WWII vets, today's servicemembers join together to remember Battle of Okinawa
June 19, 2005
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Military members past and present gathered at the Community Center here Friday morning to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa.
A joint formation of U.S. troops from all branches of service and troops from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force stood shoulder to shoulder, showing the healing that has taken place in the years since.
After the ceremonial invocation and presentation of the colors, Lt. Gen. Robert R. Blackman Jr., III Marine Expeditionary Force commanding general, addressed the audience. Blackman said they were there to remember the sacrifices and tragic loss of life on the island 60 years ago. He said each side fought with determination and skill, and courage and valor.
“Their sacrifice is a testament to their devotion and love of country,” he said. “We pause to honor those who died, and pay respect to survivors.”
Blackman went on to say that the bonds the two countries have formed since the battle have helped provide security in the Pacific.
After Blackman spoke, a plaque donated by the 1st Marine Division Association was dedicated to the memory of the men and women who lost their lives on Okinawa. Retired Brig. Gen. William McCulloch, who was a replacement rifle platoon commander on Okinawa as a second lieutenant, then placed a wreath by the plaque.
McCulloch briefly spoke to the audience and commended the Okinawans on how the island has been rebuilt since the battle.
After the ceremony, McCulloch said he remembers the fierce fighting.
“It was a long, grueling battle … the casualties were tremendous,” he said. “Some rifle platoons maybe suffered 150 percent casualties with the number of replacements that were wounded.”
Harvey Sheller was a 21-year-old corporal combat medic in the Army with the 7th Division, 184th Infantry Regiment, when he landed on Okinawa.
“I came in with the second wave,” he said. “They nearly got me six times, but I’m still here.”
Sheller said his close calls were bullets whizzing by his ears, making a popping sound as they passed. He said the first three days of the battle were fine as the Japanese forces let them land.
“But after that, it really got rough,” said the 81-year-old Sheller, who was making his first trip back to Okinawa since the battle.
Sheller said Friday’s event brought back memories.
“This ceremony really moved me,” he said. “Especially the playing of taps … I could have been buried here also.”