HONOR FLIGHT: Marine artilleryman Ken Bosworth can still recall horrific carnage of battle on Okinawa
This is the third in a series of stories on local veterans that took part in the Honor Flight Northeast Indiana trip to Washington D.C. on April 25. Coming Thursday: A love story in the shadow of the Korean War.
When Ken Bosworth reminisces about his World War II service in the Marine Corps, it doesn’t exactly match up with Hollywood.
In 2016, the movie “Hacksaw Ridge” was released, dramatizing the story of conscientious objector Desmond Doss on Okinawa in 1945.
Bosworth was also there, serving in fire control as part of a battery of 155mm howitzers shelling the ridge for weeks in an attempt to soften up the Japanese defenders.
“Don’t let them tell you any different, war is hell,” said Bosworth, who lives on a farm in Jay County. “The movie had these big rope ladders on the ridge. Who put them up? We sure didn’t. The Japanese sure didn’t. There was a lot of stuff dramatized.”
Bosworth’s journey to action at Okinawa began in 1943. After graduating from Portland High School, he joined the Marine Corps. When he left for boot camp in San Diego, he didn’t realize he would not return home for over two years.
Following boot camp, Bosworth underwent artillery training at Camp Pendleton in California. There he familiarized himself with the big guns that were being used to assist the infantry as the United States military island hopped its way across the Pacific, wresting away territory after territory from the Japanese.
With training in hand, Bosworth headed for Guadalcanal with a cadre of replacements for Marine units looking to replace its losses. By this time in 1944, Guadalcanal had been secured and was now being used as a staging area for the push into the Mariana Islands and beyond.
Bosworth was set to see his first action with his artillery unit during the invasion of Guam in July 1944, but some bad luck (or fate) intervened. While playing basketball with comrades, he tore up his leg, putting him in traction for 26 days.
As his unit went off to war, Bosworth was relegated to the sidelines. But perhaps it was good fortune.
“During the taking of Guam, seven of my buddies went souvenir hunting, which they should never have done,” Bosworth said. “They went into a big valley that our troops had not gone through and the Japanese were still there.
“Only one came back, the other six didn’t make it.”
Once healthy, Bosworth prepared for the invasion of Okinawa, which was launched on Easter Sunday, 1945. His Marine artillery unit landed with the 6th Marine Division one day after the initial invasion on the west side of the island. From there, they shelled Japanese positions for weeks while experiencing war’s terrors.
“Me and this one guy were having lunch one day and I sat on the edge of a mound of dirt,” Bosworth said. “Something was moving underneath me and I got up to check. We were sitting on a dead Japanese soldier. Someone had covered him up with dirt and buried him there.”
It is estimated that between 40,000 and 150,000 civilians died during the battle for Okinawa. Bosworth saw some of that firsthand.
“We were walking down this one road after it had been shelled for awhile and on the side of the road we saw a woman buried to the waist with a baby on her back,” Bosworth said. “Both were dead. You can’t say there is anything glamorous about that.”
As Okinawa was secured, attention turned to what seemed like the inevitable invasion of the Japanese mainland. But the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to Japan’s surrender.
“We were outside playing softball one day and a guy in a P-38 came over and did a victory roll,” Bosworth said. “We went to headquarters and found out about dropping the atomic bomb.”
After the war, Bosworth returned home in late 1945 and took agricultural classes through the Purdue Extension Office. He got married to Wilma Jean, his wife of 54 years, in 1948. His son Gary was born in 1950 and he bought a farm in Jay County in 1952.
Bosworth still lives on that farm to this day.
Late last month, Gary, also a Marine Corps veteran, accompanied Bosworth to Washington D.C. as part of Honor Flight Northeast Indiana. He was able to see the World War II Memorial, where he met up with great-nephew Chris Detwiler and his family.
For the first time in years, three generations of the family, Marine Corps vets all, were together.