had undermined and living quarters. They had everything underground.
What was the social perception of them at the time?
There wasn't any. Nope, either you kill them or they kill you. That's just the way it was. There was no social life over there at all. You never see any social life. Now after we secured an island, we had outdoor movies and everything brought in for the troops. But you'd be sitting watching a movie and if there were a sniper up somewhere, they'd kill one or two men watching a movie. They were just like the Germans, they'd just as soon kill you as look at you. And they did a lot of torture to these Americans. And that's one thing I say is that the Americans never tortured. But your Germans tortured, your Japanese tortured. I've seen Japanese soldiers toss babies up in the air and catch them on their bayonets. I know, it's hard for you to hear that but it's the God's truth. They do that. They disembowel men, they hang 'em up and disembowel them. Drive bamboo under your fingernails, burn ya, take your tongue out.
And they did this to all prisoners, anyone they ran into?
Depending on what information they wanted. Now like your American aviators. They got the worst of it because they wanted to know where the airstrips were...they'd do anything to find out that information. Where the aircraft carriers were...they'd do anything to get that information. They starve ya, only eat rice, watered down soup. That's what you'd get...or whatever you could steal or pineapples, coconuts---whatever you could pick out of the fields and eat. When we went on an invasion, all we had to eat for two weeks was coconuts. Couldn't get no food ashore. Then what we carried in our packs and we went. We ate coconuts for two weeks. Do you still like coconuts?
NO. I hate coconuts. But that's basically the way things were. It's rough.
You basically went island hopping...(with the CB-Marines, yes) what kind of communication did you have with those at home.
None. Letters...mail...that's all we had. There were times when we didn't get mail for six months but then we'd get a whole stack of it. We corresponded with the girls we had met at the USO, the Hollywood canteen. Basically we'd try to find a USO or something like that to go to.
You mentioned that they had outdoor movies (oh yeah), what kind of movies do you remember seeing?
Well, they didn't show us war movies believe it. I remember on Bougainville, Jeannie Crane's brother was in our outfit---did you ever hear of that actress? Well she starred in "Home in Indiana" and as soon as we got our theater built, we were the first ones to ever see that before it was ever released on the streets in the United States or anywhere else. We got it first. We were the first ones to ever see it. And your theaters over there...where they were built, it was kind of fantastic. You've seen outdoor theaters over here, right? On the islands though, you got a row of seats here, make a dike, set another row of seats above that, like stepping up. Like an amphitheater. And they're all made out of coconut logs. That's what they were made out of---coconut logs with coral holding them up. They make it in a circle (gesturing a half circle) and you could get seven, eight hundred men in there at a time. But they didn't want anymore than that because if they ever come on by and invade at night...they get them all. So basically they would be sea pictures, Bob Hope pictures, well, they had Bob Hope over there sometimes. Jerry Colona, Frances Langford, USO tours. After things were completely secured, they'd come over and bring the USO tours for us. But other than that, they wouldn't let them on the islands. Too much danger of people getting shot. But after we secured an island, the Army would come in, occupy it, maintain it. They'd maintain the airstrips we built, a kitchen would be built. Why shoot, they'd have movies and [it was] just like a little city on the islands.
Then did you see a lot of romances and comedies or what?
Well, more comedies and romances than anything else. You know you go over there and guys are fighting every day...they don't want to see gory movies. They see enough of that gory stuff lying around on the ground every day.
Did the Navy or Marines ever show you training films or documentaries?
Oh we did that, we had those in basic. Before we ever went overseas we had all those films. There ain't much to tell about them, they show you aerial bombing, they show you combats, landmines, how they lay and they teach how to throw grenades and how to shoot a weapon. That's basically all there is. Training films and there were obstacle courses too. That was to build you up because if you didn't have those to keep you in shape, when you would hit an island, you'd be tired out before you get there. One interesting thing though, on Bougainville, they had three live volcanoes. Oh it was fun. We'd sleep on a general hammock at night---or a cot---and these volcanoes would rumble and they'd actually shake you out of your bed. See they were coming alive from bombs being dropped down into them on bombing missions---they tried to liven them up.
What was the worst battle you were ever in?
The worst? Iwo Jima. The sands of Iwo Jima were just the worst. You couldn't even dig a foxhole on that island...it was volcanic ash. And as fast as you'd dig a hole, it'd fill up. Well, you've been on a beach? You see how how beach sand will fill up a hole when you try to dig it? That's worse.
