WITH 96th DIV. OKINAWA, (Delayed) — A bunch of doughfeet of an infantry regiment were hanging around, not doing much of anything. Some were living their foxholes with paper boxes to hold back the moisture. Others were eating K-rations, or just talking.
The 12 men were all that were left of a rifle platoon, after days of battle against strong Jap fortifications on Kakazu Ridge, the “Siegfried Line” of Okinawa.
Only the day before they had repulsed a terrific counterattack by a well-armed and well-equipped Japanese company.
It was a battle of 12 against 150.
At the beginning of the campaign, the going had been easy, with advance over the comparatively flat terrain fairly rapid. Then on Kakazu Ridge, the Japs gave our troops the stiffest resistance yet encountered in the battle for Oki. The men had to stop and dig in. They lay there for two days and night in cold an drain, while the Japs sat comfortably in their deep caves throwing “flying boxcars” at them.
"A flying boxcar is a 220mm spigot mortar shell which looks something like a 50-gallon drum," explained Pfc. Marvin E McDonald of Cle Elum, Wash., a rifleman in the platoon.
"You see those things come down on you, looming up as big as the side of a barn. On contact with the ground they burst like an overripe watermelon, causing a terrific concussion and a hail of falling rocks."
Order To Attack
At 0530 on the third day, the order came in attack a well-protected row of foxholes only about 150 yards ahead.
Under a rain of machine gun bullets and mortar shells they made a dash over the rocks and through the heavy underbrush, diving into the foxholes.
Soon thereafter all hell broke loose, and the Jap counterattack began.
Pfc. Walter Aklin, Hamlin, Tex., was the first to notice six Jap helmets moving toward their foxholes and yelled a warning to the other men. Everybody opened up.
Kills Six Japs
Aklin's BAR failed. He began disassembling it under fire. The recoil spring was weak and wouldn't feed to the chamber. Stretching the spring, he slapped the parts together again. Then he emptied two magazines of bullets into the advancing Japs. A second later, the six were lying dead almost on the embankment of his foxhole.
"One of them was virtually cut in half," he said.
For a while everything was quiet. The platoon's supply of ammunition was low. Frantically they looked through their packs ofr extra grenades. Then the Japs started up again with the mortars and big rocks. It was now obvious that everything was directed to one spot. All hit within 15 feet of Aklin's and Purdlebough's foxhole.
Later they saw that they'd been lying right next to a big hole filled with dynamite and picric acid stored by the Japs.
"If they'd hit the dump," said Purdlebough, "the whole squad would have been blown to bits."
Nips Swarm All Over
Suddenly the Japs swarmed all over them. They appeared from behind rocks and hidden caves, setting up knee-mortars and throwing grenades. In front, a Jap officer flourished a sword, egging his men on with loud yells. Purdlebough finished him off, while the others opened up with their last ammunition, virtually mowing down the Nips.
The rest of the Japs fled and, hiding behind rock and trees, started to roll grenades down the hill toward the doughboys' foxholes. They were kept pinned down, however.
In the meantime the heavy weapons company moved in and began setting up mortars. Sgt. Purldbough directed the fire.
Shells Come Closer
The first shells hit 75 yards behind the enemy line: Purdlebough hollarded for closer range.
The Japs were finished and knew it. The few left tried to get back into their caves, but were killed with the own grenades, which they had left behind.
After the battle, the count was 150 "good" Japs.
This morning, the rest of E Company was relieved from frontline duty and is now guarding an airstrip and part of the coast against paratroop and amphibious landings.
The boys are calling it a rest.