Thanks to GySgt Stephen Wallace, U.S.M.C., Cambridgeshire, England for this Article.
Only the Normandy D-Day invasion surpassed Okinawa in its scope, preparation and forces employed. More than 548,000 Americans participated in the Okinawa invasion. American service members were surprised to find virtually no resistance as they stormed the beaches on Easter 1945. They soon discovered that the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy had literally gone underground having spent a year forcing Okinawan slaves to dig their underground defenses. It required 83 days of combat to defeat the Japanese.
The invasion of Okinawa was by the newly organized American 10th Army. The 10th, commanded by Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, was composed of the XXIV Corps, made up of veteran Army units including the 7th, 27th, 77th, and 96th Infantry divisions, and the III Amphibious Corps, with three battle-hardened Marine divisions, the 1st, 2nd, and 6th.
One of the most significant milestones in the Okinawan campaign was the taking of Shuri Castle, the underground headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Army. After two months of fighting the Japanese, the 6th Marines and the Army’s 7th Division were moving south, nearing Shuri Castle. The 6th Marines were commanded by Maj. Gen. Pedro del Valle. Following a hard fight at Dakeshi Town, del Valle’s Marines engaged in a bloody battle at Wana Draw.
Wana Draw stretched 800 yards and was covered by Japanese guns from its 400-yard entrance to its narrow exit. The exit provided the key to Shuri Castle. The Japanese were holed up in caves the entire length of the gully, and had to be eradicated in man-to-man combat.
While the Marines battled through the mud and blood up the draw, the Army’s 77th Division was approaching Shuri from the east. To the west, the 6th Marines were pushing into the capital city of Naha. Faced with this overwhelming force, Japanese Gen. Ushijima’s army retreated to the south. On May 29, 1945, A Company, Red Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, commanded by Capt. Julius Dusenberg, approached to within 800 yards of Shuri Castle. The castle lay within the zone of the 77th Infantry Division, known as the Statue of Liberty Boys. However, Gen. Ushijima’s rear guard had stalled the 77th’s advance.
Impatient, Maj. Gen. del Valle ordered Capt. Dusenberg to “take that damned place if you can. I’ll make the explanations.”
Dusenberg radioed back, “Will do!”
Dusenberg’s Marines stormed the stone fortress, quickly dispatching a detachment of Japanese soldiers who had remained behind. Once the castle had been taken, Dusenberg took off his helmet and removed a flag he had been carrying for just such a special occasion. He raised the flag at the highest point of the castle and let loose with a rebel yell. The flag waving overhead was not the Stars and Stripes, but the Confederate Stars and Bars. Most of the Marines joined in the yell, but a disapproving New Englander supposedly remarked, “What does he want now? Should we sing ‘Dixie’?”
Maj. Gen. Andrew Bruce, the commanding general of the 77th Division, protested to the 10th Army that the Marines had stolen his prize. But Lt. Gen. Buckner only mildly chided Gen. del Valle, saying, “How can I be sore at him? My father fought under that flag!” Gen. Buckner’s father was the Confederate Gen. Buckner who had surrendered Fort Donelson to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in 1862. The flag flew only two days over Shuri Castle when it was formally raised on May 31, 1945. Dusenberg’s flag was first lowered and presented to Gen. Buckner as a souvenir. Gen. Buckner remarked, “OK! Now, let’s get on with the war!” Tragically, just days before Okinawa fell, Gen. Buckner was killed by an enemy shell on June 18, 1945, on Mezido Ridge while observing a Marine attack.