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Homer Hirt

Homer Hirt

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Guam and its Battles

Headlines in today’s news tells of the threat by North Korea’s Premier to fire missiles onto Guam, one of The United States territories.  The threat may be very real, or it may not be anything but sabre-rattling by a despot who is allowing his people to starve while he maintains a 400,000-man (and woman) army and has his scientists and engineers constructing missiles.

But the shores of Guam are no stranger to combat.  

Guam came to the United States as part of the settlement with Spain after the Spanish-American War.  It seemed strategically placed for a coaling and supply station as our fleet reached out into the broad Pacific, offering protection to our merchant ships as they ventured to the riches of the East.

The island itself is mountainous as Pacific islands go.  Thirty miles long and ten miles wide, it has Apra Harbor, an airport at Agana and a large airfield at the northernmost tip. The beaches are beautiful and it rains a lot, almost every day.

The first battle of Guam occurred in mid-December 1941.  The Japanese had planned to take the island and they began their successful invasion on 8 December. Subjugating the native Chamoros, they began construction of the underground caves and tunnels that seemed to be part of their global strategy.  

By 1944 the fleets of the United States had taken back Guadalcanal, Tarawa and many islands that had once been the defense boundaries of Imperial Japan. In July of that year American forces retook Guam, but only after a fierce defense by the Japanese.  American Marines had over 7,000 casualties and the Japanese lost just over 18,000.

American military forces were led by Marine General Roy Geiger, Admiral Richmond K. Turner and Marine General Holland M. Smith.  The Japanese defenders were under General Takeshi Takasina, who died in combat, and Hideyoshi Obata.

Landings were difficult.  Reefs across beaches on the Orote Peninsula stopped landing craft and Marines had to swim and wade in.  Gun emplacements, interconnected with each other, were sighted in on the beach and they fired until silenced by warships. There were four Medals of Honor given to Marines, two posthumously. 

For months after the cessation of the battle, pockets of Japanese soldiers would strike at Americans.  When this writer was stationed at Agana Naval Air Station in 1952 a ragged, weathered Japanese officer surrendered at the main gate.  In 1974 another surrendered, finally convinced that the war was over and he would not be ostracized in modern Japan for not dying for his Emperor.

Today a visitor can land at the airport and visit the plush hotels and enjoy the culture of the island.  If he or she wishes, a hike through the mountainous area of Orote Peninsula will allow the visitor to see caves and gun emplacements bordering the beautiful beach at Tumon Bay.

Today, the visitor can learn a part of American history that is sometimes forgotten amid the prosperity of our country and its lands.  

Will there be a third Battle of Guam?

“The Divine Wind” could not save Imperial Japan!

Okinawa is one of the Ryuku islands, a possession of Imperial Japan, and a crucial one in General Douglas McArthur’s and Admiral Chester Nimitz’ march up the Pacific Ocean and into the home waters of Japan.  

The northward island-hopping campaigns had begun on Guadalcanal, skipped up to Tarawa and the Marshalls and the Mariannas.  The U. S. forces finally converged on the Philippines and General McArthur had the opportunity to proclaim “I have returned,” as he waded ashore (at least twice), from a landing craft with his “Missouri Meerscham,” a corncob pipe, firmly clinched between his teeth.

But the fight was not over.  Both McArthur and Nimitz knew that the war had to be laid on the front door steps of Japan, itself.  The Emperor, and the people, had to understand what war was like, so forces went closer and closer to the homeland.

One of the places that was selected as ideally suited for the coming air raids against the capital, Tokyo, and the industrial centers of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the shipyards that dotted the coastal inlets was Okinawa.

The American forces loaded into landing ships and headed seaward.  Ahead of them went the small ships, destroyers and destroyer escorts, guarding the massive attack aircraft carriers whose weapons were the bombers laden with TNT and fire bombs. 

But the battle was not easy.  In fact, it was the bloodiest of all of the Pacific actions.  Fortified by civilian and military workers, the mountains were honeycombed with tunnels and gun emplacements.  The beaches were covered by artillery already sited in on landing sites.  The Japanese soldiers were ready, ready to fight to the end for the Emperor and the Bushido code that demanded death before surrender.

And the Japanese had the “Divine Wind,” the kamikaze.  The air arm had lost almost all of its effective combat pilots, so it trained rookies on how to take off and how to fly into enemy ships, their planes laden with explosives that could, and did, damage or sink enemy destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers.  Already tried in other areas, the concentration of the attacks came when the massive U. S. fleet neared the shoreline of Okinawa.

The operation was named “Operation Iceberg,” and the name was almost prophetic.  Beneath the surface of the island were the miles of tunnels awaiting troop landings. Support for the invasion came from Admiral Raymond Spruance’s Fifth Fleet, including Admiral Marc Mitscher’s Fast Carrier Task Force.

General Simon Buckner, Jr. commanded nearly 200,000 men, part of Major General Roy Geiger’s III Amphibious Corps of Marines.

The Navy was largely unopposed at sea.  Earlier battles had taken out most of the Japanese ships; engagements like the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf.  Troops were landed, and the surface ships bombarded known enemy positions and then stood out to wait.

