THE RARE BREED
Recognizing Area Veterans Of World War II
Jack Oldham with 1st Marine Division
On Okinawa and into North China
Jack B. Oldham was four weeks shy of his 19th birthday when he spent Easter Sunday (April 1), 1945 hitting the beach on the Pacific island of Okinawa. He was a First Division Marine, invading the last major island stronghold of the Japanese.
Born at Nome, in Jefferson County, Texas, to Pierce and Iva Oldham on April 29, 1926, Jack was living at Smith Point in Chambers County and was a 15-year-old student at Anahuac High School when Japan plunged America into World War II with its Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
At the age of 17, Jack joined the Marines on Jan. 4, 1944 in Houston. After boot camp, he was assigned to the First Marine Division--starting a tour of duty that would take him to the South Pacific, Okinawa and China.
A demolition specialist and engineer, Oldham was in Company C, 1st Pioneer Battalion, 1st Regiment of the First.
Okinawa became recognized as the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War. World War II magazine placed the death toll at more than 100,000 Japanese. American losses were: Navy, 5,000; Army, 4,600; Marines, 3,200, plus 36,600 wounded for the three services. The toll did not include an estimated 100,000 Okinawan citizens who perished in the nearly three months of fighting. Many Okinawans, brain-washed by the Japs into believing how evil the American troops would be, killed their own families and committed suicide.
Today's human suicide bombers in the Middle East take a back seat to the Japanese at Okinawa. Most of the Navy casualties resulted from the kamikaze airplane attacks on the huge armada of ships in harbors and offshore. In addition, just prior to the April 1 landing on Okinawa, American troops stormed ashore on five nearby small islands. There they destroyed more than 350 suicide boats, called renaku tei--each 18 feet long and five feet wide, that the Japs had planned to run alongside American ships and explode them.
Invasion planners had expected Okinawa to be the most costly invasion short of Japan's home turf. A fierce fight was expected on the beach. It was a total surprise, all the way to Washington, when the Japanese offered only token resistance as thousands of soldiers and Marines stormed ashore.
Taking in the sights in China are Jack Oldahm (left) and fellow Marine, Joseph Montoya who was later elected U. S. Senator from New Mexico and served from 1964 to 1977.
Some of the more superstitious put it down to the day--not just Easter Sunday, but it was also April Fool's Day!
The Jap commander, Lt. General Ushijima, knew Tokyo needed time to prepare for the expected American invasion of the home island. He had decided not to make a stand on the beaches, but to keep his well-armed troops in their tough defensive places, such as hilltops, ridges and caves, to force his adversary into a costly, drawn-out struggle.
It was not until about the fourth day, as the Americans moved further inland, that resistance began to build and grow stronger each day.
As reported in "The Old Breed," a history of the First Division Marines in the Pacific War, the Japanese put their final effort into halting the advancing First at a place called Wana Ridge. The following is quoted from the book:
"By May 23, the 1st was so desperate to advance that it asked that a unit from the 1st Pioneer Battalion (Oldham's battalion) pump raw Napalm over the crest. The men of the 1st then threw phosphorous grenades over to ignite the Napalm and burn out the Japanese.....Even this did not seem to silence the Japs for enemy mortar and artillery fire continued through the night.
"At that moment, when almost the final weapon available to the American soldier in his fight against the Japanese was being used, at the moment when it looked as if the fight might settle into a stalemate at Wana unless more troops were thrown in--the rains came, halting tanks and infantry, transport and supply--and giving the Japanese a chance to reconsider their situation."
The Japs did reconsider and began to withdraw. As later told by a captured Japanese staff officer, the Japs had decided to retreat in order to protract the struggle as long as possible.
The struggle continued for more a month, during which both commanding generals were lost. Lt. General Simon Buckner of the 10th Army, which had command of the Okinawa operation, was killed by an exploding Japanese shell on June 18. General Ushijima committed hari-kari on June 21.
By June 27, Okinawa was declared secure and the First Marines were ordered to build a camp site. Thoughts focused on Japan itself. The First Marine Division seemed most likely to lead the assault on Japan. As written in The Old Breed, "No where was there a group with such long and intimate experience with the Japanese. In the three years since the Division opened the offensive ground war against Japan at Guadalcanal, it had more days in combat and suffered more casualties at Japanese hands than any other division in the American armed forces."
Suddenly, it was over. On Aug. 5, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Russia declared war on Japan on Aug. 8. On Aug. 9, another atomic bomb was dropped, this time on Nagasaki. On Aug. 10, the Japanese broadcast an offer to surrender. Four days later, the Japanese accepted the Allied terms of surrender.
According to Old Breed, there was now speculation that the First Division, with its record, would be chosen to lead the parade down the streets of Tokyo.
Not so. The First Marines were sent to China, "to carry out the provisions of the surrender by the Japanese troops and to maintain law and order in the Tientsin, Tangsham and Chinwangtao area of North China."
The convoy arrived off Tanku, China on Sept. 26, 1945. Troops reached Tientsin, by train and truck convoy, over the next two days, with a parade in honor of the Marines on the third day. Elements also were stationed in Peiping.
In addition to accepting the surrender of the Japanese troops in North China, the Marines provided security for airfields, maintenance road workers and at critical points along the railroad. There were several "incidents" of encounters, skirmishes, with forces that were apparently guerrillas on the fringe of the Chinese Communist Army, or just plain bandits, and also hungry civilians who would raid the Division's stores.
Although the First Marines remained in China until October 1946, Oldham returned to the States in the spring of 1946. After nearly 2 1/2 years of service, he received his discharge on May 10, 1946 at San Diego, Calif., with the rank of Corporal. He was awarded the Pacific and two campaign (Okinawa and China) Medals, along with the Good Conduct Medal.
In June 1960, he and Marian E. "Patsy" Oldham, a native of Palacios, were married. Following retirement, they moved to the El Maton area in 1993, where they now reside.
Jack and Marian "Patsy" Henson Oldham
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