Hoag, Niland, and Operation Downfall
Ever since the Battle of Midway in June 1942, American forces had been on the offensive, moving across the central and south Pacific. Step by step, island by island, they had pushed Japanese forces back to the very doorstep of Japan. Their last stop before an invasion of Japan's main islands was Okinawa. This bloody and costly battle ended in June 1945. Some of the surviving troops returned to bases in Guam. Their orders were to rest, recuperate and train for their next battle — the invasion of Japan.
The Final Offensive
Military planners envisioned the invasion of Japan proper in two phases. Phase one, Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu, was scheduled for November 1, 1945. Only troops already stationed in the Pacific would take part. Once captured, Kyushu would allow for a second phase, if needed. Operation Coronet, the invasion of Honshu and the Tokyo plain, was scheduled for March 1, 1946. Units in the Pacific, reinforced by American and other allied troops transferred from the European theater, would participate in this second phase, which would lead to the very heart of Japan — Tokyo.
Long Odds for Survival
Going into battle again after surviving the mud, rain, and misery of the 82-day battle for Okinawa was disheartening for the Marines. For Jack Hoag and George Niland, with the 6th Marine Division, the future seemed bleak. On Okinawa, both had witnessed the fierce resolve with which the Japanese soldiers had fought. The two Marines had lost countless friends, and felt deep foreboding. Hoag would later describe the situation:
"I figured my odds would be running out. We knew we were going to go to Japan, because that was the last stop. We were told that they were going to protest every foot of it, civilians and Japanese military. They had something like 8,000 kamikaze planes in readiness they had never used. We were told that they were going to use them to blow up all the troop ships coming in. And that's what the Japs had intended to do. So we probably wouldn't have even gotten there."
For Niland, the prospect of more fighting seemed to indicate certain death. The costs of the war had already mounted to shocking levels on both sides.
"...We started getting instructions on invading Japan. And we were in the first wave, going into Honshu. And we considered ourselves dead men. We really did. We knew we wouldn't survive. And we just ... we were like in a trance, you know. We thought [we] would be done."
Expected to Die
When the battle of Okinawa ended, Hoag was a veteran of over three years of war. The 24-year-old was sent back to Guam. It was during this time that he and a friend learned how prepared the U.S. military was for American deaths during the invasion. They had heard a rumor that grave markers were already being made for those who were slated for the invasion.
"...We drove clear to the other side of the island. A big Navy base there, and they had a mill set up there. And they were making crosses and stars of David. And they had rosters of all the outfits. They were stacked up in alphabetical order, the ones they made. And I found the pile that had H's. They put about ten crosses to a bundle, you know. And I went right through them and found them. I found the one with my name on it. It had my name, had 'USMCR' on it, and had my serial number below it."
Like those of so many others, Jack Hoag's cross would never be used. The war would end before the planned invasions of November 1945 and March 1946 could take place. After almost four years of service, Hoag was finally able to head home in October 1945. To aid in the repatriation of Japanese soldiers, Niland was sent to China, where he stayed six months before returning to the States.