Sixth Marine Division
Official Website
Stories by Sixth Division Marines

On the Point of the Spear:
Experiences of a Marine Rifleman During the Battle for the Island of Okinawa
April – June 1945

by James S. White, Corporal, USMC
G Company, 3d Battalion, 29th Marines, Sixth Marine Division

Dedicated to:

Paul Louis Buckingham, Private, USMC
28th Marines, Fifth Marine Division
Killed In Action on the Island of Iwo Jima, 19 March 1945
Loren Leroy Mitchell, Sergeant, USMC
G Company, 3d Battalion, 29th Marines, Sixth Marine Division
Killed In Action on the Island of Okinawa, 5 June 1945
The Men of the Sixth Marine Division…

" ... and that's why our reunions are so important ...

When the colors are presented on Saturday night and we stand at attention and pledge our allegiance, I always let my eyes look over the men of the Sixth. And at that moment I am seized with the realization that I am in the presence of true greatness.

Nothing compares! Not relatives, not neighborhood friends, not important people, not wealthy people, not celebrities, no one.

This group, this motley group of aging, portly, greying men once were warriors in the finest traditions of the United States Marine Corps .... And, if there is such a thing, in the finest traditions of war itself. To stand among them is to feel their spirit, their courage, their love. To know you are one of them is to experience an emotion that few men will ever know."

~ Richard A. Whitaker, Private First Class, USMC
    F Company, 2d Battalion, 29th Marines, Sixth Marine Division

United States Marine

To those who do not know just what that title means it has little value. But to its possessor, that title has a value that is beyond price. The title is not freely granted. It must be earned. Marine Corps training is a constant -- always tough. The process is mental as well as physical, sometimes to the limits of endurance. The philosophy is: if there is to be a breakdown, let it be in training, lest there be a later failure during dangerous times that could endanger other Marines.

On the Point of the Spear


One Spring morning in 1952, just after daybreak, I was moving around the upper reaches of a pond located a few miles northwest of Duncan, Oklahoma. I was picking my way over rough ground in an area near a canyon where bulldozer work had been started but not yet finished. Almost no wind was blowing. The air was cool and a light mist fell from a gray overcast sky. I was carrying a flyrod in my right hand and a fishing tackle box in my left. There was a pool on the other side of the pond where I hoped that my casting skill might irritate a big bluegill enough that he would attack my popping bug fishing lure.

While moving over the torn ground, I suddenly smelled the strong odor of a dead and decomposing animal which I later saw was a large turtle. Instantly, I experienced a feeling of alarm and alertness, maybe even of fear.

The combination of the weather, the kind of clothes I was wearing, my right hand being occupied by the flyrod as with a rifle, and my left hand by the fishing tackle box as with a box of machine gun ammunition; and walking over torn, muddy ground; had primed all of the receptors of my mind and body. All of the elements were present, of something I had experienced before. The spark was the sudden smell of death.

For a brief span of time, no more than a second or two, I had lost seven years. In my mind, it was once again the year 1945 and I was back on the island of Okinawa.

Preserving History

One of my paternal great grandfathers, Judge James W. White, fought in the conflict called the Civil War. Known by some as The Southern Rebellion, my great grandfather probably called it The War Between the States, because he fought on the Confederate side. The family has little that tells us about his wartime service, except that we know it was relatively short lived. We have a penciled note, written by his sergeant, testifying to the fact that he was shot in the thigh by a Union minie' bullet, on “Bloody Hill”, at the battle of Wilson Creek near Springfield, Missouri in late 1861. He returned after that to the Kansas City, Missouri area where he became one of the city fathers.

I am certain that my great grandfather had some stories to tell of his experiences in the war, and I'm sure that he told them. But the persons to whom he related his experiences are now gone. Since they were not committed to paper his memories are lost forever.

To preserve some of my remembrances, I am writing this to tell of things that occurred long ago while I was a rifleman in G Company, 3rd Battalion, 29th Marines of the Sixth Marine Division during the battle for the island of Okinawa in 1945. As someone gets older, he finds that he can sometimes remember minute details of events that occurred a long time ago better than something that happened last week, especially if those long ago events were tattooed into his memory by being life threatening or of an unusual nature. Many wartime experiences qualify on both counts. There may be errors in this account, but they are probably confined mostly to transpositions of dates and times when events took place.

