Dad’s tales of Battle of Okinawa live on
June 27, 2005
CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — Every time Marine 1st Sgt. Scott Smith drives to his office at the 9th Engineer Support Battalion, he crosses paths with family history.
When Smith was growing up in Falls Creek, Pa., he said, his father, Robert Smith Jr., would tell him stories of the Battle of Okinawa. The elder Smith was a private assigned as a flamethrower within the 6th Marine Division. He landed near Torii Station on April 1, 1945 — his 20th birthday.
“It was never about the blood and guts,” Smith said. “It was always funny stories.”
Smith, whose father died two years ago, said one of his favorite stories is about the last meal his father ate before landing on the island. He said the meal was so good, he went for seconds, but the sailor serving food turned him away.
As Pvt. Smith walked away dejected, his platoon sergeant asked him what happened. Upon hearing his Marine was denied extra chow, the platoon sergeant crisply corrected the sailor.
“Now look here, this might be this Marine’s last meal, so you are gonna give him what he wants and as much as he wants, do you understand me?” recalls Smith of his father talking about the platoon sergeant.
Another favorite tale also involves the platoon sergeant. As the unit was digging in at nightfall the day they landed on Okinawa, an airplane was heard approaching. The unit was near a Japanese airfield and a Zero fighter plane was coming in for a landing.
As the plane flew over the troops making fighting holes, the platoon sergeant picked up his Thompson submachine gun and fired several bursts at the fighter. Smith’s father said the troops all laughed at the sergeant — until the engine stopped and the plane crashed.
“Then the platoon sergeant hollered and said ‘What the hell are you looking at? Get back to digging,’” Smith recalled his father saying. “For 30-plus years now, that story has stuck with me, and as a junior troop, I understood from the actions of my staff NCOs and officers that getting the job done and taking care of us was all that really mattered. This story of my father is just one example of what has made the Marine Corps the unique organization that it is today.”
Smith said his father was drafted into the Navy, but when he was in-processing in late 1944, a Marine said the Corps needed volunteers to be engineers. His father volunteered and was on a train to San Diego for boot camp. After graduation, he went to Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he was told he was going to be a Browning automatic rifle gunner.
During training for the Battle of Okinawa on Guadalcanal, flamethrowers were needed, and Smith’s father was chosen. Smith said his father was the only original flamethrower in his battalion that left Okinawa alive.
“He never even got wounded,” Smith said. “The closest was bullets glancing off his tanks from his fellow Marines providing cover fire.”
Smith said being stationed on Okinawa helps him feel close to his father. “The biggest thing to me is when I come to work every day and when I drive home,” he said. “I think, ‘Hey, my dad probably walked through those hills.’
“Everybody wants to go to Iwo Jima and get a bottle of sand and leave their dog tags … this is my Iwo.”