5:38 | Herman Buffington explains how it's more difficult than it sounds to get from the rope ladder on a troop transport into the Higgins Boat waiting at the bottom. When they stormed ashore at Okinawa, there was no opposition at first, but that would soon change, especially the snipers. The Americans learned to judge how close the shot was by the sound of the bullets that missed them. If they got closer, you had to make some decisions.
Keywords : Herman Buffington Easter Okinawa rope ladder Higgins Boat Japanese foxhole sniper cave
The training for Herman Buffington was centered around invasion assaults and he made many landings on the West Coast to prepare for the trials ahead. He shipped out for the Pacific just in time to take part in mop-up operations on Saipan.
Herman Buffington continued his training on Saipan, learning to coordinate with larger forces on amphibious invasions. There weren't many Japanese left, but some of the stragglers would sneak down out of the hills to watch, from a distance, the movies the Americans screened at night in the open air.
Herman Buffington was First Scout, which meant he was alone and under fire often. He was always hoping the others would catch up and spread the fire around a little. The Japanese snipers were good shots, and way too many had survived the merciless shelling from the Navy's big guns. He was also the company Runner, a storied position in the Army.
Herman Buffington was hunkered down in his foxhole on Okinawa when a mortar round hit close by and a piece of red hot shrapnel tore through his leg. It sounded like bacon frying, but a medic got the bleeding stopped and he was going to be OK. He refused the morphine because he was already exhausted and didn't want anyone else to tend to his tourniquet.
They were about eight in number and they came in with a white flag. Suddenly they all dropped to the ground, and the Americans were in for a surprise. Known for not surrendering, many of them changed their minds when all hope was over and they massed on the beach and waited for the Americans.
They were trying to take a ridge on Okinawa where the Japanese had dug trenches and the persistent Americans tried repeatedly to take the position. Herman Buffington got close enough to vault over into a trench where he used the old helmet-on-a-bayonet trick to judge the enemy fire. He received the Bronze Star for his actions in this firefight.
Herman Buffington pays tribute to one of his Sergeants on Okinawa, William B. "Willie B" Holeman, who was known for not sending his men anywhere he wouldn't go. Willie B was trapped on a small hill and surrounded by the enemy when Buffington took a group of volunteers to get him and his men out of there.
Herman Buffington was taking some potshots at Japanese troops on the other side of a large ravine where they were foolishly cooking their rice out in the open. When an officer came by and asked how he was doing, he remarked that he was trying to mix a little lead with the rice. The man asked for the rifle so he could give it a try and he proved to be an excellent shot. Buffington could smell the brass and he was right. It was General Simon Buckner.
It was late night guard duty and Herman Buffington heard something. Then he saw a figure crouched in the brush. When the next flare went up, he sighted and fired. The figure didn't move so he shot him again. When he found out why there was no reaction, all he could do was laugh. He did get a souvenir out of the encounter, a silk Japanese flag.
With many others, Herman Buffington was preparing for the dreaded Japan invasion when the atomic bomb ended the war. That was great news for him, just back with his unit. He had been in the hospital recovering from a shrapnel wound when a red haired lady from the Red Cross caught his eye. This was going to be trouble, he thought.
Herman Buffington recalls two peculiar incidents from his time in the Philippines after the war. One involved several hundred new Jeeps headed for the bottom of the ocean. The other involved a thankless assignment as a lifeguard.
The man had been shot up pretty bad, remembers Herman Buffington, who carried him back to the camp. All the way the wounded soldier had pleaded with him to leave him there, but once safe in a foxhole, he wouldn't let go of Buffington's hand, even when the medics prepared to evacuate him.
Herman Buffington displays his Bronze Star and Purple Heart, along with the rest of his decorations from Saipan and Okinawa. He pays tribute to today's soldiers and explains how he never understood the importance of what he was doing in combat.
What was it like coming under fire for the first time? Jim Denninghoff answers that question and describes the push into Germany that had become inevitable. The Germans had one more trick up their sleeve, though, and when the Battle of the Bulge started further north, his line was thinned out to send reinforcements. Then the battle came to him.
B-24 flight engineer Bill Toombs was over Germany when bad went to worse. One engine was shot out. Then an 88 round went right through the number four wing tank. It didn't blow up the plane, but they lost all the fuel for that engine, so now they had two engines out. They made a desperate run for Brussels, which had been liberated.
Robert James was in the shower aboard ship when the alarm went off. He scrambled to his gun mount to man the 20 mm gun and then the threat became apparent. Kamikazes had broken through the air cover and were headed for the convoy. He heard some firing from another gun and turned around just in time to see a horrifying sight. Part 1 of 2.
When he had to bail out, Jim Wicker was literally sucked from the cockpit when he released the canopy because of his high rate of speed. He was just a hundred miles inland a few days after D-Day and the Germans caught him almost immediately. As he sat in solitary confinement waiting for interrogation, he was comforted by his faith.
Bill Garrison was standing in a chow line when a man up the line suddenly dropped, shot dead by a sniper. That was only one hazard at the air fields in China; the others being Japanese air raids and infiltrators. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
Robert James was propped up against a bulkhead, going in and out of consciousness. The kamikaze had destroyed the starboard gun mounts and there were many dead and wounded. He was grateful when someone gave him some morphine to ease the pain from multiple shrapnel wounds. This was the beginning of a painful journey to healing. Part 2 of 2.