Memory does have its limits. This is not really a narrative, but more a series of anecdotes of things I remember. And, I remember less about the earlier days and events on Okinawa than I do about the later happenings. Maybe I became inured to the rigors and the dangers the longer I was exposed to them, and so, remember more.

Much rambling and extraneous information will be found here. So be it. I am writing this for myself. Anyone wanting to read it can either omit the ramblings or else struggle through them. A few people may find them of interest.

If any of my words sound bitter or smack of bellyaching, I very much regret that, for they are not meant that way. I hold no bitterness toward my country, toward the Marine Corps and most certainly none is felt toward any individual Marine. The Marines in G Company have only my love and admiration. The Marine Corps was a tough outfit and those were tough times.

I can think of nothing that could have been done at that time to change things as they were, aside from allowing the war to continue forever, or surrendering to the Japanese. We knew no better way to do it. To say that war is unpleasant and that front line combat is not a recommended way of life is to underline with understatement.

On the Front Line

My boondockers often contained the first Caucasian feet ever to tread on the soil of some areas of Okinawa. I was a front line Marine. A rifleman. The front line, from which nothing was forward but enemy territory, was usually defined by our rifle muzzles and delineated with our blood. If armed forces can be likened to a spear, my company was usually on the tip of the spear point, the part of the spear closest to the enemy.

Some people look down upon men who were front line fighters. As a former Marine rifleman, I naturally cannot be numbered among the people who feel that way. Occasionally, in stories, a soldier or Marine, accused of some crime, is threatened with being sent to be a private in a rifle company, as if front line combat were some kind of punishment. A prolonged ordeal it might have been for us, but it wasn't a punishment. Our only transgression was volunteering to fight for our country. It certainly was not a privilege to do so, but it was an honor. Someone had to do it. We did do it.

Aircraft can bomb, strafe and rocket. Tanks can wheel and maneuver. Artillery can throw shells and missiles at an enemy. Sixteen inch naval guns can create great craters in the earth. But wars are not won by powerful weapons alone. Ultimately, to declare a battle won, men, traveling on two feet with weapons in their hands, must expose their bodies to the dangers of contact with the enemy and defeat that enemy. Those men, whether they be soldiers or Marines, are usually riflemen, for riflemen, the men on the ground, are the people who actually win wars.

No matter the size of his unit, regardless of the number of people alongside him, each man ultimately goes it alone, fighting from within the fortress of his own skin.

Not everybody in the service in World War II was exposed to the dangers we faced in G Company on Okinawa; in fact, not many. After I got out I didn't think much about my military service. Most of my friends had spent more time in the service than I had. I was proud of being a Marine. I thought I had done my part, or at least all that my age gave me time to do (I went in at age 17), but not as much as most men had, because I didn't go in until 1944. Many of my friends had been called up in 1943.

I guess my background is limited also, consisting only of being in a wartime Marine rifle company. I was at Parris Island, Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton. I was never on the main base at any of those places except for eating my first meal in the Marine Corps at the main mess hall at Parris Island. So, I don't know what the rest of the Marine Corps was like and I have little experience with the other services other than time spent aboard ships and that was limited mainly to troopships.

But, as years passed and I learned of other people's wartime service, I became aware that we in G Company had some uncommon, if not unique, experiences. We had done what men in the armed services are supposed to do; participate in armed conflict, engage in combat, confront the enemy; in other words, fight. This in contrast to what many men had done in WW II, who lacked the same rare “opportunities” that we in my Rifle Company had.

Today, perhaps one in nineteen people are in contact with an enemy under front line conditions. In 1945, in the Marine Corps, the ratio was something like one in fourteen. That is, there were thirteen people supporting one person whose body was within rifle range, perhaps even within grenade range, of the enemy.

We had good officers in G Company, competent and dedicated. Their job was dangerous and they became casualties much too quickly. They were not fearless, but they were courageous. There is a difference between the two. Fear is a sine qua non for courage. There is no bravery unless fear is present.

Some of the non-commissioned officers in the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the 29th Marines were unsuccessful officer candidates. Many of them had been promoted to the rank of corporal and transferred to the 29th Marines when the regiment was formed. Their bad luck was the result of someone else's good fortune. The number of Marine officer casualties in some of the later battles of the war and the consequent need for new officers had been less than predicted. Otherwise, some of those men who wore corporal's chevrons might have worn lieutenant's bars.

