Okinawa: WWII Marine Veteran Shares His Story of the Battle

Okinawa: WWII Marine Veteran Shares His Story of the Battle: If you have 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 sacrifice 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. Today, we are interviewing Veteran, Lt Col Harry McKnight, on his experience in the Battle of Okinawa.

Air Date: 02/19/2018

Guest: Veteran Lt Col Harry McKnight

On-air Personalities: David Barton and Rick Green


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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.

Faith And The Culture

Rick:

Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture. This is WallBuilders Live! Where we talk about today’s hottest topics on policy, faith, and the culture. And every once in a while, we get the rare privilege of getting to interview a World War II veteran. That’s going to happen today. Super excited about this. You can get more interviews like this at our website, WallBuildersLive.com, go back into the archives section.

David, Tim, real excited about having Lieutenant Colonel Harry McKnight with us today and actually one of the Marines that was there at Okinawa. This is going to be a phenomenal interview.

David:

Okinawa happened as Europe was coming to an end as far as World War II was concerned. Hitler was about done. We had just won the battle of Iwo Jima – the bloodiest, costliest, one for Marines.

Now we’ve gone to Okinawa. Okinawa is the last major stop before Japan. If the Japanese lose Okinawa, they lose Japan. So, 180,000 Americans in the fifth Navy invaded Okinawa. They were not looking forward to it, they had to go across open beaches and they knew it was going to be worse than D-day. There’s 130,000 Japanese waiting for them. As they hit the beach it turned out not a single shot was fired.

No Japanese fired at them on the beach at all. They let them get into the dense jungles and then they ambushed them. So, it was still costly, it was still bloody. It was a massive battle.

The Battle of Okinawa

David:

That’s where the kamikaze planes pulled out all the stops. The Fifth Fleet is sitting out, there offshore, and they’re just open ducks. And you had in total, at the Battle of Okinawa, 36 ships were sunk, 368 ships were damaged, 4900 men were killed, 4800 men were wounded, and 763 aircraft were lost. So, this is what Lieutenant Colonel McKnight was part of. This is the thing that leads to victory in Japan, is the Battle of Okinawa

Rick:

For those that have watched Band of Brothers, in that last episode when the guys have basically won the European campaign, and they’re watching on television that horrible Pacific battle, and all getting worried because they know they’re now about to potentially shift over to the Pacific battle, it’s Okinawa is what they’re watching. It’s footage from the battle at Okinawa.

David

By the way, Okinawa’s also were Hacksaw Ridge occurred.

Rick:

Yeah.

David:

So, Desmond Doss in the movie, that also happened in Okinawa as well.

Rick:

Well, we’re honored to have him with us. Stay with us, folks. Harry McKnight when we return on WallBuilders Live.

Share a veteran’s story

We Want To Hear Your Vet Story

Rick:

Hey friends! If you have been listening to WallBuilders Live for very long at all,  how much we respect our veterans and how appreciative we are of the sacrifice 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 awhile, 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 II 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 to so many other great stories you heard on WallBuilders Live.

You have friends and family that also served.  If you have World War II veterans in your family that you would like to have their story shared here on WallBuilders Live, please e-mail us at [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!

Rick:

Welcome back to WallBuilders Live. Our guest today is World War II veteran, Harry McKnight. Mr. McKnight, thank you so much for joining us today.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

No problem.

Rick:

So, you joined the Marines in 1944?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yes.

Rick:

I understand you went to join the Marines and they said, “Sorry, we’re closing our station.” initially.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yes.

What Made You Decide to Join?

Rick:

Tell us about that. What made you decide to join first of all?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

First of all, my brother had joined a year before and he was inducted into the Marines and he was second wave at Iwo Jima.

Rick:

Oh, wow.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

So, anyway, when I got my draft notice they had closed the Marines *. But when I got into Parris Island, South Carolina, they had six Marine divisions formed specifically to attack Japan on the 1st of November called Operation Iceberg.

So, went from Parris Island to Camp Lejeune for advance intricate training. And then from there down to California to Camp Pendleton and did all the stuff for all the weapons and things like that.

We shipped out on the 9th of March. We shipped out to Guam.

Rick:

I understand when you went to Lejeune, Camp Lejeune, you found out most of the guys in your platoon, also their name started with an “Mc”.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yeah, we had four Mahoney’s and the rest was a “Mc” something.

