Pfc. Harold Tyler of Crystal Bay Condominiums, Lake Suzy, Fla. was in Charley Company, 1st Battalion, 29th Regiment, 6th Marine Division on Palm Sunday morning, April 1, 1945, when his unit charged ashore on Okinawa, the biggest Pacific island battle of World War II.
He would survive the next 60 days as a BAR-man (Browning Automatic Rifleman) on that rock and live to tell about it more than 60 years later.
“What I wanted to tell you this time was about Memorial Day, May 30, 1945, when I was in charge of the attack on Cemetery Ridge. By this time most of our officers were dead,” the 81-year-old said.
Tyler recapped his first 60 days on Okinawa as a member of the 6th Marine Division.
“After landing on Okinawa on April 1, we marched north for eight days without seeing the enemy,” he said. “Then we took a left onto the Motobu Peninsula; that’s when things changed.
“I was way back in the middle of the Marines who finally captured the peninsula, feeling pretty safe. Then my platoon was hit by enemy machine gun, mortars and hand grenades and cut in two.
“Lt. George Little took the 2nd Squad and charged the (Japanese) pillbox. Our dog-man, his dog and most of the squad were wiped out. The lieutenant was hit in the head by machine gun fire and blind for the rest of his life.
“Then the (enemy) hit the 3rd Squad I was in. Machine gun bullets went right between my legs. I didn’t get hit. But I peed in my pants,” the old leatherneck admitted.
They finally took the Motobu Peninsula. What the Marines of the 6th Division didn’t know was that this was just a prelude to a much bigger battle known as Sugar Loaf Hill that was to come.
On May 10, 1945, the 27th Army Division was stopped in its tracks trying to take Sugar Loaf Hill. It was pulled out of the line.
“Going up to the front we saw the 27th being trucked off the line. The Marines were hooting and yelling, ‘Cowards’ and ‘Yellow Necks!’ at them.
“I didn’t say anything. I could see the terror in their eyes. We were in for trouble based on the looks on these Army guys’ faces,” Tyler said.
“We hit Sugar Loaf Hill; it was terrible. The Japs were all undercover, we couldn’t see them. We were all out in the open and they could see us,” Tyler said. “It took us from May 12 to May 18 to root out the Japs who were in a bunker that went seven stories into the ground complete with an underground hospital and a canteen for their soldiers,” he said.
By the time the 6th Marine Division took Sugar Loaf, Tyler’s company had just 50 Marines capable of carrying a rifle. The other 200 Marines in his company had been killed and wounded since coming ashore 60 days earlier.
Five days after being pulled off the front line his unit received orders to board ship. They were taken to the the Oroupa Peninsula on the south end of the island. The 6th was to be backup troops for another beach invasion lead by the 4th Division — or so they thought.
“Eight hours after the 4th went ashore we landed and the 4th Division was still on the beach. They told us they were to secure the beach and we were to attack the enemy,” he said. “By then the Japs attacked and chopped us to pieces. We finally whipped them after suffering tremendous casualties.
“On Memorial Day, May 30, 1945, my orders were to take charge of an assault on Cemetery Ridge. I was a 19-year-old private first class,” he said. “By then most of our officers had been killed. This was probably the first battle where noncoms attacked the Japs.
“I was to meet a first lieutenant, a corporal and two Marine privates on the front line. By then I had been under fire for 60 days and none of the other four had seen any action,” Tyler said. “They looked like they were going on parade with creased pants. I hadn’t had a bath in 50 days, and my uniform was torn at the knee.”
The first lieutenant and the enlisted men agreed to follow his orders because they had no experience under fire.
“I told the lieutenant, ‘You see those three Marines over there? They’re gonna be dead in 10 minutes because they’re not gonna follow my orders. I told the four of them to stay 20 feet behind me on my left and right side as we attacked Cemetery Ridge,” Tyler said.
As they crawled up the 200-foot-high ridge, they came across a gigantic concrete gravesite.
“It must have been the tomb of an Okinawan king,” he recalled. “It was a couple of stories tall and as big as two or three of these condominium buildings I live in.
“All of a sudden the lieutenant rushed by me, pulled out a hand grenade and threw it into a opening in the tomb. I thought, ‘Oh my god, he’s gonna kill us all.’
“I jumped into a 6-foot hole in front of me and yell to him not to do that again. He smiled and me, pulled out another grenade and did it once more. Moments later I thought the world had blown up,” he said. “The Japs were using the tomb as their ammunition dump. When it blew up, it killed or wounded most of our company. I was buried under 2 feet of rubble in the hole.
Several hours later a Marine saw his body under the debris and pulled Tyler out. He didn’t realize he was alive until he blinked his eyes. Miraculously, he was pretty much unscathed and able to return to what was left of his unit the next day.
“My watch stopped when the blast went off. I was wrong on my estimate that those new Marines would only last 10 minutes under fire. My watch indicated they only survived 7 1/2 minutes.
“My most indelible memory of combat is that it seared my soul,” Tyler said.
A month later the 6th Marine Division was relocated to Guam to prepare for the invasion of the Japanese main islands.
“I wrote my mother that I would probably not survive another invasion. Then we got word a ‘Wonder Bomb’ had been dropped on Hiroshima.”
A few days later the Japanese unconditionally surrendered. Pfc. Harold Tyler’s war was over.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Sunday, April 1, 2007 and is republished with permission.
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