WWll Marine Veteran Shares His Story Of Okinawa And More – Marine veteran LtCol. Harry McKnight shares his stories from WWll and his harrowing experience on Okinawa. Tune in to hear more!!
Air Date: 04/06/2020
Guest: LtCol. Harry McKnight
On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton
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Transcription note: As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Transcription will be released shortly. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.
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Alright guys, we got one of our veteran interviews today, a World War Two veteran, we always enjoy doing this. But it’s a guy that fought in Okinawa. And unless you know, actually for most of us in America that weren’t around during World War Two when we talk about Okinawa, they, you know, karate kids. First thing we think of and Mr. Miyagi being from Okinawa and that’s about it. So, we need some context here of where this fit in the Pacific Islands and in World War Two.
Battle of Okinawa, part of the Pacific Theater. This happens as World War Two is coming to an end in Europe. Battle of Okinawa starts April 1st 1945. It is the largest amphibious operation in the entire Pacific Theater. Nothing was a bigger combined battle for all forces than this one in Okinawa. It went 82 days. It was an 82 days long battle. It is the bloodiest battle in the entire Pacific Theater. There were 12,000 Americans killed, there were 36,000 wounded. And grab this. 100,000 Japanese were killed. Only 8,000 Japanese surrendered at the end of this thing. They refused to surrender. They were into suicides and suicide bombing and everything else. There were 100,000 civilians killed in this, the Japanese civilians, same kind of problem.
So Japanese families were actually given a hand grenade and said if we don’t win this battle, don’t let the Americans take you, blow yourself up.
Well, in fact, David, wasn’t that a big part of why we knew the bombs had to be dropped because of what happened in Iwo Jima and Okinawa? Iwo Jima with the military itself, but Okinawa now, you got citizens doing the same thing. We know if we have to invade on the ground, it’s going to be like that.
David: Well, they have a suicide mentality in many ways, not only with the people, but also in that period, in the war over a two-day period, the Japanese lost 350 suicide planes, 360 suicide boats, in two days, they sunk 36 American ships and 24 Kamikaze planes. So, I mean, it was all about kill ourselves.
And also, just for perspective for the audience. Hacksaw Ridge, which was a movie, has been out just in the last couple of years, highlights the story of Desmond Doss, the conscientious objector, who ends up being the medic and just saved so many American lives, really a very powerful movie. It’s rated R, because of the violence of depicting really what went on there. And part of this battle, Hacksaw Ridge happens as part of this battle of Okinawa. So, if people have seen that movie and what the American forces were up against and the mentality of the Japanese is displayed fairly well in Hacksaw Ridge, just again, for perspective, that was another aspect that happened in Okinawa.
And you know, it was so bloody for so many reasons, because the Americans did not want to lose lives. I mean, that was not the objective. So, they bombed Okinawa with over 30,000 bombs, just trying to dislodge the Japanese. But Okinawa is an island that is laced with caves. There’s one hill called Chocolate Drop Hill, is about 130 feet high and there are 500 Cave entrances in that one hill. And so, you know, the planes would come by and drop it. But we didn’t have Moab bombs back then, you couldn’t blow the whole hill up. So, the Japanese would get inside these caves, they would hide there, we would try our best to get into slots.
And so, with people who refused to surrender, we’re literally going into hand to hand combat through these caves to clean them out of the caves. They have no intention to surrendering, which is why it was such a high casualty rate for the Americans, the Japanese. And you know, again, going back to what you said, that’s why we had to drop the atomic bomb because they refused to surrender. No matter, they did not win a single battle in the Pacific Theater once we started moving across there and they just wouldn’t give up. They’re going to commit suicide. They’re going to take everyone with them and that’s where we said, Now, we’ve lost enough American soldiers.
So, the Battle of Okinawa, absolutely, unimaginable battle be part of Tim, as you said, with Hacksaw Ridge, Desmond Doss, you get a pretty good portrayal of the attitude there. But this is a veteran. Harry McKnight was a veteran there at Okinawa and just hearing his story of what happened in Okinawa and what was around them. You’ll understand the context of what that battle was, you’ll understand the story a lot better.
Quick break, we’ll be right back, folks. Tim Barton is going to be interviewing veteran Harry McKnight from World War Two. You’re listening to all WallBuilders Live.
Hey friends, if you’ve been listening to WallBuilders Live for very long at all, you know how much we respect our veterans and how appreciative we are of the sacrifices they make, to make our freedoms possible. One of the ways that we love to honor those veterans is to tell their stories.
