An extract from “Escarpment”
“After Shuri, the US 7th Division came down the east coast and spread out inland. It had been raining steadily for two weeks and the mud was knee-deep in places. The weather was very cold, and fog covered the heights of the hills and lay across the valley floor. The 7th joined up with the 96th to the north-west of here, and the line marched towards Yaeju-Dake, which is way over there.”
He pointed into the distance.
“The Japanese 15th IMR riflemen, machine gunners and a few surviving mortar crews were dug in all over this cliff and in the high coral ridge that in those days ran out in front of it. The American 24th Corps was assigned Hill 95 and ordered to get them off it.
“It doesn’t look much anymore what it looked like then. Now, it’s just a big, long, green-covered hill. But, in fact, we’re nearly three hundred feet up. And in June, 1945, it wasn’t covered by all this greenery. It was just a series of bare, sheer coral rock faces, full of caves and ridges, pinnacles, ravines, buttresses; and salted away among them, between five and eight hundred machine gunners and riflemen of the 15th IMR.
“You can see how flat and exposed the approaches are, even today, just a wide expanse of rice fields. From where we are sitting, from everywhere on the whole landward face of this escarpment, the approach of the 24th was easy to see.
“The GIs were sitting ducks. They tried to camouflage themselves and crawl on their stomachs through the muddy fields, but as soon as they raised their heads, the snipers found them.
“American planes strafed the escarpment and Navy guns bombarded it from the seaward side, but the riflemen and machine gun teams just hid deep inside the caves until the bombardments ended and then came swarming back out.
“A few squads of Americans made it to the foot of the Hill, some managed to climb part of the way up, but the machine guns always found them. Then the Americans brought Fire. That’s what cleared this hill.
“On 10 June, a company with a Tank Battalion brought up a flame-thrower tank. First, they burned away the shrubbery that clung to the rock face. Then, the commander of that company and two of his men, climbed up the ridge dragging a 100-foot hose. Very brave soldiers.
“When they reached the limit of the hose’s length, they sprayed flame into the Japanese positions. Think what a garden hose does when you let go of it. That’s what it was like – the hose whipping and twisting like a snake, the wind blowing the flame.
“More flame tanks were brought up, with more hoses to pump fire. By 13 June, the defenders had been grilled, and Hill 95 fell to the Americans.
“A few of the 15th machine-gun crews on the reverse slopes or hidden deep inside the coral knobs on the plateau survived, but, once the Hill was in American hands, platoons of infantrymen systematically located those caves and burned the occupants alive.”
We heard a scream.
So natural a story-teller was Mr. Shimizu and so engrossed was I in his words that, for a startled second, I imagined the scream to be the death cry of an incinerated Japanese soldier.