After The War. . .In Okinawa- PART 1

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Jack Bivin was 20-years-old in December of 1945 when he arrived on Okinawa. A Corporal in the Air Force, he was assigned to the 989th Engineering Squad at Kadena Air Base, located next to Okinawa City, which lay in the middle of the island. During the 11 months he was there, Jack took many photos. These are reproduced here with his permission. And in his own words:

To see more of Jack's photos and words, go to Okinawa After The War - PART 2

Tom Bradford, a U.S. Marine currently stationed on Okinawa writes about Jack Bivin: "I have read many books relating to Okinawa and W.W.II, but always felt that the best information - the everyday accounts - comes from individuals. It seems that you came here with an open mind and a compassionate heart, and I believe you gave much consideration to the people here. I am married to an Okinawan girl. Her parents are from Naha, near where the old Naha Airbase was located. Her grandfather was conscripted by the Japanese Army, died in southern Okinawa, and his body was never found.

Like you, I have a love for these people and I try to learn as much about the language and history as I can. My mother-in-law and her family fled to the north during the war, did what they could to survive, and returned to find their home flattened and burned out. She and I talk as much as we can, but I don't want to dig too deep. The funny thing is: she is not bitter at all, and says the past is just that. If I can stay here for life, I will."

The atomic bombs were dropped on Japan while I was attending a special arms School at the Aberdeen proving ground. All of a sudden I found myself on a slow boat to Okinawa. I couldn't figure out how I could contribute to the peace effort. I was not told how I could help - and I did not ask. My MOS was Power Turret Technician on B-29s so I didn't think that my services would be in high demand, but as my travel experiences were very limited I was looking forward to the trip to the Far East.

entering
Okinawan harbor

It took almost two weeks to make the crossing to Okinawa, so everyone on the ship was anxious to feel solid earth underfoot. After we docked we were loaded into trucks and hauled to Kadena Air Base. On the way we passed a building that was situated near the shoreline and in the trees. I was told that it was the Coca-Cola bottling plant. The truck driver said that it was constructed during the invasion and that it came under sniper fire occasionally. The Japanese must have thought that it was an important part of the invasion effort, perhaps a "secret weapon".

We lost four personnel who came over on the ship due to booby-traps. I don't remember any briefing or warnings issued to the personnel about the dangers that could be encountered on the island. The four casualties were caused when the many caves, underground bunkers etc. were investigated by unknowing people looking for souvenirs.

I did take a jeep and with camera in hand, took a trip to the north end of the island. The north end of the island was not devastated like the south end and I wanted some scenery photos. In order to see some interesting country I turned off the main road and took "jeep" roads. Very pretty country,hilly, lots of vegetation and primitive.

After shooting some photos I worked my way back to the main road and turned south to get back to Kadena. I ran into a road block of MPs. They asked me, not too friendly, how I got to the north end of the island past their roadblocks. I explained that I was taking photographs and was able to show them my 8x10 view camera.

some
Japanese soldier hid in caves

The way they talked, I had the impression that I was in deep trouble! After they chastised me for awhile they cooled off and I was informed that the country I had come through was populated by many Japanese soldiers who would not believe that they had lost the war and were holed up in the many caves that were in the area. They tried to get them out but their efforts were met with gun fire and grenades. The bottom line was that I was extremely lucky that I was not attacked by these Japanese soldiers. The MPs stated that the Japanese may have thought that I was a trap to get them out of the caves. The Japanese soldiers were supplied by the Okinawans and also they would sneak into the supply depots at night and take what they could. I understand that they were holed up in the caves for years after I left and would not give up.

Okinawa was stocked with supplies in preparation for the invasion of Japan. There were new tires stacked in the open like hay, blocks long, and as high as they would support themselves. Miles of jeeps, trucks, tanks etc. and quonset huts filled with supplies. Everything that might be needed was stored on the island, plus supplies that would never be used -- "A scroungers paradise!"