Here on WallBuilders Live, once in a while we get an opportunity to interview veterans that have served on those front lines, that have made incredible sacrifices, have amazing stories that we want to share with the American people. One of the very special things we get to do is interview World War Two veterans. You’ve heard those interviews here on WallBuilders Live from folks that were in the band of brothers to folks like Edgar Harrell that survived the Indianapolis. There’s so many other great stories you’ve heard on WallBuilders Live. You have friends and family that also serve.
If you have World War Two veterans in your family that you would like to have their story shared here on WallBuilders Live, please email us at [email protected], [email protected]. Give us a brief summary of the story and we’ll set up an interview. Thanks so much for sharing here on WallBuilders Live.
Welcome back to WallBuilders Live. This is Tim Barton. I’m joined by Lieutenant Colonel McKnight who fought in World War Two. And it’s always an honor to be able to speak with a World War Two veteran. Mr. McKnight, thank you so much for being with us today.
Well, Mr. McKnight, you were part of the Marines. Did you fight in the European theater or Pacific theater or part of both?
What led you to get from joining the military all the way to Okinawa?
When I graduated from high school, East High school, I was pretty good athlete: football, track and swimming. And when I graduated, I went out to join the Marines. They said it had all the Marines they needed. So, I said, alright. So, I went to my physical examination downtown and then so, they put me in a group that was going to go to the Navy. I said, well, that’s okay, I guess I can swim. I was going to swimming camp.
So anyway, I was in a group that was going to go into great lakes and then Sergeant came in and says, McKnight, come with me, you’re in the Marines. So, I said, oh, good. So, he said, here’s your ticket. Your train leaves at a half an hour. Oh, I said, wow!
Wow. Yeah, you didn’t get much of a heads up or warning time then before you let go?
No, I called my dad and he came down, gave me my toothbrush and razor. And so, I was off on the train. We just stopped in Cincinnati and was sworn in the Marine Corps and then went on down to Parris Island. So, in Parris Island, I got off the train and went to a bus. Some of the guys were watching us, said, you will be sorry.
They were telling you that you would be sorry?
They sent me into a line and first, they sent us to a barber, shaved all our hair off, our hair has been put us in the shower and got us cleaned up and went through a line to get our Marine Corp outfit, all the shirts and stuff [inaudible 09:30] and a rifle. The next day, we were doing close order drill and the [inaudible 09:40-09:48] guys there look like they’re doing it okay. Okay. Right face and I turn to left and looked at the statement and I said, oh my… And then I crick about face, the cramps up, starts kicking me in the shins, right just in front of my nose. He said the swollen one because your right leg…
So, I paid attention from now. I soon found out what they were trying to do. They’re trying to teach us to react regardless of thinking. And so, when you’re combat, you follow orders, you just do it, you know.
And Mr. McKnight, you did end up seeing combat over in Okinawa, isn’t that right?
Yes, we lost Parris Island and went down to [inaudible 10:44] in North Carolina. And that was for advanced training. And that’s when I realized that the Marine Corps does everything alphabetically. So, they separated this alphabetically and opportune there was Mc… something, everybody was a Mc…, that was started out with forma honus and then everybody else was [inaudible 11:11], McDermott, and all that stuff. And when we would match to Charlie, somebody said, hi Mc and we all looked up. And then we got in overland train and went out to California. We ran into some advanced training or we learned how to make our own weapons, how to throw hand grenades, how to make hand grenade. It was night training, it was interesting, because we had a sneak at night and go through the lines of the other groups without being detected and learn how to figure out what the noises are.
How much of this training did you utilize once you got over to Okinawa?
Quite a bit. Yeah. We shipped out of San Diego and we stopped at dinner, we talked for water. And I was enjoying myself until they put me on guard duty near the mass hole. And the guys who have barfing helmets and that was no fun. And I was laughing and pretty soon I got sick and I ran up and barf to the side.
Yeah. So anyway, we ended up in Guam. Now, Guam was a territory of the United States. On my birthday, Guam was invaded by the Japanese, because it was a big airbase there for where the bombers landed. The Japanese just love those people there too. A lot of deserted marriage to Guamians have lived out in the boondocks until the war was over. Once in a while, I was sneaking in our lines and just applied Marines to go through the Chow line and it was one and a half seconds. That Sergeant said no second Mc, and then Jack couldn’t understand what he said. And he said, wait a minute, he took his helmet off and said, get out of here.