Rick:

That had to get confusing.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Oh yeah, *it was a challenge – they would say*, “Hey, Mac” and we all looked around.

The Fun Part

Rick:

Now, I’m told you really liked Camp Pendleton because you liked blowing stuff up.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Oh yes, that was the fun part yeah.

Rick:

Yeah. When you went to that training, did you get to try all kinds of weapons and different things?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Oh yeah, we got to make our own hand grenades and stuff, and use *prima cord, and Bangalore torpedos, and all that stuff, and machine guns, and stuff. I eventually ended up in a machine gun platoon on Okinawa.

Rick:

Is that something they– when you were at Pendleton and you were trying all these different things, did they assign you at that point after you tried these things, assigned you to a particular weapon or a particular group?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

I was classified as a rifleman.

Rick:

But you ended up in a– you said it at Okinawa you ended up in a different group.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yeah, I ended up in a machine gun platoon.

Rick:

Okay, okay. So, now, you were about to say– you were about to tell me about when you got to Guam for training.

The Japanese Would Sneak in the Chow Line

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yeah, we got to Guam and supposedly the island was already secure, but once in a while the Japanese saw these beautiful gals and they would take them out and marry them and live someplace in the boondocks, so to speak. But then, when they needed something to eat, they’d sneak in and get some uniforms and get in the chow line.

Rick:

No kidding.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yeah, and they one guy went up for seconds and the sergeant said, “No, seconds, Mac” and he didn’t understand what he said, so he lifted up his helmet.

Rick:

How long were you on Guam before y’all invaded Okinawa?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Okay, well it was just after President Roosevelt died when we heard that Okinawa was being invaded and that’s where we would be going. We didn’t know where Okinawa was. But we got there at night and during a kamikaze attack. The sky was just red with tracers and I said to my buddy * I said, “I’d like to get off this boat and get me a– dig me a nice comfortable foxhole someplace.”

But we got off the next day and that was, I think, the 11th of May. We got on the truck, and we moved off to the combat area, and got off the truck, and started walking. And these guys coming back from the *circular hill* thing, they went up and * and somebody said, “H329”. And I said, “What the heck is a H329?”  He said, “H * battalion 29th Marines”. I said, “Okay, now we got an identity.”

Rick:

And that was you.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yeah.

Rick:

Now, wait, this was– going into Okinawa, did you know, were you all kind of briefed on how bad it potentially could be? Did you all know it was going to be one of the worst battle?

The Higher Ups Knew

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Well, we didn’t. They didn’t pass that information on to us. I think the higher ups knew, but it was General *who designated what they called a “killing field”. And every square meter of the island, and those three hills, had a * rifle, a * order, and a machine gun.

So, they didn’t do much opposition on the landing, but then we went pretty for fast north and that was– there was some come combat up there on Mount * and stuff like that. But then we turned and went south and went in there and that was really bad.

Rick:

That’s where they were waiting for you.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yeah. So, Charlie Company went up on the north side of the island and on the Hill and only 15 came back. They were just glassy eyed. It was terrible. And you just couldn’t seem to walk without hitting a body or something.

Rick:

Wow.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

We were lined up and Sergeant came along and said, “You, you, you, and you. You come with me, you’re in the machine gun squad.” So, I’ve  got *John Wells* from Murfreesboro, Tennessee and we and our foxhole buddies, from then on, everything was, “Hi Mac” and “Hi John”.

Rick:

So, you had not trained with them back at Lejeune or anywhere else?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

No, because we were the– what they called the “replacement draft”. The call was RD46 and those are, really, designated for the * of Japan. After all we found out if we had been in Japan, not many of us would have survived.

Rick:

Yeah. Now did John survive Okinawa?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yes he did. Yep.

Rick:

Yeah, I wonder how– a lot of people today, we don’t think about how bad it would have been if you guys had to go into Japan. Having been at Okinawa, and I think that was- was that our largest, we had more casualties there than anywhere else, right?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Oh yeah.

Rick:

It was there and Iwo Jima?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Oh yeah. The Navy lost 35 ships and 9000 sailors–

More Casualties Than Any Other Regiment

Rick:

Wow.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

–to kamikazes. And of course, the 29th regiment, that was mine, had more casualties than any other regiment in the United States Marine Corps. So, I just decided, if I get back home, what am I going to do?

