Purple Heart recipient recalls the taking of Okinawa

Army Staff Sgt. George Reid came into World War II at one of its bloodiest times.

Some weeks into the invasion and eventual capture of Okinawa in 1945, Reid, a native Texan, waded uneventfully ashore on the south side of the island 360 miles southwest of Japan, as did other thousands of American troops.

Now a Grand Junction resident, the 89-year-old Reid discussed his role in the capture of Okinawa and the Purple Heart he earned there. This column reminds readers on Memorial Day and Veterans Day of the actions of Americans who received Purple Hearts because they were wounded in combat.

The United States wanted Okinawa because of its proximity to Japan, which put it in bomber range.

By taking control of Okinawa, the United States also tightened its stranglehold on Japan, which depended on shipping for the bulk of its natural resources.

On the south side of the island, 100,000 Japanese troops lay in wait, prepared to defend the island using a warren of tunnels and embedded defenses.

Reid first encountered those defenses at what was known as “The Escarpment,” a cliff that ran east-west across most of the island.

“We were to advance at the cliff,” Reid recalled, but the Japanese were deeply dug into the face, aiming deadly fire into the American ranks.

The Americans called in flame-throwing tanks to clear the way for them to begin climbing the cliff and move farther south.

Reid and his comrades climbed the cliff on a narrow footpath, and at the top “a welcoming party” of Japanese soldiers awaited.

“I don’t who know who was the first” to top the cliff, but the battle was well on when he arrived, Reid recalled.

“There was a bunch of shooting going on,” he said.

When the Americans took control of the area, fresh water was hauled up the hill for the soldiers.

Reid was resting with a friend in a crater blown into the coral and got up to get some of the water.

Just then, a shell — whether from artillery or a mortar he doesn’t know — “hit the hole where I had been,” Reid said.

Doctors later told Reid the red-hot pieces of metal stopped less than an inch from his spine.

He was hospitalized on Okinawa for a month, and the reason for the Okinawa invasion soon became clear enough to the Americans stationed there.

“That was the only place left to go,” Reid said.

Okinawa was to serve as the base for an invasion of Japan planned, unknown to them, for November.

While they might not have known when, the soldiers on Okinawa had the general idea figured out, especially when replacements and materiel started to arrive.

“No one was looking forward to that, I can tell you,” Reid said of the invasion.

That August, though, an announcement over the public-address system said, without further explanation, that Japan was considering surrender.

That would have been Aug. 6, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

Three days later, when a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, the Japanese announced they would surrender.

Reid remained in the Army after the war ended, serving in the army of occupation. While stationed in Korea, he contracted malaria and was hospitalized for about a month.

Reid moved to Utah and eventually Colorado, and finally to Palisade, where he and his wife of 57 years, Maxine, owned and operated the Fawn Gift Shop at Cameo for 30 years.

He was aboard the Honor Flight this spring to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial and said he wished to thank all the donors who made the trip possible.


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