So, then we went from there to Okinawa. And then [inaudible 13:38] at night and kamikazes will fly in and sky was this red, but tracers. He said one out of Mc. And they said H320 [inaudible 13:52]. I said what the heck is H329? It was this H company, [inaudible 13:59] 29th Marine. I said oh, that’s who we are now? Alright…
So, I have a good buddy, by the name of McCheerios Mahoney. I did, like seeing the heart, but is killed, is wounded. For example McCheerios, he got the Medal of Honor for his stuff because he got interested in the Japanese that we’re shooting our litter bears. Here’s the Red Cross on your helmet for target practicing. There’s two caves, almost side by side. And the Japanese had their machine guns in there and other rifles and stuff.
So, McCheerios decided he was going to take care of them. So, he [inaudible 14:55-14:59] crawl and threw the hand grenades in the first cave and it killed them. And in the meantime, he got wounded to the stomach, so he held his stomach together, crawled back up and [inaudible 14:16] and came back and got the other ones from that till he was offered the Medal of Honor. The reason I knew about this, somebody said, Hey, Mc, your buddy, McCheerios got hit. And I said, oh well, I don’t know and he’s on his regular hospital-ship. So, I figured, well, it should be okay. But two days is a letter from his mother that he died of his wounds and…
Wow. And Mr. McKnight, as your land in Okinawa, I know that at some point, you were even fired out and even had snipers shooting at you. Would you mind telling part of that story?
No. Put me in the machine guns squad. I had the buddy in there. Your job is to make sure that the machine gunners don’t get killed. So, you carry the ammunition and a rifle. And you erect them in the squad. And we were sitting on the side of the road and I heard plank about 10 feet to my left, a sniper shot [inaudible 16:31] can’t hit this broadside of a barn… and just king, just exactly halfway. And I said, oh, he’s picked up a strange rifle and he’s checking it out. The next shot will be right at me. So, I got up and left and went up to the side of the hill. And another friend of mine went on and sit down in that same spot and I said, yeah that spot has been zeroed in and just as he stood up, he took a shot right to me which [inaudible 17:08] through my chest. About little later on, I was looking at a funny looking bush, about 500 yards away and I saw a 20- millimeter blast and the 20 millimeter coming right at me. It was going up and it was coming down and I just stuck my head to the left and it went over my shoulder and the Squad later said, hey, Mc, did you just stuck at 20? I said yeah, [inaudible 17:36] guys paying attention…
[inaudible 17:43] had about 240 men and they went up the hill, charging the Japanese on Sugarloaf Hill and 15 of them came back down. So, I thought, every time I looked out there, I borrowed an Oculus from my friend John. And he said, John, I think I know what’s going on. He said, what do you think? I said, well, the Japanese machine gun fires our H company and they all hit the deck. And then when they get up to start going again, they fire again, and then there’s a long silence. And I see [inaudible 18:21], what’s going on, there’s a Japanese healers and ammunition guy, he would run up the hill and come back and then the machine cannot go again. I said, you know he passes through spaces in the rocks and I said, that’s about 400 yards. And it had place, see him going up again through the first space, I’ll time him when he gets to the second space. So, when he gets a second space, I’ll have a shot right on him. So, I did. I timed him space [inaudible 18:56] 3200 feet per second and converted to 400 yard into feet and I fired him and got him. And John said, my man, what a great shot that was.
Wow. So, where were you when we finally get peace in Japan, were you still in the middle of fighting or were you on a ship somewhere else? Where were you when things finally wrapped up?
We were Guam when things finally wrapped up. Oh, I remember Mahoney. He said, it’s just like you’re playing football. You go through the line and just boom, boom, boom. Something hits and down the hill. He said, machine gun through my chest. A corpsman came out to help them and the corpsman got killed and they took them both to graves registration and the graves registration. One guy said, hey, this marine broke his foot, he’s not Dead sir. He was sent to Guam, to Naval Hospital in Guam where we had firefighters after firefighters just go on and [inaudible 20:07] surviving.
Yeah, Mr. McKnight, I want to tell you, we are so grateful that you did survive, but more importantly, that you went and did something so significant in a place so dangerous, ultimately so that Americans could have freedom and not be under oppression and the tyranny and all the things that you saw and went through. We are so grateful for what you did and certainly, that you are still with us today and able to share part of your story. So sincerely, we do appreciate and I want to say thank you for taking time to share part of this with us.
Yeah, and I will be doing it again if I’m asked.
Well, and Mr. McKnight, I think that’s why we label your generation as the greatest generation, because of all you did and God willing, we will never have to do something like that again. But we appreciate what you did. And thank you for taking time to share part of your story with us today. We are back now with David Barton and Rick Green and guys, always a pleasure talking to World War Two veterans. The stories are just boggling and someone who can recount some of what happened in Okinawa really is amazing.