Rick:

Wow.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

I just decided that I’d write to my coaches and teachers. And my coach said, “If you want to play football, go to Miami and if you want to pole vault, go to Ohio State. In high school I had a 41 yard punting average so I figured I’d go to Ohio State I met a guy by the name of * who could kick it into the third row of the * chamber and I said, “Okay, we’re in the pole vaulters, Pete.”

Rick:

And you’d been a pole vaulter in high school, right?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yes.

Rick:

Had that helped you in terms of just being in shape once you went to boot camp?

“I Thought Boot Camp Was Kind of Fun”

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Oh, especially boot camp. A lot of guys went in with no conditioning. They struggled. And I thought it was kind of fun.

Rick:

*laughter*

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

I found out it wasn’t always fun.

Rick:

Yeah, yeah. Well, now take me back– So, having gone through what you went through in Okinawa, I guess you have a special– you know how bad it would have been if we had to invade Japan. Does that make you appreciate more the decision that Truman had to make to drop the bombs?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yes, and surprisingly enough, Paul Tibbets lives about seven blocks from me.

Rick:

Wow.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

And I work out with her, his wife, and he died about four years ago. His wife goes to the same gym, military gym. So, I talk to her quite a bit. All the Marines loved her.

Rick:

No kidding.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yep.

Rick:

And he’s the one that flew– he was the Enola Gay pilot, right?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Exactly. And that was his mother’s name, Enola Gay.

Rick:

Oh really. I didn’t realize that.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yeah.

A Message for Our Generation

Rick:

Oh wow, wow. That’s incredible. Well, what would you say to a generation now that is so far removed from the kind of sacrifice that your generation had to make? And the tough– not only what you went through in the war, the decisions like what Truman had to make. We seem to not appreciate what we have. So, how would you try to wake up some of the young people today to say, “Hey, freedom is not free. A lot of us really paid a high price.”

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yep, and I just– every time I see the flag go up or something like that I have to stop because I was– my wife and I were working the scoreboard at the high school where I coached after I got back. And the kids were just running around not doing anything and not paying attention. And they started to raise the flag at the end of the football field and I looked down and I saw this black Marine Gunning Sergeant, chest full of medals, hash marks down his sleeve, indicating more than 20 years, standing there at rigid attention saluting. I said to Barbara, “That’s what I’m going to do.” She said “What?” I said, “I’ll get my flag pole, put it up in front of my house and put a light on it. And name each star up there one of my buddies names.” I taught that to my grandchildren too. And my 4 year old great granddaughter can say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Rick:

So, wow. That’s great. That’s what we need and we need more of it. That has to bother you, I would think, when you see the disrespect to the flag and to the national anthem knowing what it stands for for you and your buddies.  

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yep.

Rick:

That’s something we hope to instill. That’s part of why we’re so thankful for guys like you being willing to do these interviews is so that this new generation does understand what that flag stands for and what it represents.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yes.

Not Going Home Yet

Rick:

Now you, when you got through at Okinawa, you thought you were going to get to come home, but you guys ended up going to China.

 

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yeah, they had to get the Japanese and get a formal surrender of the Japanese there, and get them out, and get them back to Japan. And they were just poor as a church. The Japanese took everything and I felt bad for the Chinese there.

Rick:

Yeah. How long were you over in– So, let’s see, Okinawa was May of ‘46, right?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yeah.

Rick:

And then when you went to China–

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

‘45 maybe.

Rick:

‘45, yeah, ‘45. So, May of ‘45. And then, so you went to China, how long were you stationed there before you got come home?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Ten months.

Rick:

Ten months. So, you missed Christmas.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yeah.

Christmas in China

Rick:

Or you didn’t miss Christmas, you didn’t get to be Christmas at home. So, you spent Christmas in China.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yeah. The funniest thing was it was Christmas Eve and I just had to get out of the barracks and take a walk and remember what’s going on at home. And I walk along there and it starts to snow with these great big snowflakes that just come down to kind of like a tickle on your tongue. And I noticed there was a little boy following me. I looked at him and said, “Hi”. He said, “Merry Christmas, Joe.” I said, “You just made my day”.

Rick:

Oh wow.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

He knew about our Christmas and just had enough English to give me on this Merry Christmas thing. And my favorite Christmas stories.