Then how did you manage to get on the island and get yourself under cover? You didn't. You just burrowed as deep as you could in it and that was it. You got off the beach as fast as you could get off. 'Cause if you stayed on that beach, you'd get slaughtered. We lost a lot of men on Iwo Jima. We lost a lot at Okinawa, too. If I'm not mistaken, at Iwo Jima we lost about 15,000 men. Course the Japanese lost about 60,000 men on that island. We lost about 12,000 on Okinawa and the Japanese---30 to 40,000 they lost there. A lot of them we buried right in caves up there...never did get out. Rather than going to caves and dig em out, they sealed em up. It's---it's rotten. As far as I know, they're still in there today. 'Cause they claimed they'd never dig em out. And Okinawa now is a running city---they got a college there. I was talking to a Japanese Okinawan gal that was in here last week. She comes in here and she says, "It's just like San Francisco, all built up." You never know. Someday I'd like to go back and see it but I never will. I'll never make it. Now you're from where?
My parents are from Taiwan.
I thought you were from somewhere around there.
I was born here.
You were born here? OK, nothing wrong with that.
Did you ever go back to the South Pacific after coming home?
Well, as far as I got was Hawaii. That's as far as I got to the South Pacific. And I didn't enjoy going back there. Why not? When you've seen the death and destruction over there when the war started, the battle ships buried in the harbor, you'd understand.
You went back to Pearl Harbor to see the memorial there?
Yeah, they had a memorial there. That was it...and we came back. I never want to live over there. I'm not interested in going over there. I just don't care for that. We got some guys here, they love to talk about the war. Me---I don't. I usually shy away from it and walk away. To me, I went through it, it's over, let's forget it. That's the way it should be. Why keep it inside of you, festering inside of you? All it will do is drive you nuts. That's why these guys go berserk. That's why they're in the hospital in the nut wards. They let it prey on their minds. Instead of going out and doing something productive, they sit and brood and think about things. Next thing you know they're out there killing somebody or ready to commit suicide. It's their own fault. I see these Vietnam veterans---they've been playing it to the hilt. Vietnam, Vietnam. OK, sure, Vietnam had a little hell---it was different from World War II. But hell, World War II, we lost a hundred sixty thou---no, two hundred forty thousand men. They lost fifty-four thousand men in Vietnam. There's a lot of difference. We had jungle fighting---so did they. But they could only shoot at certain things, that was their problem. Anything that moved in front of us was gone---we'd blow it away. That's the only difference between Korea, Vietnam, and World War II.
What did you think about the government? Like, our government, the U.S. government during the war?
Well, if Roosevelt would have stayed in there and lived, it was good. Ike went in, he did a good job. The government today---it stinks. It absolutely stinks. All it really is a bunch of politicians up there fighting back and forth amongst themselves, "Well I got more power than you've got." You take Gringrich. He wants Clinton out of power so he can take over. Get him in there and it'll be worse than ever. It's just like here, in Michigan. You take the governor here---he ain't worth a damn. All he's doing is taxing you to death. Michigan's the worst taxed state there is...it ain't worth a damn. So what do you do about it? I don't know---not care about politics? I don't care about them either. I won't even go and vote anymore. I won't. I don't go vote anymore---they put in there who they want.
How was it different back then?
Well back then, people voted more. They thought more of the government than they do today. The government today actually stinks.
I get that feeling sometimes, too.
Well you can't help but have a feeling like that because it's true. It does stink. Tell me, would you vote for Bill Clinton? No, I didn't. I didn't either. Would you vote for Gringrich? No. Well see, there you go. You answer your own questions. Neither one of them are worth a darn. They don't have any good politicians right now. So then what's the use in voting?
Did you have more of a belief in the government and what they told you and what they asked you to do?
Back then? Yes. Because the government was trying to save the United States.
Save them from what?
From the enemy coming into the United States and destroying it. Do you realize that if the Germans, Japanese, and Russians had gotten into the United States, there wouldn't be a United States? Everything would be under a dictator---the way it is in Russia now. You couldn't walk through that door without asking if you could go out. If you were on the street, if you ain't got a pass to be there, they'd throw you in jail...prison. It's rotten over there. Try Germany sometime. My niece just came back from Germany. She wants to go over for a year to study but she'll be going to a college over there, which is altogether different. She says it's rotten over there. My daughter went over there---her husband is in helicopters over in Germany---she says you can't drink the water, everything is filthy-dirty, and I believe it. But basically that's all there is to it. Be thankful that the war ended over there on the islands instead of here. Because your life wouldn't be worth a nickel here. You couldn't go out here and buy anything you wanted, when you wanted. You couldn't say anything. You open your mouth over there and they put a rifle butt through it. If you're a troublemaker, they brand you a troublemaker. My daughter was over there, with her husband, she lost her baby over there. The doctors, they didn't care. But that's basically the way it is over in Germany, Japan, Russia. I wouldn't want to be there. Shoot, if I wanted to walk out this door and walk out in the middle of the street, jump up and down naked, I could get away with it. Over there you can't. But that's about all I can tell you about those things. And you remember too, that a lot of what I say about Russia and Germany, except for the death camps over there that they had, that you'd really have to talk to someone who was over there, who was really in it. Now Pacific, I was out there. The nights were beautiful out there---full moons, except when it rained, then you drowned. Really though, after we secured an island out there, it was beautiful.
