Lifetime Kent County resident Arthur Starr found himself at the center of the most consequential and dangerous operations of World War II. On April 1, 1945, Starr was one of the roughly 180,000 combat troops to make the initial assault on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Starr discusses storming the beaches in “Alligator Boats,” sleeping with constant fear of a Japanese night attack, and dealing with the hundreds of tunnels the Japanese had dug throughout the terrain.
I was in the combat engineers, but we trained with the marine corps down in San Diego. They’d take us out to a cliff right over the ocean, where the breakers were coming in real hard. And they had platforms out there, and you had to get out over the platform…
It was about 80 / 70 feet in the air – with all your equipment on. You had to look straight out; if you looked down, you’d fall face down. Look straight out, step off, and you had so much weight, you’d go clear under the water so far, you didn’t think you’d ever come up.
So you mentioned coming in on these Alligator ships?
Yeah. The Alligators were tanks with no top on them… They had rubber treads on and they sold a lot of them after the war was over. Some of these farmers bought them to do the plowing with them. The nose of the ships opened up and a ramp dropped down and you’d just drive off. When we went to [the] Phillippeans, they had six or seven-hundred ships coming in there. I thought we lost the war, because one Japanese plane had come down and everybody was shooting and nobody hit it. I thought, “Nobody knows how to shoot.” (laughs)
Theives, Tunnels, and Flamethrowers
We got in [to Okinawa.] The Japanese – they were smart. They’d sneak up at night time and steal your guns. That’s when they could kill you, at nighttime. You couldn’t get much sleep. (laughs) Worried about it all the time… But the Japanese hid in tunnels; they had tunnels everywhere. And the Okinawans hid in tunnels, too. But you had to use a flame shooter most of the time – go up in front of the hole, and shoot the flamethrowers in there.
So did you have a good idea about where these tunnels were?
No, you just come upon them. After they started shooting at you, you couldn’t find them – you found out where they was coming from.
Food and Water Shortage
During the war, the Japanese… they wouldn’t say no for an answer. They’d come in and eat your food, get in line with you, and you wouldn’t know it – you wouldn’t know the difference. Because they’d steal the uniforms off of dead soldiers, you know. Some of them they’d recognize and then they’d kill them right there, but you didn’t know. You had to keep your eye out, because they’d be right alongside of you or behind you or something.
Wait, wait, so they’d come into your camp with the uniform…
We didn’t have no camp or all that. You’d just go back and they had cooks out there, cook the stuff out in the open, out in the field. All we had most of the time was dehydrated eggs and a canteen of water. We had eggs a whole month – three times a day sometimes. (Laughs)
Was there a lack of fresh water?
Yeah, you did have very little. They had water purifiers they had set out on the shore, and they’d bring you water. But they took two or three days sometimes to get the water purified. It was something else; I was glad to get it over with. But then you knew that you’d have to go to another island. (laughs)
Meeting Japanese People in Korea
We started loading up to go to Japan – to invade Japan –when they surrendered, so we went to Korea… But when we went in, there was a lot of Japanese in there. But the war was over, so they wouldn’t shoot you, but they’d talk to you. They were interested in talking to you. They all could speak good English. And they’d ask you where you were from; they could draw a map and show you right where you lived at… They were smart, they were all trained, because they were figuring on coming over here and taking over… Yeah, they weren’t too bad at all.