Rick:

Oh wow.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

But we split up into various organizations and had track meets, and football games, and stuff like that. And that kind of made it easy, but I just wanted to go home.

Rick:

Yeah, yeah. So, you get come home then, I guess, in spring of ‘46.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yes.

Rick:

And then, so when you came home, you said you ended up at Ohio State after you came home?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yep. I was a * of Ohio State and formed a track club for the guys, the freshmen and the graduate students, who didn’t have much time to spend on their high athletic stuff. And from that club and then we just had a great time teaching kids stuff like that from high school and all. That was good stuff.

Joined Back Up in the National Guard

Rick:

Now, I understand later you joined back up in the National Guard and actually all the way to Lieutenant Colonel.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yes I was– I had three years of GI bill and then had to drop out and go to work. And then I went to work as a photographer and some guy talked to me and said, “Well, you ought to join the Air National Guard. You could be a aerial photographer.” I said, “Okay, that will be good.”

So, I joined and the first thing the Sergeant said, “Hey Mac, here, take this broom and go out there and sweep this hall out in front.” I said, “What the heck have I gotten into now?” But anyway, I’m sweeping the hall and a general comes by, General *, and he looked at me, and I saluted him. I could hear him, he was in the office building and said, “Sergeant *, there’s a combat veteran out there sweeping the floors.” “Yeah, that’s McKnight, sir. He’s a good guy.” He said, “That will not happen again, will it sergeant?” So, I had a friend.

But then we had a call up for the Berlin Wall and then we got another call up for the Pueblo thing, so–

Rick:

That’s when you went to France?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yeah. So, I was commissioned in the medical service corps. I retired from everything in ‘73.

Rick:

In ‘73. So, I didn’t ask– I meant to ask you about when you were at Okinawa you had a few really close calls. And in that final kind of battle that you were in, tell us a little bit about that when you– when the Japanese, that small group was waving at y’all.

Out of the Foxhole at Night

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Oh yeah. We were down and we made a second landing on the other end of the island, in the southern end of the island, and trapped the Japanese into the North and South fight. And Sergeant said, “Okay, you and your buddy, I want you to go out at night, and go up this hill in the front of you, and find a little road and dig in.” And I said to John, I said, “John, this is no good.” And I said, “Anybody that’s out of their foxhole at night is the enemy.” And here we’ve got to sneak out in front and through our own troops as well. So we were–

Rick:

You could have been shot by your own guys because they don’t know when you’re out at night like that.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Oh yeah. That was the rule if you’re out of foxhole. I know of guys who climbed out to go to the bathroom got shot in the butt. But anyway, we got halfway up there and stopped and dug in. And John said, “Hey, Mac, that’s funny looking bush right there.” I said, “Yeah.” I pull it out and I’m looking at a 45 millimeter cannon.

Rick:

Oh wow.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

And I said, “If that thing had gone off last night, it would have blown us down the hill.” Then got word from the sergeant, “You nuts went up to the wrong point. You go left tonight, and find that path, and go up to the top of the hill, and set up your machine gun place. So, out we went around the place, found the path, going up this path.

Now, the Japanese grenades were different from ours. Ours had a pin to pull and then a lever and once you threw it, you had five seconds. Well, the Japanese grenades were percussion. They would tap it on their helmet and their five seconds started then. So, we came up there, I think we’re about 15 yards from the top of the hill, we heard this tap and plop, and it was about eight feet in front us. And we just flattened out hoping that we could get low enough to have it blown across the us. I counted ten seconds and John says, “Hey, Mac.”  I said, “What?” He said, “Made in Japan.” I said, “Thank God.”

So, we got up there and stood up and I looked and I saw a bunch of Japanese down the hill. There were nine of them and I saw one of them go up and throw a hand grenade over the hill where we were last night. And I said, “Oh nuts.”

The Number Nine Guy

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

So, Gary from Bridgeport, Connecticut was on the gun. He set it up and got three rounds off and the gun jammed. And then they threw everything at us. So I just flattened out. *McDermott was to the right and John to my left and I saw this big tree in front of us because some of the guys are throwing grenades at them and hitting the tree limbs and bouncing back on us. I said, “This won’t work.” So, I found a place where through the roots I could get a rifle in there and I could see them pretty well. They couldn’t see me, but I started getting them, eight of them, and I couldn’t find the number nine guy.

