For those who experienced World War II in the Pacific, living through combat was truly a hell on earth. Literally hundreds of thousands of people -- soldiers and civilians alike -- were killed or wounded. To make this film, producers Austin Hoyt and Melissa Martin spoke to many survivors, whose memories reveal the horrors of war. Read a few of their stories.
An Okinawan Civilian's War
Lived through the American invasion
On our way to Mabuni, we saw numerous bodies in the area of the current Memorial of Himeyuri. The bodies were as black as buffalo and were all swollen. We could no longer distinguish men from women. We could not stand the smell of the bodies. Cotton balls in my nose did not prevent the bad smell, and I used mugwort leaves instead. As soon as we arrived at Mabuni, a bomb exploded nearby, whose fragment is still in my forehead. The next day, I found my mother alive. We did not know where to go. So, we followed other refugees and encountered a hell on earth. We saw dead bodies, crying and screaming people, and a person who was begging to be shot to death. It was total chaos.
Read more about the civilian experience on Okinawa.
Facing a Suicide Bomber
Tank battalion officer, First Marine Division
Took part in the invasion of Okinawa
The Japanese army had these spider traps with about 50 pounds of picric acid filler. It's a kind of a classic sight you didn't want to see at the time. They'd have a white bandana with a Japanese flag, bunch of hieroglyphics. They'd have this 50 pounds on their back, and literally stagger with it, because they're little guys -- come pop out of the hole and go right for the suspension system, and stick their head in it, blow themselves up. And you know what was horrifying about this, if I may say so, is that it didn't rain much. When it was real dry, you'd see chunks on the tank armor that look wet like mud. And you'd go over and scratch it, and it'd be human flesh. They'd literally blow themselves up.
Read about Japan's Ketsu-Go policy at the end of the war.
A Nurse's Waking Nightmare
18-year-old student nurse in 1945
Survived a phosphorous attack on Okinawa
The [American] voice said, "We are going to blow up this cave if you don't come out!" No one responded. Then, explosives were thrown into the cave, the people near the entrance fell to the ground, and white smoke filled the cave. I couldn't see anything and couldn't breathe... Everybody started screaming, "Mother, help me!" "Father, help me!" "Teacher, help me!" "I can't breathe!" ...The more we tried to speak, the more we suffered. But we couldn't stop asking for help. Many people died while asking for help. I lost consciousness... The teacher came to me and removed me from the pile of dead bodies saying, "You are alive!" ...I could barely move. I crawled to my friend nearby and asked her to sit aside so that I could lie down next to her. She did not respond. I repeated my words. She still ignored me. And then, a friend of mine said, "What are you doing? She is dead. They are all dead. It's been three days since the gas bombs were thrown into the cave." I realized for the first time that most of my friends were dead. I looked around and found that there were bodies everywhere. Some were without heads or arms. I was like a living corpse at that time.
Read more about the battle on Okinawa.
Dangers in the Air
Survived fighter plane attacks
When the flak stopped, then the fighter planes would come in and try to ram you. You've probably heard of this thing called a baka bomb. It's a suicide Japanese rocket plane. We first heard them described as an orange ball of fire. They'd strap his baka bomb, his rocket plane, under a twin engine betty bomber and they'd go over the target when there's a lot of B-29s streaming over the target. Then they'd release down. He'd have about 10 minutes of fuel, and an arming lever on the front of it, and he's the only one in it. No landing gear. He was told to go ahead and ram a B-29. And they did that several times. Matter of fact, the 25th of May mission that we had, I looked out to the right and I could see another 29. A friend of mine, it seemed like the baka bomb came down right from behind him, and just hit the plane in about the center. And the whole thing blew up at that time. So it's quite a fearsome sight.
Learn more about Harry George's wartime experience, and why the U.S. needed Iwo Jima.