The wait was short.  Kamikazes had already shown up, though few in numbers, in earlier engagements.  The carrier St. Lo was one of the first major losses.  But here at Okinawa, an island that would put Allied bombers within easy striking distance of the homeland of Japan, they showed up by the droves.

The planes, each flying the Rising Sun emblem, took off from airfields nearby, and set their courses for their enemy, ships that seemed to reach from horizon to horizon: carriers and cruisers and the ever-present destroyers.  Each pilot selected a target, each pilot flew toward the ship, some diving, some coming in low and skimming the waves, darting and evading, fixed on death but determined to take into that death with him an enemy ship.

The destroyers were first, guarding the large carriers.  Ships named LAFFEY and EDWARDS and SAUFLEY, and hundreds of others caught the brunt of the first waves, and stood their ground, taking hit after hit, sometimes as many as four kamikazes crashing into the bridges and the guns and the engine spaces. Regardless, many ships made it through.  

Today, if one wishes, he can visit Patriot’s Point in Charleston, and board the LAFFEY, and live again that day when the valiant little ship took her hits and survived. But, the Divine Wind, the Kamikazes, manned by brave young men from another culture, did not.

Chipola Ford: 95 Years and Counting!

It is not often that any small town business can claim a continuous existence that goes back ninety five years, but Chipola Ford does.  

Since the writer has, very far back, a similar dealership in his background, let me walk you through this one  that began here in Marianna and continues, successfully, onward into the future.

The present dealership building and other facilities are located on Lafayette Street, about a mile from where Mr. J. J. McCaskill first sold Ford automobiles, trucks and tractors.  I, as a young man and later as a dealer, often visited the old site, and even more often came to the present building, particularly during the time that the original J. J. McCaskill’s son Dexter was dealer. Dexter was my friend, even though we were occasionally competitors. After I sold my business I purchased all of my vehicles, except for a couple, from him or his successors. 

Today was a stroll through Memory Lane, interspersed among the newest of the Ford line are Model T automobiles, and a couple of restored Model A vehicles, including a Model A town car that once was in a museum. Outside, gleaming like a jewel is a Thunderbird from “back in the day”.  

I chatted first with Rick Barnes, the sales manager.  Barnes had come into the automobile business early in life, selling cars and trucks, and eventually becoming an important part of the management team of Chipola Ford, a spot the he feels that he was meant to be in. He is proud of the past, and he is confident of the future.

I meandered out into the showroom, and stood for a few minutes admiring the old cars, so beautifully restored.  I could not resist telling stories about them, about the Model T that Henry Ford built in the first mass production line for automobiles.  I quoted him, once when he was asked what the public would have asked for when he began production, he said, “Faster horses.” So much for surveys! The Model T put the common man behind the wheel and forced the United States to build and pave a great network of roads.  

Will Rogers, the present dealer, snared me and we went into his office, where he armed me with historical clippings.  We could not resist talking shop, even though my  “shop” ended in 1971.  We spoke of quality, and he expressed quiet pride in Ford’s standing.  “You know, Homer, folks talk about recalls as something bad.  I look at it as the proof that the manufacturers are looking out for their customers.  We handle them properly, too, as a dealer.” 

I wandered out onto the lot and registered for several things, and got a bag containing a nice pen and a key chain and, of course, a tee shirt, proving that “I’ve been there, and got the T shirt!”  The folks were nice, as they should be and always are at Chipola Ford.  The salesmen greeted me as though I was really going to buy a new car, and the ladies at the tables acted as though they knew me and showed me the respect due my gray hair and wrinkles.  I declined the hamburgers and hot dogs, but I promised to return.

And I will return. 

This coming weekend Will tells me that there will be more of the same, and added to that will be a fleet of Mustangs, Ford’s all-time best car (that’s my opinion). The “Pony Cars”  will come from Tallahassee and from Panama City, and will be polished and spiffed up and completely restored, and I will be there to admire each and every one of them.  

And I will bring with me my memories, thanks to Will and Dexter and all of those in between at Chipola Ford.

Larry Moore speaks to Republican Club

At the regular Republican Club’s meeting Tuesday, guest speaker Larry Moore, recently elected Jackson County school superintendent, spoke of declining student population, changes in graduation rates and his support for the proposed K-8 schools complex to be at the original designated site.

According to Superintendent Moore graduation rates for Jackson County are just under the state figure of 80% (73%) and are forecast to get better.  Moore is pleased with the equitable education funding that is provided by the state.

Moore praised the bus drivers in particular.  “These drivers are responsible for the well-being of 5500 students every day.  They drive a combined total of about 5500 miles each school day, a distance equal to driving across the continent to the State of Washington, and they do it safely,” he continued.

Other figures bore out the declining student population.  “In 1950 the students numbered 10,000.  Today there are 6,400, and, with the drop in total residents, this figure will fall also,” Moore explained.

In answer to a question from the floor, he backs the locating of the new K-8 schools complex in the eastern location, citing costs already incurred and that the project stands high in possible funding in the coming legislative year.

(The Republican Club of Northwest Florida meets each second Tuesday at Jim’s Buffet at noon.  All who are interested in current affairs are welcome, regardless of political affiliation.)

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