Rick:

You were able to shoot all eight from that position in the roots.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yeah.

Rick:

Wow. They couldn’t spot where exactly was I.

Rick:

You were just picking them off.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yeah. I’d pick them off and then duck down and then slowly duck back in and pick another one. McDermott was keeping track and there was one number nine I could not find him and I didn’t know exactly where he was. So, anyway sergeant says, “Come on, guys, we’ve got to move out. And I said, “There’s one left.” And McDermott stood up and I said, “McDermott, there’s one guy left over there. Sit down.” He said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And then *pow* right between the eyes.

Rick:

Oh wow.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yeah. And I thought, “Crap.” Then the lieutenant came along, he said, “Boys, we’ve got to go.” I said, “Lieutenant, there’s one more.” And *bang* he got shot through the elbow down through his wrist.

The Last Two Casualties of the 29th Marines

Rick:

So, this one guy must have been a sniper. Good shot.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Oh golly, yes, and they were all good shots. Those were the last two casualties of the 29th Marines.

Rick:

No kidding.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yeah, so ten days later the island was secure. Then we decided we’d go back and wait on the ship take us to. But the Navy lost so many ships we had to wait a long time before we got to.

Rick:

Man. Man.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Anway.

Rick:

Incredible.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

There’s a lot more stuff, but sometimes I forget.

Rick:

How old are you now, sir?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

91

Rick:

  1. Now, do you get to see any of the– is John still alive?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yes.

Rick:

Do you ever get to see any of the guys from your–

Tap Ceremony

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yes, we have a 6th Marine Division reunion every year some place in the states. And as many of the guys can make and they come and we have what they call a “tap ceremony” where we call their name, ring a bell, and play Taps. And that would be their wife some. So, we’ve had them in Tennessee, we’ve had them in Florida, one time we had it in Columbus, Ohio. That was nice. That’s when I’m invited Andrea Tibbetsto attend and boy did they like her. They wanted a picture with her.

Rick:

So, you were only what, 17? 18?

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

18, yeah.

Rick:

18 when you went in.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

Yep, yep.

Rick:

18, wow.

Well, Mr. McKnight, I can’t thank you enough for your service, for your time today, just being willing to share with us and let our listeners hear your story. And just want to tell you, man, every time we– in our family and I think most of our listeners, I know for the Bartons and the folks associated with this show, when we see that flag we think of guys like you and your comrades. I appreciate you and I just want to say thank you and appreciate your time for being with us today.

Lt Col Harry McKnight:

My pleasure. My pleasure.

The Least We Can Do

Rick:

That was Lieutenant Colonel Harry McKnight. We’ve been listening to his story at Okinawa and throughout World War II. Just a phenomenal, phenomenal story.

And I think we should– I think when we see that flag we should think of men like him and so many others. Not only those– obviously those who paid the ultimate price and died for our freedom, but those that survived these horrendous battles and years of what we can’t even fathom. I just, in fact, with my boys watched Band of Brothers. One of my sons had not seen it yet, he’s just now old enough. What a reminder, what a reminder of the sacrifice. For guys like McKnight that were in that Pacific theater, my wife’s grandfather who was at Iwo Jima, and Saipan, and at Okinawa, and all of these battles – they went through things we can’t even fathom. So, the least we can do is salute that flag, stand for that flag, stand for the national anthem, honor the people that sacrificed for our freedom. Let’s not be spoiled in our freedom. Wow, let’s be thankful and have a heart of gratitude.

Okinawa: WWII Marine Veteran Shares His Story of the Battle

Rick:

There’s a CD at WallBuilders.com that has some of these incredible interviews on it that you can share with your friends or family. Or you can go to our website, WallBuildersLive.com, and in the archives section find some of these great interviews.

Thanks to all of our men and women that serve, that sacrifice, that make freedom possible.

Thank you for listening today to WallBuilders Live.

2018-02-19T12:42:35+00:00February 19th, 2018|Military & Veterans|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Rita Albrecht February 20, 2018 at 6:18 am - Reply

    Incredible to say the least. I have been blessed to hear a real hero’s story of self sacrifice. Thank you for your service Mac! May God continue to bless you and wrap his arms around your family Mr McKnight.

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