The Okinawan people were very clean and tidy. To show my appreciation I would obtain canned ham and other items of food that they took to their families. While the Okinawans had plenty of garden type foods, meat and other types of food were hard to obtain.

Okinawan
man

If I needed or wanted anything, I would take the 4x4 and put a couple of cases of beer and two or three bottles of whiskey in the bed and drive up to the sentry gate at the supply depot. After being stopped, the guards would salute and I would drive on through to the quonset buildings loaded with supplies. The cargo that I had brought with me was gone. I would load up the truck and as I drove through the gate I would receive a snappy salute.

I supplied a dark room that I had constructed in a building behind the NCO club with the finest photo processing equipment available. I had a few requests to develop film from the soldiers as there was no photo processing facility near. I showed most of them how to develop and print their own film. Three or four of them really liked doing their own film and I'm sure that they continued photography after leaving the Armed Forces.

When I still had the jeep I took an all-day trip to the southern end of the island. First stop was Naha. Naha was the site of some of the most furious fighting of the Okinawa invasion. Naha was completely leveled with artillery fire and what the artillery missed the flame throwers demolished. The only structures that remained were a church and the walls of the University. The church sustained much damage and I donÆt think it was repairable. Much of Naha was constructed of concrete and stone which were just piles of rubble after the fighting.

Rubble in
southern okinawa

As I was driving around I came upon a narrow-gauge railroad and the cutest little engine. I didn't see any box cars, just the engine. This was the only set of railroad tracks that I had seen on Okinawa so I assumed that it was just a local railroad. I don't have a photo of the engine, I wish that I did. There were a lot of photo opportunities that I wish I had taken but a young kid doesn't realize the importance.

Leaving Naha I drove to Shuri Castle. This was a real shock to me as I had my vision of castles. When I reached the top of the hill and could go no farther I could not see a castle. There was a large slab of concrete with steps going up to the slab but no castle. The castle had been completely destroyed. I remember seeing field telephone wires all over the place just laying around the slab area. There was a shrine on the grounds so I at least got a photo of it.

Shuri
castle
shrine

After seeing all of the destruction, I remember thinking how sad it was to destroy things like Naha, Shuri Castle and all of the rest of the south end of Okinawa, not to mention the many lives that were sacrificed. I think that this was the first time that I had stopped to realize what war was really about. Maybe this young kid had grown up a little bit.

The "CATERPILLAR CLUB"

If a pilot during the war had to jump out of a wounded aircraft - he was an automatic member of the club. It was a real honor to be a member of this exclusive and elite "club."

One day while a few of us were at the beach, (the enlisted men's beach) we watched this P-47 go over head at about three thousand feet. All of a sudden the P-47 rolled over on it's back and out comes the pilot. His chute opened and he landed 300-400 yards from shore. We were worried about his safety until we saw him start to swim ashore, as the newest member of the Caterpillar Club.

About a week later the same thing happened to another P-47 only this time the unoccupied aircraft dug a crater about 500 feet from a village. The Caterpillar Club had another member. The P-47 which served well during the war all of a sudden started developing engine problems. I understand that it happened once more and headquarters said that if it happened again the pilot better go down with the plane. They said that if the pilot didn't go down with the plane - he would wish that he had!

When I received orders to return to the States for discharge the Okinawan crews were notified and the girls openly cried. This was a real shock to me, I've never had anybody openly cry about my departures. I could not understand the Okinawans' attitude considering we almost completely destroyed half of their island, wounded and killed a huge portion of their people, and completely changed their life-style. It was difficult for me to understand the affectionate attitude projected by the Okinawan girls. While I didn't have a sense of contribution to the peace effort I did feel that my experiences while on the island of Okinawa enhanced my growing up process.

Okinawan
girl

In other words - I felt that I left Okinawa with more than I gave.

If you have comments or questions about Jack's Okinawa story, you can email him at jbivin@theriver.com