Did it take a lot of work to secure an island?
Well, it depended on how long the fighting lasted. Some of those islands we took in thirty days. Then the Army would come in and they'd mop up. Other ones, like Okinawa, what did it take us? 94 days over there. Then it wasn't secure but they pulled us off 'cause the war had ended. But even after the war ended, you still had snipers on these islands that didn't know the war had ended. They didn't have any communications and they were still killing because the Japanese didn't know it was over. We knew it but they didn't. If they hadn't of dropped the bombs---on Hiroshima and Nagasaki---the United States would have gone right on into Japan, and the war would have lasted another two to three years. And look at all the lives that might have been lost. Well, look what the bomb did---wiped out two cities.
Would you have gone on to Japan if the bombs hadn't been dropped?
Oh yeah, our outfit was due to go on into Japan. When? If the bombs hadn't been dropped in August, when would you have gone into Japan? About October or November. See we'd have gone back to either New Zealand or Australia for some R & R, that's to repair, and recruit, and rest. Then they would have put us on LST's and...right on into Japan. See Japan didn't have an army anymore, they didn't have no Navy anymore...it was all gone. Everything was sunk. And the United States could have just walked right on in.
So then how did you feel about the bombs being dropped?
Myself? I was glad to hear of it.
What was the general reaction to them?
Everybody was happy when they were dropped. They wanted that war to end. They'd had enough of it. Tell me, if you had been over there two three years fighting, wouldn't you want it to end? Of course. Tired of seeing Americans killed...for no reason at all? See, there again, you answer your own questions because once those bombs were dropped, they knew the United States meant business and they would've dropped one right on Japan. That's where the next one was going. And they might have dropped two or three of them, who knows? But it saved thousands of American lives by not going into Japan.
You said that people were tired of it, and it seemed like you were fighting for no good reason. Did you actually feel that way?
Oh no, see, we wanted a free country. World War II was altogether different than the other conflicts that they had. The others weren't wars, they were conflicts. We were fighting for a Cause. It's what I've been trying to tell you. If we hadn't gone in and fought the Japanese and the Germans, they'd be right over here. They'd be dictating to you... We fought for freedom. Matter of fact, you might not even be here...you never know. Because what, you're 20, 21? You might not even be here if they'd have come into this country...you might not even be here.
Well, if the war hadn't ended, my parents probably would never have been able to leave Taiwan, since it was a Japanese colony.
That's true. Right, they'd never leave.
So I would definitely not be here!
You got that right! (laugh) See that's the difference when you're fighting for freedom and to this day, we'll never know why Japan jumped the United States, knowing that they would lose.
You mean at Pearl Harbor? I'm sorry, I didn't quite follow what you were saying.
Why did they ever bomb Pearl Harbor? If they weren't going to come right on it the rest of the way...it was a mistake. They lost the war right then and there---when they turned around and left, it lost the war for them. They should have come right on in. 'Cause they had taken the United States right by surprise.
Do you think they might have actually been able to invade? I mean, Hawaii is pretty far out there.
Well sure. They had their aircraft carriers close enough, they had their planes close enough. They could have flown right on in. They could have bombed Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego. They could have bombed the whole West Coast---they were right there.
Where were you when Pearl Harbor was bombed?
I was in school. I was in high school.
What did you do when you heard the news?
What did I do? Just before I turned 17, I was in my last grade, and I got my diploma, then went to the Federal Building in Indianapolis, Indiana and signed up. I was 17---I had to get my parents' permission and they signed the papers for me---and I went in and signed up. They let me stay home until I finished school. That was March. May, we got out of school. I got my diploma and right after that, we were on buses going to Williamsburg, Virginia to camp---boot camp. Rain one minute, blow dust in your eyes the next.
Were your parents very supportive of the war and the Cause and everything?
Well, let me put it this way, my mother was a Gold Star mother. That means that she had 7 sons in the service. She was a Gold Star mother. Well let's see, I was a CB Marine, I had a brother who was in the Army, one who was in the submarines---he was up in Attu, Alaska up there---had another one who was in Seoul, Korea, there was another one who was in the Navy. Didn't know where he was half the time---he was out there in the Atlantic and Pacific. No telling where he was at. They knew where I was at. What else was there? Well, there were six brothers out in the service.
How many of your brothers fought in World War II?
Two of us. One older brother and me. The one who was in the submarines up in Attu. And I was out in the South Pacific. My other brothers were mostly in the Korean War.
