Lieutenant Raymond Johnson, Jr. raised his Marine issued binoculars to his eyes so that he could survey the Japanese positions at Shuri Castle. Captain Julian Dusenberry had ordered him to lead the assault on the last strategic stronghold on the island of Okinawa. This assault was going to be like none other Ray had lead in his short career as a United States Marine Corp officer.
Enlisting after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ray had seen the fighting along the Tenaru River on Guadalcanal where as a Private First Class, he was grievously wounded and sent home to recuperate. He married his college sweetheart, Sara, during that period and had just heard he was going to be father.
That scared him about as much as the Japanese across the battlefield. He knew he had been lucky to make it this far when most of the guys he went to boot camp with, and later V8 training, had been killed or wounded. At times like this, his mouth went dry and he seemed to find a hyper-focus that allowed him to see the battlefield contours more clearly. And, today was no exception.
Through the viewfinder of the binoculars, he could make out several machine gun nests, at least four mortar crews, and a couple of snipers in the immediate surroundings of the castle. The next sweep of the castle revealed a seemingly invisible draw that might work for his platoon.
With a quiet approach, Sergeant Hoggren could lead the platoon up that draw and surprise the first machine gun nest. If they could capture it…
It would allow the platoon to roll up the rest of the line and capture the castle. But, that plan could open them up to sniping if Ray didn’t cover the movement with counter mortar fire.
“Lieutenant, what do you see?” Company A commander Captain Dusenberry asked as he came up to get the latest intelligence from his favorite platoon leader.
“Captain, take a look at that left draw through my binoculars. I think we can send Sergeant Hoggren and first platoon through there and capture the first machine gun nest which will allow us to roll up the other nests with coordinated attacks and covering mortar fire.” Lieutenant Johnson reported.
Taking the binoculars, Captain Dusenberry viewed the terrain through magnification and picked out the points of reference that first platoon would have to traverse to make a successful attack. That invisible draw to the right looked very inviting, but…
There could be some hidden trench system or nest that might turn a seemingly successful attack into a disaster.
Fear of the unknown can cripple a man’s decision making and Captain Dusenberry was struggling with this fact himself.
“Lieutenant, I see the draw and while that does look inviting… What are the odds there is a hidden trench system or nest in that draw that could turn into a meat grinder for our men?”
“I’ve sent Sergeant Lawson and six men from third squad to do a quick reconnaissance of it to check the viability of the route and make sure it is as empty as it looks from here. They should be returning any minute, Captain.”
The Captain raised the binoculars again and caught a glimpse of the squad moving among the trees, and just as they disappeared, he saw a puff of smoke from the top of one of the trees overhanging the draw.
He discovered something that terrified him… he turned ghost white at the realization there was a well-camouflaged sniper hiding just inside the entrance.
“Get that sniper!” The Captain shouted as he released his grip and the binoculars clattered to the rocky ground.
Ray knelt and picked up the binoculars that had been with him from his officer’s training course that he took at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and found to his disgust that the right eyepiece was cracked and the left objective lens was shattered. He would not be able to use them again. It was like losing an old friend, but instead of discarding them, he put them gently back in their case and stored them away in his field pack.
“Sergeant Hoggren, get that sniper and get me another pair of binoculars.”
Sergeant Hoggren hustled to provide assistance to Sergeant Lawson.
“First squad front and center. Did you pinpoint the sniper that’s attacking Lawson and third squad?” the Sergeant shouted.
The Sergeant’s mind was racing but his voice was steady. His body was filled with adrenaline; yet, his decision making was sound thanks to all of the training he had received and the combat he had seen in the Marine Corps.
“Yes, Sergeant,” the squad leader responded
“Go get him and make sure you root out any other snipers that might be in that draw. We have to use that to attack the defenses of Shuri Castle tomorrow,” Sergeant Hoggren stated as he dismissed first squad to assist third squad in clearing the draw of snipers.
As the squad started clearing the snipers, the Japanese mortar squad opened up on the Marine positions, and a mortar hit adjacent to Ray and the remaining squad. The blast wounded several and killed Ray instantly.
Sadly, he would never know the outcome of the attack. Nor, would he ever meet the daughter his wife would deliver in the next three weeks.
When his family accepted Ray’s personal effects, the broken binoculars in their case were among the items received from Marine Corps.
Raymond Johnson, Sr, mused, “If these binoculars could talk, I’ll bet they have a story to tell. I wonder if they were broken during his last action.”
He would never know how close to the truth that statement was…