Well, he just kind of made the comment in passing. He said, yeah, we were in firefight after firefight. Oh my gosh, 82 days of firefights and you know, essentially, 212,000 killed in those days. It is amazing. The Japanese had so few wounded compared to all those that were killed because they wouldn’t stop. But he talks about having the sniper zero in on him and he told his buddy, hey, you don’t want to sit there. The sniper has us got to zero. And then he talks about duck and a 20 millimeter round. He saw it coming at him, remove just head and went right by whispers, how do you…
That’s the grace of God. That’s what that is
Oh man! You know, Tim, you and I had opportunity to be with some Seals and we were doing some shooting out of the ranch with Seals. And they were talking about how they can visually track a bullet. They could watch it going through the air. And for somebody like me, they said, no way. There is no and they said, no, no. Yeah, that’s going to hit right or left.
And so, you see the vapor trail going like oh, yeah, trailing off the left, we got it.
Yeah. And so, for him to see a 20 millimeter coming at him and move his head out of the way, it’s like, oh my gosh, I can’t even imagine what that’s like. But even going back to his early start, I mean, the fact he walks into a recruiting office and 30 minutes later, he’s on a train going to war. He’s enlisted in 30 minutes later, he’s there. And I love this story. And when he got to California and he was doing pretty good in close order drills. And so, the drill sergeant pulled him out and said, right turn and he turned left. And he walked and kicked him in the sense that the swollen leg is your right leg, you know. Just what they went through back then is so different than anything we think of now. But man, if it had not been for guys like that going…
And you know, he even talked about his medal of honor buddy who got killed there, going in the cave and clearing the caves out, the very things we’re talking about the beginning. He just talks about it casually. And the cost and the sacrifice of what those guys did, what they saw, what they went through, I mean, it’s hard to praise them enough for what they did.
Well, and also considering this is before the day when largely post-traumatic stress was recognized. And so, right, with you being in a firefight for weeks and weeks and weeks on end. And the things you saw, friends being shot, friends dying around you, the emotional the mental burden that you have to bear in the midst of that, it really does give such a great level of respect at a time when, you know, largely you’re just told, hey, man, you know, kind of bury those emotions, those feelings, just be tough, shake it off whatever else. These guys really, they’re referred to as the greatest generation. We get it. We’ve heard that a lot. But man, what they went through is so impressive. And certainly, the furthest thing from the snowflake is if you’re in boot camp and you’re getting kicked in the shin by your Sergeant nice thing, hey, the swollen ones on your right side, that wouldn’t really fly as well today. But this was just a different generation. We’re so grateful for who they are and what they did.
And this is really something I think we all should learn. And guys, when we talk about World War Two, one of the things we do is we show the current AP history standards. And when you open to the World War Two section, it does not mention D-day, it does not mention Iwo Jima, it does not mentioned Okinawa. It mentions none of these battles, the Battle of Midway or anything else, Battle of the Bulge. And so that is such a huge part of our history, our military history, our World War Two history. This is the bloodiest battle in the Pacific. And we don’t even mention any. It’s a bloodiest Marine Corps battle in history, and we don’t even mention it. And so, to have a veteran who is there still alive, tell us about it, what a treasure that is. But everyone should spend a little bit of time studying World War Two history and look at battles like the Battle of Okinawa.
Well, especially thanks today for Harry McKnight for joining us and being a part of our program and sharing such an amazing story. We hope you enjoy the stories. We’ve actually got a CD that has some of the best veteran interviews that we’ve had over the years. You can get those at our website, wallbuilders.com. And, you know, it’s just important to capture these stories, to share these stories. It’s important for us to remember the price of freedom. You may have some veterans in your family that have never shared their story with the family. I would encourage you to sit them down, take out, you know, home video and get the family, you know, circled around them and get them to share those stories. Record those stories for posterity, for your particular family. Those are things that should not be forgotten. You know, Ronald Reagan talked about if we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. And that happens way too often in our American culture, because we do so little in terms of teaching civics in our education system anymore. We forget how important these roles are.
And if you don’t remember what we did and you don’t remember the sacrifice of previous generations, it’s less likely to future generations will be willing to make similar sacrifices if called upon to do so. So, you know, take what we’ve done here on the program as we do these veteran interviews and share them with our audience across the nation and do the same thing in your own family. We encourage you to take advantage of that opportunity.
Be sure to check out wallbuilderslive.com today, where you can get in the archives section, previous programs from several months back, you can get some Good News Friday programs, Foundations of Freedom programs, you name it, they’re all available right there on the website and that’s where you can also make a contribution to WallBuilders to help us continue this great work.
Thanks for listening today. You’ve been listening to WallBuilders Live.