Due to the manner in which men were assigned to the various units in the 29th Marines, many of their names seemed to start with letters in the last sixth of the alphabet. There were seven Whites in G Company on Okinawa. Six of them were wounded in action during the battle and the seventh was injured. Another White, a rifleman in I Company, was also wounded.

Terrain, Tactics and Tools

Parts of northern Okinawa were hilly and wooded. There were streams that looked as though they could have had trout in them. That part of the island was pretty, even under the circumstances. The southern part of Okinawa, north and south of the city of Naha, was open rolling country, onto which had been randomly sprinkled large hills with sheer sides. I never thought that part of Okinawa was pretty, but perhaps I'm being unfair. Maybe the countryside in that area is pretty when it is not muddy, not marred by shell craters and not smelling of death.

Simply stated, the tactics we employed were to attack enemy strong points, usually hills, and try to occupy them. Once on a hill, a perimeter defense was set up and we dug individual fighting holes, usually called foxholes. From these positions a defense could be made should there be a counter attack by the Japanese. But the main purpose that the holes most usually served was for survival, to provide protection against the Japanese machine gun, mortar and artillery fire which usually blanketed a hill during and after an attack.

The valleys which surrounded the hills were dangerous places, traversed only when it was necessary, and then quickly. They were unoccupied during daylight hours. There was activity in the valleys by small bands from both sides at night.

Since we were usually attacking, we saw very few live Japanese. During the daylight hours they were concealed in caves which honeycombed the hills. Most of the dead Japanese I saw to the north of Naha were soldiers in the Japanese Army. South of Naha on Oroku Peninsula there were more naval personnel, misnamed Japanese Imperial Marines. Unlike the average Japanese, many of these were large men, some over six feet in height.

We were equipped with steel helmets with camouflaged cloth covers, haversack back packs, cartridge belts and leggings. And ponchos, it rained a lot during the “dry” season on Okinawa.

Our clothes consisted of a utility (dungaree) jacket and pants, made of a cotton twill of a gray-green color. Our underwear (skivvy) shirts and shorts were green. It was sometimes cold on Okinawa that time of year, so nearly every one of us had a wool sweatshirt and some people had a field jacket of some variety, carried in the pack when the weather was warm. Some men had managed to scrounge dark tan wool shirts.

On our feet were double-soled brown wool socks, and boondockers, high top shoes with rubber composition soles and with the smooth side of the leather on the inside.

The clothes were usually ragged, always dirty, sometimes filthy.

And then there was the Entrenching Tool, Shovel; not exactly a weapon, but certainly a personal defense item. This was a short handled shovel whose formed sheet steel blade could be locked into three positions; extended, at a right angle to be used as a pick, and folded down against the handle. When folded, the entrenching tool fit in a shaped pouch fastened to the top flap of the haversack, with the short wooden handle hanging down the back. The tool could be easily reached while lying prone. We all became fast-draw experts with our entrenching tools and most of us had occasion to dig a foxhole while someone shot at us.

A foxhole was like a shallow grave, 12 to 18 inches deep, and with the dirt that came from it thrown up around its perimeter. An enhancement to a foxhole was a hole in one corner, a foot in diameter and a foot deep, into which an enemy grenade could be knocked or kicked if one came into the hole. And, if the bottom of the foxhole were slanted toward this smaller hole, rain water could be more easily bailed out of the hole using an empty ration can. The smaller hole was not always feasible, since it required a more erect stance to dig, more time than circumstances would usually allow and more additional effort than our weary bodies had left to give.

A steel helmet on the head made a good pillow. With the helmet, and enough exhaustion, it was possible to sleep in any position, even face down with the nose an inch from the ground. That is, if water in the bottom of the hole was not too deep. With enough loss of body heat and shivering, which probably resulted in some mechanical heat, rain water in a foxhole could approach body temperature, which sometimes made it feel almost comfortable until it was necessary to change positions.

