Okinawa was the end of the line in the Pacific for the Japanese Imperial Army.
The island invasion included 548,000 Allied forces and 1,200 ships. The initial assault force totaled 182,000 men – 75,000 more than landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, a year earlier. They were facing 100,000 entrenched Japanese.
It was the largest land-sea-air battle in history.
American losses totaled 7,613 ground forces killed and 4,320 sailors, many from kamikaze attacks on their ships. Total killed in action reach 11,933. There were also 31,312 wounded American servicemen during the battle.
More than 100,000 Japanese were killed, few were captured. Many thousand more members of the indigenous civilian population died in the attack on the island.
The Battle for Sugar Loaf Hill on Okinawa was the largest island battle of World War II. More American Marines and Soldiers were killed and wounded than in any other during the Second World War. Eventually, all the Japanese troops were wiped out on Okinawa and the surrounding islands during the final four months of the war. More than five times as many enemy soldiers were killed on Okinawa than lost their lives on Iwo Jima.
In the middle of the bloodiest battle in the Pacific was Pfc. Harold Tayler, 3rd Platoon, Charley Company, 1st Battalion, 29th Marine Regiment, 6th Marine Division. The Lake Suzy, Fla. resident was a 19-year-old BAR man (Browning Automatic Rifleman). He carried the extra bullets for the Marine wielding the rapid-fire rifle.
The high point of the 82-day battle for the island came during the seven days between May 12 and May 19, 1945. It was the next-to-last day of the ferocious engagement in which the 250 Marines in Charley Company were whittled down to 52 survivors. They were cut off and about to be overrun by vastly superior enemy forces who held the high ground.
The lieutenant in charge of their platoon was shot in the shoulder and out of action, as was the first sergeant, who took a bullet to the thigh.
Their company captain was nowhere to be found, and their battalion colonel was cut off from the 50-plus Marines who charged up what would become known as Half Moon Hill, a nondescript mound on the south end of the island.
According to James Hallas’ book, “Killing Ground on Okinawa, The Battle for Sugar Loaf Hill,” the major engagement consisted of three separate battles – Horseshoe, Half Moon and Sugar Loaf hills. They formed the western flank of the Japanese Shuri Defense Line that spanned the lower end of Okinawa separating the rest of the 68 mile-long island.
It was Charley Company’s job to take Half Moon Hill. That’s where Tayler come as close to death as one can in the heat of battle during the last four days of fighting. That’s when the teenage Marine took command of part of the platoon and kept what was left of his hard-hit unit together until it finally won the high ground.
When the Battle of Okinawa began on Eastern Sunday morning, April 1, 1945, some 20,000 Marines of the 6th Marine Division and 20,000 soldier of the 27th Army Division faced little opposition when they reached the beach in the center of the big island.
“After we landed, the Army headed south and the Martins went north,” Tyler said. “For the first eight days we had no opposition. Then on the eight day we turned left onto the Motobu Peninsula. I figured I was pretty safe because I was right in the middle of the 1st Battalion, about 1,000 Marines. Not so.
“The Japanese hit my company with mortars and machine gun fire. Bullets went right between my legs that day and I wet my pants,” he said. “They cut our column in half and hit us hard. Our acting lieutenant got both eyes shot out. Earlier, the lieutenant received the Silver Star at Saipan.”
On April 10, the 6th Division suffered its worst losses in the north when it was attacked by more than 2,000 Japanese defenders at Mount Yae Take on the Motobu Peninsula. Four days later the enemy resistance had been overwhelmed, but 207 Marines were killed and 757 wounded in the fight.
“Mount Yea Take was a pretty fierce battle. We thought our unit was through fighting on Okinawa after that. But the 27th Army Division got in trouble in the south and we took over for them,” Tayler said.
Under the command of Col. William Whaling, a decorated World War I Veteran, the 29th Marine Regiment was ordered to take Half Moon Hill on May 15th. By the next day no one was under the illusion this assault was going to be easy for the Marines of the 29th Regiment.
“Charley Company had three platoons in the assault. On May 14th, Able Company, 1st Platoon, was repulsed by the Japanese. As we moved up this little narrow-gauge railroad to take their place, we could see dead Marines from the day before all along the way. We knew this was gonna be a really tough thing to do,” he said.
“All three of the hills had overlapping enemy fire. That’s what made them so impossible to take.”
The 3rd Platoon of Charley Company, Tayler’s platoon, was the point of the assault on Half Moon Hill. The 1st and 2nd Squads went up the hill first and most of these Marines were annihilated by enemy machine gun and rifle fire. He was in the 3rd Squad that backed them up and was last into battle.
“As we began our assault on the hill about 8 a.m., Marines beside me were getting killed and wounded in the advance from Japanese fire at the top,” he said. “I couldn’t see any Japanese to shoot at. They were camouflaged and out of sight.”
What was left of Tayler’s squad came close to the rim of the hill. They discovered the Japanese had dug a trench near the top of the hill that was quickly filling up with dead and dying Marines. Tayler slid into the trench with the others and waited.
“A moment later, three big, burly Japanese stood up with their rifles in the enemy redoubt above. They were very brave,” he said. “I let loose with my M-1 (rife) and killed all three of them.”
As more live Marines filled the trench in front of the Japanese stronghold on top of the hill they huddled together in absolute terror. They were 30 feet from the crest of the hill and 30 feet from death, and they knew it.
It wasn’t long before they got in a grenade battle with the enemy above. The Japanese rolled hand grenades down on them from their higher position. The Marines tossed up their own grenades into the enemy emplacement.
“It went on for 30 minutes. Nobody on our side got hurt,” Tayler said. “If you’d see this in a movie, you wouldn’t believe it.”