Japanese Soldiers and Okinawans
15-year-old boy in 1945
Conscripted into the Blood & Iron Boy Scouts of the 32nd Army
After the defeats in battle, probably at the Yaese Hill, most of the Japanese soldiers were wounded, lost their spirit, and were simply sustaining their lives. They did not have food, weapons, or gun powder. However, some of them who still had working weapons pointed their guns at civilians, mostly women, children and the elderly, and forced them out of the caves, saying that they were going to use them as military posts. The women and elderly had to leave the caves with their children and grandchildren. They did not know where to go or how to survive outside the caves where the gunfire was being exchanged. Although Okinawans could not openly say it at that time, it is a fact that they were more afraid of Japanese soldiers than American soldiers at the end of the war. After they lost in the last organized military operations at the Yaese Hill, the Japanese soldiers were desperate, and committed extreme acts of aggression.
Read more about the civilian experience on Okinawa.
A Medic's Story
Medic, 96th Infantry Division
Took part in the invasion of Okinawa
I saw this fellow, a medic. He said to me, "Jerry, I did something last night that I never thought I'd have to do. I cut a man's arm off." Guy had it all shrapneled up, it was a piece of meat, I guess. And what are you going to say? So I said, "Gee, that's not too good, Dan. I sympathize with you." So then, the Japs started to throw more stuff in and I took my attention away from him. Then they stopped and I looked around and there was this poor fellow on the ground, moving, sort of a convulsive movement of his body, and just shaking like he was on the top of an iceberg. So we put ponchos around him to get him warm, and we did get him back. I lost all track of him and I don't know what happened. But he was the worst case of combat fatigue that I had ever seen.
Explore the number of casualties in the Pacific war.
Survived the sinking of the Battleship Yamoto
Suddenly I felt the ship was really sinking and next moment I saw the horizon was coming over my head. The boat was already very much turned into the water. Then I was in a huge stream of the water and deeply into the vortex deep in the sea. I held my breath, but eventually I could not bear it any more and I took breath, then sea water came into my lungs -- and such a pain to have water in the lung. So I thought, "oh, this is the end of my life..." I fainted because of the water in the lung. When I came to my senses I was floating over the sea in the crude oil. There was an enemy fighter plane trying to shoot survivors on the sea. I was very scared. A Japanese destroyer was trying to escape this attack and each time the destroyer made a move, a huge wave came and I swallowed water each time and thought, "oh, what a shame if I lose my life by this, without fighting, drowning to death, that is not what I want."
Read about a Japanese pilot's experience in the war.
The Slaughter of New Recruits
Jack Hoag Survived combat on Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam, and OkinawaThe artillery probably hit as many of our people as they hit Japanese. We had a lot of people that were hurt from our own artillery, from short rounds and what have you... It really got me.. There would be these "ducks" -- you know, these trucks that go in the water. They'd go down the beach and pick up replacements, right fresh from the States. And those kids were in boot camp when we landed on the first of April. And they came over there as replacements. They'd take them up and drop them off at the foot of the hill, come back and they'd take the bodies, dead, out, bringing up more recruits, take them back up there, and bring back to the beach some they took up in the load before. Same kids. It was a slaughter up there. Read Jack Hoag's memories of the planned invasion of Japan.
Radio man, Sixth Marine Division
Survived combat on Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam, and OkinawaThe artillery probably hit as many of our people as they hit Japanese. We had a lot of people that were hurt from our own artillery, from short rounds and what have you... It really got me.. There would be these "ducks" -- you know, these trucks that go in the water. They'd go down the beach and pick up replacements, right fresh from the States. And those kids were in boot camp when we landed on the first of April. And they came over there as replacements. They'd take them up and drop them off at the foot of the hill, come back and they'd take the bodies, dead, out, bringing up more recruits, take them back up there, and bring back to the beach some they took up in the load before. Same kids. It was a slaughter up there.
Read Jack Hoag's memories of the planned invasion of Japan.
My American Experience
Were you there for the storming of Normandy beach? The Bombing of Germany? The Victory in the Pacific? Or perhaps your friends and relatives have passed on stories of their own World War II experiences that you would like to share.