Crayfish, Coffee and C-Rations

We seldom, if ever, had hot food furnished to us on Okinawa by the Marine Corps. On the north end some Marines shot goats, butchered them and cooked them over open fires. I tried some of the goat meat and didn't like it. On one occasion I did have a tasty dish. I provided it myself. It went like this:

The long length of the island of Okinawa lies on a roughly northeast-southwest axis. A third of the way southwest of the northern end of the island is Motubu peninsula, which juts out toward the west. On the south side of that peninsula, where it joins the main part of the island, was the village of Nago. Near Nago is a stream which drains the hills above the village. On April 1st, “Love Day”, a sixteen inch shell landed in the mouth of this stream and the edge of the resulting crater dammed it up. Toward the end of April, I watched as a bulldozer cleared the mouth of the stream so water could once more flow. At low tide I walked on rocks in the stream and noticed some variety of crayfish in the water. Three of us gathered two one-gallon cans of them and I boiled them in sea water. When they were cooked, the other two men had no stomach for them. I gave one can to the first sergeant and ate the other can myself. Delicious.

The food we usually ate was called “C” rations. These came in two metal cans per meal; one heavy, one light.

The Light can contained such items as crackers, a drink mix (instant coffee, lemon powder, etc.), sugar, a three-pack of cigarettes (El-Cheapo brands such as “Fleetwood” or “Sensation”) and a small supply of folded sheets of toilet paper. To keep it dry, I carried the toilet paper inside my helmet, above the suspension straps of the helmet liner.

The Heavy can contained a condensed stew that came in various flavors, such as Beans and Wieners, Ham and Eggs, Vegetable Stew with Meat, Pork and Beans, etc. These were invariably eaten cold, at “can” temperature.

Prior to the landing on Okinawa; while training in North Carolina, Banika in the Russell Islands and on Guadalcanal; C rations were of an earlier and older version with only three varieties of Heavy. These were Meat and Vegetable Hash, Meat and Vegetable Stew and Meat and Beans. The Meat and Beans was the only really edible variety of the old style Heavy. The “New” C's were a welcome change.

There was one Heavy variety in the new type C's that I usually passed up, and that was “Pork and Rice.” We would sometimes take ground and dig holes in places near which lay the bodies of men who had been killed several days previously. When I opened a can of Pork and Rice and looked at the contents, I couldn't convince myself that the grains of rice were not moving. With hunks of gray meat nestled in a mass of white rice grains, the appearance was similar to that of the gray rotting flesh, abounding with writhing white maggots, of a human body torn by artillery fragments and exposed too long to the weather and the flies.

Maggots had no preference for either Japanese or Marine flesh. On those occasions when it was too dangerous to quickly recover the bodies of dead Marines, their bodies could reach the same state of maggot development as did the bodies of the Japanese.

Due to the primitive living conditions, the lack of sanitation and the irregularity of meals, my solid waste excretionary system either failed to function or it performed altogether too well. There didn't seem to be an in between. I was either bound up tight or loose as a goose.

I frequently had diarrhea. We all did. As a consequence, I lost quite a bit of weight. Paregoric, an opium derivative, was brought up to us for the diarrhea, but I never took any of it.

Canteens and Cigarettes

All of the water that we had was brought up to us in 5-gallon Jerry cans, whose designed use was for storing gasoline. The cans were most often lugged up by people for the last five hundred or thousand yards. There was sufficient water for drinking only. It was too precious to be used for washing or bathing. And, no one shaved on the front lines. A lesson had been learned by the time of the Okinawa campaign that the gasoline should be thoroughly cleansed from the cans before they were filled with water. The water only tasted of a purifying chlorine chemical.

We each had two canteens, carried in cloth canteen covers fastened to the cartridge belt so that they rode high on the buttocks. Some twenty years after my Marine Corps service I bought a cartridge belt and two canteens at a surplus store. I adjusted the belt to fit my waist and attached the two canteen covers to it in the usual positions. When I put on the belt, something didn't feel right. I finally realized that my waist had grown and the canteens rode farther to the sides than my body remembered. I didn't know until then that buttocks had a memory.

A canteen cup was carried in one of the canteen covers. This was an aluminum vessel, about 4 inches high, with a folding handle. It had a kidney shaped top profile so that a canteen would fit inside it. The canteen cup was made in two designs. One version had a flared rim. It was the preferred kind. The other type had a rolled rim which seemed to store heat. When the liquid contents of the cup were luke warm, the rolled rim would still be hot enough to burn the lips.

I was not destined to be fortunate enough to be the permanent possessor of a canteen cup with a flared rim. I had one for a short period of a few days. I had salvaged it from the cartridge belt of a man who had been wounded and evacuated. The cup was made useless when a mortar fragment hit the canteen on my right side. The next cup I salvaged had a rolled rim.