Was your older brother in the war longer than you were?
No. He was in less than I was. He was only in a year and a half cause he was married and he didn't want to go in. He was drafted---I wasn't. See when you turned 18, you were drafted and so he waited until he was drafted, I wasn't [drafted]. Which is foolish. Why? Why? Go in and get it over with. See after you're in so long, you accumulate so many points. After you hit 52 points, they're supposed to send you back home. But in World War II you couldn't. How you going to get home? See during Korea, Vietnam, Saudi, everything was flown over. World War II---everything wasn't. You go by slow boat to China. And I mean slow boat. 30 days over, 30 days back. Takes you forever and a day. They don't fly you back and forth. That's just about it for you.
Did you ever actually save anything from the war? Any physical mementos?
I saved my Navy P jacket, I've still got my Marine uniform... I've still got all that stuff. My pennants from the islands---you know how Michigan has those pennants (outlines the shape of a pennant flag)? Well we got one of each island that we were on. And I still got the original song of the CB song, the music to it---which you never hear---and it all goes to my youngest daughter. If anything ever happens to me, she gets it. The whole works.
Any particular reason why?
Because she takes care of things. She's a scavenger. And if you give her something, twenty years from now, she'll still have it. She doesn't get rid of nothing. She packs it away and I can go ask her for it anytime I want and she'll go get it for you. Which is unusual because most kids would say, "Oh, that's my dad's. That ain't worth it. Throw it away." That's the way they are.
Do she know all the stories behind everything?
Oh yeah. Sure she knows them. Well, she's gotten books...she's read all the war books and everything. I've got a bunch from World War II. I've got "The War in Europe," "The War in the Pacific," I got all those books. And you can pretty well tell from the documentaries in those books that some of it is pretty accurate. You see the pictures of it and you can see exactly where it is. I don't know if you've ever seen them? It's interesting. You want to get something for your documentary, get a hold of those books. You can get them at the library. Just go up there and ask them for "The War in the Pacific," "The War in Europe," "The Battle of the Pearl Sea." You can get all those books like that and get them all at the library. You'll learn more out of that than you will from me because you'll learn all the dates, who was on the island, how many Japanese, how many Americans, how many were killed, how many wounded. It has it all in those.
Have you ever watched any movies that were made about the war?
Oh yeah. I enjoy doing that cause they are so phony. They are phony, really phony.
Well you can see that the way the action is in it is really phony---everything.
So you just watch it for a good laugh?
That's all. You look at John Wayne in all those movies that they made---it's so phony it's pathetic.
I'll keep that in mind when I watch those movies.
Yeah, it'd be a good idea (laugh). Like The Sands of Iwo Jima. They show them walking up the beach---ain't nothing like that. There ain't no beach to walk on. They show they walking up and down a hill and everything---I told my wife "Look, the sands of Iwo Jima. There ain't nothing like that there. You hit that beach, you start up the mountain." Volcanic ash is all it is all around. But I think that just about covers everything you want to know.
Actually, there's just one thing. I don't think I asked you anything about propaganda.
We never had it. Japanese had a lot of it though. You'd find it lying all over the islands. Just for an example, we dropped leaflets telling the Okinawan people to surrender to the Americans, that we weren't going to hurt them. The Japanese told them "No, they'll torture ya, murder ya." So the women and men, the old men, they took their kids and threw them over the cliff and jumped after them and committed suicide. 'Cause they were afraid of us. They believed what the Japanese told them that we would harm them. Now after we got a few of them back as refugees, they saw how they were treated---why then they got the word out to the rest of them and they all started coming up. Hundreds of them jumped over the cliffs, on the rocks---committing suicide, killing their kids. I don't think you want to hear about things like that though. That's gory.
It is. But it's also part of history that people should know about. Do you think people should know about this?
You know in one way, I'd say yes, another I'd say no. Who was it that said? You can put it in three words. War is hell ...for anyone that's in it. That can sum up the whole thing for war...it is hell. People are maimed, blind, legs, arms blown off, heads blown off. You get ashore and see body parts floating around the ocean that have been blown up...it's gory. That's why if you're going to make a good documentary, you gotta put it in but not in a way that's too gory. If you get a chance to see those books...you can get a better perspective by reading the books too, ok? You got it.
Thank you very much for talking with me. I really appreciate it.
No problem at all. Thanks for the cookies.
I turned to leave, knowing a little more about World War II on a more personal level. But, I was uneasy about some of the things he had told and what we had discussed. I still felt somewhat out of place, physically and temporally. More people, even younger people (like middle aged people) had come in to the Legion while we were talking and were loudly talking as they waited for dinner but I still felt a little like an intruder on the past. My mother was waiting to pick me up though so I left the war behind me (temporarily) and walked back into my own world.