By the time the first night came, there was little left of Charley Company. They were cut off from the rest of their division and couldn’t go forward or backward for fear of being picked off by Japanese snipers. All night long their area was illuminated by star burst shells from friendly 60 millimeter mortars to stop the Japanese from sneaking up on them in the dark.
“By this time Cpl. George Scott was commanding what was left of our platoon. He was a veteran of Tarawa and Saipan who had survived without serious injuries. He was cool as a cucumber,” Tayler said.
The next day they were still stuck in the trench below the enemy redoubt, unable to do much of anything except pray. Tayler decided to take a head count of the Marines who were left and discovered there were only 52 still able to fire a rifle out of the 250 who had advanced on the hill the day before.
On May 16. Lt. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, commander of the Japanese forces on Okinawa, ordered a counter attack on the U.S. Marines. Cut off and outgunned with 80 percent casualties, this was the last thing the Marines of Charley Company needed. The battered platoon had plenty of company because the Marines on Sugar Loaf and Horseshoe Hills on both side of them were faring no better.
They had been three days in the trench below the Japanese redoubt that towered over them. Cpl. Scott was commanding their left flank. Tyler decided to take charge of the right flank because nobody else seemed to be in command on that side.
He sent Scott a message: “George, there is nobody in command of the right flank.” It was passed from mouth-to-mouth down the line of Marines in the trench. George replied, “Harold, I have complete confidence in you. Take command of the right flank.”
“On May 17, at night the Japanese came out of their holes on the top of the hill and got drunk. They were yelling and screaming. I thought, ‘My God, they’re gonna banzai us.’ They always do this after they get drunk. It sounded like there were 1,000 enemy troops up there who were gonna attack 52 terrified Marines below. I thought, ‘Well, this is it.’ Nobody in the trench was saying anything.”
It was about 9 p.m. when the beleaguered Marines’ fate took a radical turn for the better.
“A young kid, who couldn’t have been 17, jumped in the trench beside me,” Tayler said. “’Who are you?’ I asked him, Tayler said.
“’I’m the forward observer for the 105 and 155 millimeter howitzers. I’m looking for front lines’, he replied.
“You’re here,” Tayler said.
“The kid listened to the noise from above for a moment and asked, ‘What’s the noise?’ “The Japanese,’ I replied. “They’re gonna banzai us.’
“He started crying. I hit him and told him to contact his captain with his walkie-talkie and give him the firing coordinates for the artillery. I got on the radio with his captain.
“’Give me your colonel,’ he demanded.
“’He’s dead,” I said.
“Give me your captain,’ he demanded.
“Give me your 1st lieutenant.’
“’They’re all dead,’ I replied, adding, ‘I’m in command.’
“What’s your rank?’
“’Private 1st class,’ Tayler responded.
“’Jesus,’ the artillery captain said.”
Despite the shock of having to deal with a private 1st class and a shook-up artillery spotter, the captain took the coordinates from his man at the scene in the trenches and then talked to Tayler one more time. The officer said he would fire a round for effect, just to make sure he was on target.
“You’ve got the coordinates,” Tayler told him. “Don’t fire a round for effect. The Japanese are out in the open, so put all of the 105s and 155s on them and fire immediately. This is the first time we’ve seen them in the open and if you fire a single round for effect, they’ll run and hide.”
“What if we open up and kill our own men?” the captain inquired.
“We’re dead anyway,” Tayler replied.
Moments later, heavy artillery shells began whistling over their heads hitting the enemy troops on top of the hill. The next morning, when Tayler and his men climbed to the top of the hill, they found the remains of upwards of 700 Japanese soldiers that had been killed in the artillery barrage the night before.
While surveying the damage to the enemy the following day, Tayler’s buddy with the BAR was hit with Japanese machine gun fire from an enemy gunner hidden in a nearby cave, “Killing Ground on Okinawa” picks up his tale from there.
On May 18, the 4th Marine Division relieved what was left of the 6th Marine Division. Some units suffered 200 percent losses before the battle for Okinawa was over. Tayler and his battered unit was moved back to Guam for a little R and R.
“I was walking back from taking a shower on Guam in early August and heard, ‘The United States has dropped a Wonder Bomb on Japan.’ They didn’t call it an atomic bomb at first,” he explained.
Whatever they called the bomb, Tayler knew it meant one thing—the war was just about over.
Tayler returned to his home in Detroit, Mich. He became a pharmacist and eventually owned his own drugstore.
Scott went home to Pulaski, Tenn. He became a radio announcer.
“He wasn’t too happy that they dropped ‘The Bomb’ on the Japanese. He wanted to continue fighting them,” Tayler recalled almost 60 years later. “Scott was a gung-ho Marine.”
Name: Harold Tayler
Hometown: Farmington, Mich.
Address: Lake Suzy, Fla.
Discharged: May 1946
Rank: Private First Class
Unit: Charley Company, 1st Battalion, 29th Marine Regiment, 6th Marine Division
Commendations: Purple Heart, Silver Star, Presidential Unit Citation, World War II Victory Medal
Married: Ann Mandell
Children: Jeff, Cynthia, Craig and Roger
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida and is republished with permission.
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Update from the Charlotte Sun newspaper Tuesday, November 25, 2010
Harold Henry Tayler, 85, of Lake Suzy, Fla., passed away peacefully Saturday, November 20, 2010, at Harbor Healthcare, after a short illness. Always a loyal Marine, Harold attended annual national Marine Corps conventions whenever and wherever they were held. He was very pleased to be honored with a Marine Corps memorial service the day before he passed. A kind and gentle man, Harold will be greatly missed by his wife and family as well as those who knew him, especially by his loyal little dog, Randy.
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