Water for instant coffee was heated in the canteen cup, sometimes over fires which used the waxed cardboard cartons that some rations came in for fuel. But often the fuel we used was C2 explosive material. I had received two days of demolition training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. And, as a boy, I enjoyed shooting firecrackers to celebrate the Fourth Of July. You usually don't fear something you know about or are familiar with, so I have never feared explosives. Some members of the company were assigned the job of using Satchel Charges (we called them pack charges) to blow up and collapse Japanese cave emplacements. Ed Maigarie was hurt while doing this by rock fragments from an explosion.

A Satchel Charge looked like a small back pack, with a cloth loop by which it could be carried suspended from a shoulder. It contained an earlier version of the explosive material which is today called by the French word: “Plastique”. The official designation for that material is “Composition 4” or C4.

Back then, our satchel charges contained “Composition 2”, or C2. C2 was a gray-tan malleable material, of a consistency slightly more grainy than children's modeling clay. The Satchel charge contained blocks of C2 wrapped in waxed paper. I don't recall the weight of a block, or how many were in a satchel, but I believe that the whole unit contained ten pounds of C2.

A chunk of C2 could be pinched off of a block and rolled into a thin worm about ten to twelve inches long. When lighted at one end the worm burned slowly, with a smoky flame. As the C2 burned, a canteen cup was moved to keep it above the flame until the water in the cup was heated. This was our only hot food. There was no danger of an explosion. Even the impact of a bullet would not cause C2 to explode. It could only be detonated by a blasting cap.

Cases of cigarettes were occasionally brought up and cartons distributed to each man who smoked, which was almost everyone. The cigarettes were usually good brands, such as “Lucky Strike”, “Camel” and “Chesterfield”. Nearly every one of us had at least one carton of cigarettes in his pack.

BARs and KA-BARs

We were armed at the platoon level with Caliber .30 M1 rifles and Caliber .30 Browning Automatic Rifles, called by us the BAR (pronounced “Bee Ay Arr”).

We also carried KA-BAR knives which were shaped like small Bowie knives and carried in a leather scabbard. The scabbard had a pocket which contained a small whetstone. Many of us had naked forearms where we had tested the knife edges, after sharpening them, by shaving the hair on our arms.

“KA-BAR” stands for “Killed A B'ar”. Early in its history, the company which made the knives changed its name for advertising purposes after the receipt of a letter from a customer describing the use to which one of their knives had been put. Another company, Camillus, also made identical knives, but a real KA-BAR was preferred. Regardless of which company had made them, each knife was called by the generic name of KA-BAR.

Officers and some NCO's carried carbines, which fired a smaller (and much less powerful) .30 caliber cartridge.

Each platoon had a Bazooka rocket launcher and most of us carried (and cursed) a rocket for it.

How to Throw a Grenade

We had three kinds of grenades; Fragmentation, White Phosphorous and Smoke of various colors. We never had enough Fragmentation Grenades. They were heavy to lug around, but very useful and we always ran out of them quickly when they were needed.

I was good with grenades in training. I could throw a practice grenade almost 50 yards and more often than not have it land where I intended. When I used them for real, I was usually too sick, weak and tired to throw a grenade as far as 20 yards.

Grenades were designed to be held with the safety lever, or “spoon”, in the palm of the right hand. This oriented a ring, attached to a cotter pin that kept the grenade safe, so that the pin could be pulled out of its aligned holes with the left hand. This released the spoon so the grenade could arm itself when it left the hand as it was thrown. The pin was removed by separating the hands, pulling the elbows apart with arm and back muscles. It required some degree of exertion.

I once heard someone say that it takes seventeen pounds of pull to remove a cotter pin from a grenade and only fifteen pounds to break a tooth. I've never measured the tension required for removing a pin or the force to break a tooth, but removing a pin with the teeth seems like doing it the hard way. I've only seen it done that way in the movies.

When the safety lever was released after the pin has been pulled, the lever was lifted and thrown free of the grenade by the rotation of a spring-loaded striker, which traveled through an arc and impacted on a primer. The exploding primer lighted a fuse which was designed to burn for 4 to 5 seconds before igniting a detonator that fired an explosive charge in the body of the grenade, causing the body to burst and propel high velocity fragments in all directions.