Two engines were out, a third smoking, and they were were losing airspeed and altitude, but they were flying level and pointed home. Then time ran out for the B-17 and Don Scott had to slip down the hatch into the slipstream. Part 2 of 3.
It was their third mission over Berlin and they were heading home. Four German fighters pounced on the B-24 and it was engulfed in flame and going down. Clyde Burnette fought for consciousness as the other crew in the back of the plane bailed out. He woke in free fall with no idea how he had made it out, and soon he was in German custody. Everyone made it out of the plane except George "Danny" Daneau, the nose turret gunner, who went down with the aircraft.
After a nerve-wracking mission to bomb Tokyo and a typhoon, B.E. Vaughan and the destroyer O'Brien suffered a second kamikaze attack which killed all three of his hometown pals who served with him on board. Then, began the grim task of collecting the personal belongings of the dead and preparing them for burial at sea.
The first operation for the 4th Division was the landing on Roi-Namur. Lawrence Snowden remembers that, though it was an easy victory, valuable combat experience and important lessons were imparted on the Marines.
Once he crossed the Rhine, his unit had to fight city to city to make it's way toward Berlin. Jim Denninghoff was in Heilbronn, where the Germans were putting up stiff resistance. Through an odd turn of events he wound up covered in molasses and it saved his life.
Times were tough when Henry Rice was a kid. He got along, though, and he had a good time hitchhiking around Texas and sneaking into Mexico. He joined the Army on a lark in 1940 with two buddies and, after the war started, they volunteered for the infantry. Wait, we're doing what?
During the push into Germany, Jim Denninghoff was assigned, with some other GI's from across the regiment, to retrieve bodies from the field. At first it wasn't too bad, since everything was still frozen, but when the spring thaw came, the job got more gruesome. Once, as he went about his task in the dark, he ran into a German patrol.
He had the points so he was heading home. Henry Rice took a train to Camp Lucky Strike, where he and his buddy ran the games of chance. Only one problem, how to get that cash back to the States. When he got there, he got out, got married, got a job, got bored and got back in the Army.
Finally it was his time to cross the English Channel. It wasn't wide, but it was still the ocean, so when Harry Scroggs climbed down that long rope ladder, the landing craft was bobbing and bumping against the ship. The Allies had pushed inland, so he didn't get shot at when he was setting up his communications equipment.
Did he ever have any close calls? Jim Denninghoff sure did and he describes the machine gun fire and the artillery barrages that he survived. Once, when the artillery shells began to fall, he dove for the nearest cover, which happened to be fairly disgusting. Then there were those tiny land mines made of wood.
He had a scholarship to the University of Georgia, but he gave it up to help his sick parents run the family farm. In 1942, his country needed him more, so Harry Scroggs was drafted and went off to basic training. Somehow he wound up going through basic again at a different camp.
Henry Rice was a soldier in a support role when the war started, but he switched to the infantry and joined the combat just as the Allies were storming into Germany itself. He was surprised when they stopped short of Berlin and then he found out why. His unit went to Bavaria, which was good duty. Just don't get caught with the local girls.
While still training stateside, Harry Scroggs was put in the communications section. His job was setting up and running telephones and switchboards in the field. He tells how he got the nickname Scrappy, and he describes how the communications section connected the spotter and the artillery battery.
After they took the town of Heilbronn, there wasn't much opposition left for Jim Denninghoff's unit. German soldiers were surrendering by the hundreds and he remembers one particular teenager who had been pressed into service by the SS.
After war maneuvers, Harry Scroggs was sent home for a leave and when he got back, his unit was gone to Europe. He continued training while D-Day was successfully executed and, eventually, he headed across the Atlantic on the RMS Queen Elizabeth. Then, in England, he prepared to cross the Channel.
There was no evasive action on a bomb run. You had to come in straight and level and stay in formation for the sake of the targeting. At least you didn't usually have to worry about the flak in transit because it was concentrated around the target. Richard Lewis remembers once, though, when the they heard the boom, boom over a forest.
Jim Denninghoff tells the story of the incident which got him a Bronze Star recommendation. His job was body retrieval, which could be very dangerous as it required him to maneuver near the enemy lines. After the war, he had occupation duty, first in a small town and then in Frankfurt at SHAEF headquarters.
At the end of his last bombing mission, Richard Lewis buzzed the tower. What could they do? He was going home. They made an instructor out of him for a while, but he had enough points for discharge, so he was out before VJ Day. He stayed in the reserve so he could still fly Uncle Sam's planes.
As a non-commissioned officer, POW Hank Freedman was not required to work. The privates and PFC's were not so lucky. Many died laboring for the Germans. He never received the Red Cross packages he was due, though they did visit the camp. Those were good days. Extra rations.
Jim Denninghoff graduated high school in 1943 and was part of the Army Specialized Training Program which put recruits in college to study engineering. Manpower was needed on the battlefields of Europe, so he was made into an infantryman and, after a miserable Atlantic crossing, he entered the fray.
As he was driving his truck full of communications gear forward into Germany, Harry Scroggs heard and felt the bullet from a sniper go right through the cab in front of his nose. He squeezed down into his seat and hit the gas. When he got to his destination, he heard devastating news about his lieutenant.
The Marseille harbor was full of scuttled French ships when Jim Denninghoff arrived to join the push on Germany. After his unit had taken several small towns and suffered it's first casualties, he came to a sobering realization about his chances of making it out alive. It was also a memorable moment when he saw his first dead German soldier.