Today in American History: April 1, 1945

Today in American History: April 1, 1945

April 1, 1945 is a date that's important to American history in WWII, but it's also personally an important date to me. 

On April 1, 1945, Marines and Soldiers land on the coast of the Japanese island of Okinawa, which is 350 miles south of Kyushu. My great grandpa, Pvt Joel Ercel Grantham, was among those Marines who participated in the initial landing and invasion of Okinawa. I can only image what he saw and went through while he was there. My great grandpa was there from April 1, 1945 to July 3, 1945. 

The Allies were determined to take Okinawa and use it as a base of operations for a later assault on mainland Japan. Because of the significance of Okinawa, more than 1,300 ships surrounded the island, finally putting about 50,000 troops ashore.

The Americans quickly took control of two airfields within hours of landing. They then advanced inland to cut the island in half. They fought nearly 120,000 Japanese, who were under the command of Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima.

The Americans were confused at first when they didn't have any opposition. When landing, it was as if the island was vacant. The Japanese surprised the Americans by drawing them into the center of the island rather than meeting them at the shore. Even though Americans landed without the loss of men, they would later suffer more than 50,000 casualties, which included more than 12,000 deaths. The Japanese participated in a desperate defense of the island. To no surprise it included a series of kamikaze air attacks. Over time, these raids were counterproductive because the Japanese ran out of air craft and willpower. 4,000 Japanese finally surrendered, with their casualties numbering somewhere around 117,000.

Japanese General Ushijima ended up committing ritual suicide when his forces were defeated. Americans spent about a week or so mopping up the island. Civilians and Japanese soldiers alike, were committing suicide rather than being captured. This was one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history, and was the bloodiest battle in the Pacific during World War II. 

Because of their actions during the Battle of Okinawa, the 6th Marine Division was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.


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