Japanese grenades were designed a little differently. Instead of a safety lever and a spring-loaded striker, their grenades had a free floating firing pin which was made safe by a pin. To arm a Japanese grenade, the pin was pulled and the firing pin was pounded against something hard like a rock or even a helmet. From that point on the grenade functioned much like ours did. I don't know what the delay time was from when a Japanese grenade was armed until it detonated.

When a grenade was used in the conventional manner, the spoon was held in the palm of the hand as the grenade was thrown. The primer made a loud crack as it was hit by the striker shortly after the grenade left the throwing hand.

This helped the 'target' in two ways.

First, he knew that a grenade had been thrown and from where.

Secondly, It gave him the maximum amount of time to evade the grenade; or, if he had the guts and the inclination, to pick it up and throw it back.

Usually, we used a different technique. The grenade was grasped with the safety lever held by the fingers instead of the palm of the hand. This positioned the cotter pin so it could be removed less awkwardly and with less effort, by pushing the right hand down while pulling the ring up with the left hand.

Before throwing the grenade, the spoon was released by the fingers in a hole or behind cover. The noise of the striker was less audible to the 'target'. Then, a count to two or three before actually throwing the grenade gave no advance warning and little time to pick up or evade the grenade before it exploded. Many grenades thrown in this manner would burst while still in the air, making them even more effective.

I never knew of an occurrence when a live grenade was fumbled and dropped or when a fast fuse was encountered. If there were any, they were far outnumbered by casualties from grenades thrown in the conventional manner which were picked up by an enemy and thrown back. And a count of two or three, in the heat of battle, often took not much more than a second and a half.

Finger and wrist action is inhibited by having to hold the spoon in the palm of the hand. The grenade then tends to be tossed mainly with an arm and shoulder motion, similar to the traditional manner in which the English pitch a cricket ball.

Releasing the spoon before throwing a grenade allows it to be thrown in a manner that most American young men have spent a lifetime learning. The grenade can be thrown as when throwing a baseball or football, using finger and wrist action to achieve longer distance and greater accuracy.

Grenades are not capable of the terrific explosions often seen in war movies, where they raze small buildings and can propel a human body six feet into the air. They do not have that much explosive force. Their purpose is to wound by fragmentation. I believe that any explosion capable of propelling a human body very far would break the body into chunks before doing so.

One rainy night on Oroku Peninsula, my foxhole was about twenty feet from another hole occupied by three members of my company. One man was wrapped in a poncho, asleep. The other two men were sitting in opposite corners of the hole.

A Japanese grenade sailed into the hole and came to rest on the poncho. The grenade exploded and wounded the thigh of the man under the poncho. A few small fragments went into his leg, some went completely through it, but he recovered completely and rejoined the company several months later. The other two men in the hole suffered only from hurt feelings and temporary hearing loss.

A normal grenade, U.S. or Japanese, would probably have killed all three occupants of the hole. The entire blast of that errant Japanese grenade must have been directed upward.

Later that same night I heard, or maybe "sensed", a Japanese in the valley about ten yards from my hillside foxhole. The night was pitch black and it was raining. We seldom, if ever, fired our rifles at night. I threw a grenade where I believed the Japanese was moving. As it grew light at dawn there was the body of a dead Japanese lying face down in that area.

A note: In the early 1990s when I was first writing this I had young grandchildren. I was concerned how they might receive the idea that Grampaw was a killer. So I omitted lethal "confrontations." I've been persuaded by my wife and by others that they are part of my experiences. Several more occasions have been included in this re-edited version.

Arms and Ammunition

A few men still had bayonets. A bayonet is like a short sword which can be fastened on the muzzle end of a rifle so the rifle can be used as a pike or lance. A bayonet is an anachronism from the days when muskets were single shot weapons which became spears after their black powder charges had been fired. I can conceive of situations when a rifle couldn't be fired, such as when a man was out of ammunition, or in the middle of a melee where there might be a danger of shooting one of his own people. But, in such an event, I had planned to try to use the rifle butt or get past an adversary's bayonet and use my KA-BAR. I firmly believe that rifles are for shooting.

In the Company there was a 60 Millimeter Mortar section and a .30 caliber Browning M1919A4 light machine gun platoon.

Caliber .30 rifle ammunition (the same cartridge as commercially loaded .30'06 Springfield ammunition) came in wooden boxes with an inside metal lining that opened like a big sardine can. Cartridges were packaged in eight-round clips in cloth bandoleers of six clips. The eight-round clip fit the magazine of the M1 rifle. A “round” is one cartridge -- one shot. The cartridge belt had ten flap-covered pockets, each of which held an eight-round clip, for a total of eighty rounds. Most of us usually also carried at least one bandoleer of six clips.

