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General Buckner came on the intercom and told all the troops,

"Men, we're about ready to invade the island of Okinawa."

He said, "I want you to know you're not only fighting for your country,

but you're fighting for your loved ones back home."

That really comforted me, because I told some of my friends, "I think I'll be the first one killed."

December 7th, 1941, the United States of American was suddenly and deliberately attacked

by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

It was on a Sunday afternoon.

About 2 o'clock in the afternoon

I was walking down the main street in my hometown, and a car came by.

The radio was blasting, "We're at war!"

The Japs had bombed Pearl Harbor.

I was fifteen years old at that time.

But when I heard all the casualties at Pearl Harbor, it made me want to go in the war.

Shortly after graduating high school, Ted Estridge was drafted into the United States Marines.

The next few months saw him going through basic training

and joining up with the First Marine Division.

They sent me to San Diego, California.

I went through boot camp there.

Then we went to Camp Pendleton.

That's where we had advanced training.

The First Marine Division was in Pavuvu, Solomon Islands.

They had just finished their campaign at Peleliu.

Prior to Teds arrival, the First Marine Division had already endured what was to them

hell on earth”,

seeing intense combat at Guadalcanal, New Britain, and Peleliu.

Each campaign dragged on far longer than anticipated,

costing the First Division nearly ten thousand casualties.

But now, with Ted among their ranks,

the next objective would be the Divisions deadliest campaign yet.

The first day of April.

April Fools' Day.

They started early in the morning - battleships shelling the island.

Then General Buckner came on the intercom and told all the troops,

"Men, we're about ready to invade the island of Okinawa."

He said, "I want you to know you're not only fighting for your country,

but you're fighting for your loved ones back home."

That really comforted me, because I told some of my friends, "I think I'll be the first one killed."

When we landed, the Army went south and the Marines went north.

I tell you, war is a terrible thing.

Kill or be killed.

The Japanese had that whole island mapped out.

They had tunnels where they could escape and go back to the next hill.

They knew everywhere to place artillery.

You would hear those shells come in, screaming, bursting - debris falling all over you.

General Buckner was killed in the Battle of Okinawa.

On the 18th of June, as Lieutenant General Simon Buckner

observed the battle from a few hundred yard behind the front lines,

he was hit by shrapnel from a Japanese artillery shell.

This is the last known photo of the General, taken only moments before his death.

For the First Marine Division, the Battle of Okinawa was a painstaking process

of eliminating an enemy who was firmly entrenched in a series of heavily fortified hills.

Casualties continued to mount, and Ted would be one of them.

We were taking a hill.

We were two-thirds of the way up the hill, and a mortar round came in.

It hit me right in the shoulder.

It was almost like a sledgehammer.

I fell down on the ground, and my buddy in front of me, Norton Larson,

the same shell that got me -

he had a piece of shrapnel that came in underneath his nose and came out the back of his head.

It killed him instantly.

That could have been me.

"Why me Lord?"

That's what I thought.

Then my buddy picked me up, and we went back to where we embarked from.

At that time there was wounded laying all over the place.

The next morning, the hospital ship came in as close to shore as you could get.

They had a cable run from the land to the hospital ship, and they snapped me on that cable.

That afternoon, there was a nurse over at the hospital ship window,

and she screamed out, "Oh, he's going to hit us!"

It was a suicide plane.

It wasn't aiming for us, but a destroyer anchored next to the hospital ship.

It hit the destroyer.

Immediately, they started bringing in sailors, burned terribly.

In fact, I was in the middle bunk.

I had a sailor by my feet and one in the front.

Both of them died that night.

Every morning they'd have a burial service on the hospital ship.

When I was able to walk, I watched how they buried their dead.

They put an American flag over the body.

They had a slide go down, right into the ocean.

You know, the Bible says that in the last resurrection the seas will give up their dead.

There's been thousands buried at sea.

After nearly three months of gruesome combat, the Battle of Okinawa came to a close.

With the island secure, the United States military now held a position

from which they could launch a mainland attack on Japan.

But the attack would never come.

In August of 1945, two atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese mainland.

When they bombed Hiroshima then Nagasaki, that was the beginning of the end.

There would have been millions killed if we had to invade Japan.

I'm just thankful we didn't have to.

When I came back, I had points to get discharged, and they took me to Great Lakes, Illinois.

I took a train from Chicago to Indianapolis, then rode a bus into Brookville, Indiana.

When I arrived there, the streets where all empty.

But the service station was open,

and I went in and there was one of my buddies from before the war.

I said, "Could you take me out to my house?"

So he drove out and parked in front of my father's house, and blew the horn.

My mother came to the door and said, "Who is it?"

I said, "You don't know, do you?"

And she screamed.

She said, "It's Theo!"

They always called me Theo.

She ran out there and threw her arms around me.

That was the happiest moment of my life.

In November, 1958, the Lord called me in the ministry.

He called me to go back to Okinawa as a missionary.

Now I'll tell you, I hated Okinawa.

I hated the Japanese people at the time,

until the Lord saved me and he gave me a love for the Japanese people and Okinawans.

I took my family and we spent fifteen years on Okinawa as missionaries.

Several years after the wars end, Ted found himself returning to Okinawa -

this time with a different mission.

The very place where he had seen the worst of mankind was now his home,

and the people he had once considered enemies now were like family.

Teds new journey lead him back to the very hill on Okinawa where he had been wounded.

I could almost go to the exact spot.

I got on my knees and I said, "Oh God, I thank you for sparing my life right here."

I said, "Why me, Lord?"

Norton Larson couldn't have a family, a wife, children or grandchildren.

About three weeks ago, my granddaughter came to visit from North Carolina,

and she put a little, nine-month-old great grandson in my arms.

Norton couldn't experience that.

I know this: Anybody that's been in combat - hand to hand fighting -

it's just by the grace of God we made it.

The real heroes

are those who gave their life for their country.

The Description of “Surviving the Battle of Okinawa” | Memoirs Of WWII #23