REDDING, Calif. — A 91-year-old Redding man part of the American invasion force during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II is going back to that once blood-soaked island.
But Robert “Bob” Rock, who extensively photographed the island leaning out from a single-engine reconnaissance plane — as well as on the ground — in the days and months after the battle ended will see the cameras focused of him this time around.
Rock and his wife, Margrid, will leaving later this month to Okinawa for an all-expenses-paid trip courtesy of an Okinawa TV station, which wants to feature his photographic exploits and images. His trip will also include a flyover covering the same locations he photographed by air to show how they have changed.
“I carried a camera everywhere I went,” Rock said during an interview Tuesday at his Country Heights subdivision home.
He still has the heavy and bulky K20 aircraft camera he used to take aerial photographs of the island, including one showing an airplane landing strip packed with vehicles and heavy equipment poised for the then-expected invasion of Japan.
Rock’s trip also coincides with the 69th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa and he’ll be in attendance for a peace ceremony marking the occasion. At 91, he may be the only U.S. veteran who participated in the Okinawa invasion to attend, he said.
Rock, a former U.S. Army first lieutenant with the 10th Army Corps of Engineers and a retired U.S. Environmental Protection Agency environmental engineer and consultant, was 23 years old when he landed on Okinawa about a month after the main assault on April 1, 1945, the largest amphibious assault during the Pacific campaigns.
A St. Louis native, Rock was trained by the Army to be a combat engineer only to later become a supply officer.
The 82-day-long battle of Okinawa, which raged from early April until mid-June 1945, claimed the lives of about 7,000 soldiers and Marines, as well as 5,000 sailors who saw their ships attacked by kamikaze pilots.
Some 110,000 Japanese troops died during the battle, and an estimated 75,000 to 140,000 civilians caught in the deadly crossfire — known as the “Typhoon of Steel” — were reported killed or missing.
Rock remembers it well, recalling watching helplessly from the decks of a Liberty ship as kamikaze pilots slammed into nearby U.S. ships before he landed on shore.
“We lost a lot of men,” he said.
This won’t be Rock’s first return to the island.
A Redding resident since 2001, Rock went back to Okinawa in 2003, and again in 2008 after donating more than 200 photographs documenting pre- and post-invasion Okinawa to a nonprofit historical research society there.
Rock, a past president of the Redding Writers Forum, also penned a 2001 book, “From There to Here,” that contains several chapters on the time he spent in the military while on Okinawa.