Not counting Tracer, caliber .30 ammunition was of two types. One type was called Ball, M2. Its bullet was made with a lead core and a pointed, copper plated steel jacket. The other type was called AP, M2 (Armor Piercing). Its bullet had a hard steel penetrator inside the copper plated steel jacket.

I believed then that the Ball ammo was more accurate. I know now that the AP, which had a heavier bullet with slightly less muzzle velocity, was probably just as accurate. With the exception of Tracer, all .30 caliber ammunition was designed to shoot to about the same point of impact at 600 yards.

Tracer was usually loaded in belts of machine gun ammunition. Every fifth round was tracer. Tracer ammunition has a pellet of combustible material in the base of the bullet, which is ignited by the heat of firing and burns and glows for a second or two, allowing its path through the air to be visible. Tracer bullets lose weight as they burn, are not very accurate and are good mainly for starting grass fires. At longer ranges, where they would have the most utility, they follow a different trajectory than the conventional bullets that they are supposed to track.

By the time we landed on Oroku Peninsula in June I was shooting my rifle, of whichever kind I had at the time, nearly every day. I would shoot it to check the zero and to clean the barrel. In the rainy weather that we usually experienced, if a rifle wasn't shot or cleaned every day, the inside of the barrel could almost heal shut from corrosion. I found out years later that this was caused by the type of primer that the Caliber .30 ammunition was loaded with.

We rarely saw live Japanese north of Naha, due to the caves and emplacements they fought from. I had few chances to shoot at them. After we had made a landing behind the Japanese main line on Oroku Peninsula, south of the Okinawa capitol city of Naha the emplacements were not as effectively situated and there were fewer of them. Even then most of the Japanese I shot at were moving fast or were semi-hidden.

In a platoon at full strength, there were 9 BAR's; three per squad. I never have thought too highly of the BAR. Now that I know much more about shooting than I did while I was in the Marine Corps, that feeling is justified, or at least it is to me.

I believe that no fully automatic weapon should be hand held. Machine guns are fine when fired from a mount, such as a tripod. I know that M60 machine guns were frequently fired from the hip, by shooters festooned with belts of cartridges. I've seen Rambo movies and I've seen Vietnam “Knockumentaries”. I still believe that, in almost every case, more hits can be had with a semi-automatic rifle, whether by aimed fire from the shoulder, or, by fast, instinctively aimed fire from the hip, which can be surprisingly accurate.

The BAR had a fairly slow cyclic rate of fire. Most bipods had long since been discarded to save weight. While advancing, the BAR was sometimes carried upside down, with the sling over the left shoulder so the rifle could be used for “assault firing”. This gave good accessibility to the magazine well, so magazines could be replaced quickly. It also put the operating slide on the right where it could be more easily used.

The BAR fired from an open bolt. Depressing the trigger allowed the bolt to go forward, strip a round from the magazine, push the round into the chamber and fire it. Gas pressure from the firing would then open the bolt. If the trigger was still depressed it would repeat the cycle and fire another round. When the trigger was released while firing, the bolt stayed open and the chamber was empty. This prevented a round from “cooking off” after prolonged firing had heated the barrel. The operating slide was used to pull the bolt back and cock the weapon. Then the slide was pushed forward so that it wouldn't slam forward as the bolt was released by the trigger when the weapon was fired.

When the BAR was fired while suspended by the sling, the firing was not instinctive as it is when a rifle is fired from the hip, holding it in both hands. This was of little import when the shooting was for the purpose of spraying an area. But when a BAR was fired at a specific target, by the time the shooter had started shooting, adapted to the recoil, observed where he was hitting and made corrections, enough time would have elapsed that more hits could have been made in the same length of time with a semi-automatic M1 rifle. And, with far fewer rounds expended and while carrying much less weight. The BAR weighed about 19 pounds, the M1 about 10 pounds. The BAR did have a twenty round magazine as compared to the eight round en bloc clip of the M1 rifle. It needed it.

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to next page -- Part II

☆ Dedication
☆ Part III
☆ Part IV
☆ G/3/29 Roster, April-June 1945
☆ James S. White bio