The 96th Infantry Division wasn’t kidding on April Fool’s Day. On April 1, 1945, two regiments of the “Deadeye” Division stormed ashore at Okinawa, where for nearly three months the Division was to come up against some of the worst fighting of the whole Pacific war.
Okinawa was the second big campaign for the Deadeyes, who took their nickname because of their marksmanship pro-ficiency during their nearly two years of training in the United States. Activated in August 1942, with a cadre drawn from the 7th Infantry Division, they sailed for Hawaii in July 1944, and continued training there—meeting up with the 7th, back from Attu. On October 20, the 96th entered combat, landing at Leyte in the first hours of General MacArthur’s invasion of the Philippines.
The men who wear the overlapping blue and white diamonds, standing, respectively, for courage and purity, helped to liberate Leyte in two months of fighting. Their Division paper, the Deadeye News, ran a daily box score of “Good Japs”—dead ones—and by the end of the Leyte campaign the 96th had 7,000 notches on its collective rifle. It had a good collection of Jap souvenirs, too, including one of the largest of any war—a whole Jap cannon collected by four enterprising artillerymen who towed it behind a carabao back to their battery.
Remaining on Leyte during the start of the Luzon operation, the 96th was re-equipped and got set for its next job—Okinawa. Hitting the beaches under Tenth Army command, with its brother Division, the 7th, at its side, as it had been on Leyte, the 96th immediately claimed one distinction when one of its sergeants, racing in 600 yards with a precious bundle on his back, firmly implanted the first American flag on the soil of the Ryukyus.
Then came weeks of steady fighting against fanatical resis-tance from Japs who had to be burned and dug out of hidden caves. The Deadeyes swarmed over Tombstone Ridge, and, in mid-May, hit their hardest opposition at Conical Hill, overlook-ing the Yonabaru Airfield. When the 96th took Conical Hill, on May 14, it deprived the Japs of their last good observation point on Okinawa. Then the Division gobbled up the airfield. A month later, the Deadeyes cracked the center of the Jap southern defense line by taking Yaeju Hill and pushed on to the south. Just a day before the official end of the campaign, which was announced on June 20, the assistant commander of the 96th, Brigadier General Claudius M. Easley, was killed in action. A crack shot himself, he had had much to do with the sharpshooting of the rest of the Deadeyes—men like Private First Class Clarence Craft, who won nationwide fame for killing 30 of the enemy during his first combat action, and breaking a stalemate that had held up two regiments for ten days.
Seven thousand dead Japs had seemed like a substantial number on Leyte, but by the time the Deadeye News got around to printing box scores at the end of the Okinawa campaign the figure had been left far behind. By then, the Deadeyes’ collection of “good” Japs had reached the impressive total of 20,000.
From Fighting Divisions, Kahn & McLemore, Infantry Journal Press, 1945-1946.
There are 46 soldiers of the 96th Infantry Division World War II still listed as missing in action.
|Private Willard T. Baker 321st Engineer Combat Battalion 10/21/1944|
|Private First Class John W. Baliski 383rd Infantry Regiment 06/06/1945|
|Private First Class Allan J. Barclay 381st Infantry Regiment 04/05/1945|
|Private Leland E. Beard 383rd Infantry Regiment 04/24/1945|
|Private First Class Donald S. Berton 381st Infantry Regiment 06/06/1945|
|Private Richard R. Bertram 382nd Infantry Regiment 10/10/1945|
|Private First Class John A. Breder 383rd Infantry Regiment 10/25/1944|
|Private First Class William R. Bundgard 382nd Infantry Regiment 04/10/1945|
|Private First Class Everett F. Chittenden 383rd Infantry Regiment 04/29/1945|
|Private First Class David D. Coleman 383rd Infantry Regiment 04/11/1945|
|Private First Class Nieves M. Dela Cruz 382nd Infantry Regiment 05/14/1945|
|Private First Class Donald M. Eden 381st Infantry Regiment 06/05/1945|
|Private First Class Daniel R. Farlien 383rd Infantry Regiment 05/19/1945|
|Second Lieutenant James D. Farmes 382nd Infantry Regiment 10/22/1944|
|Private First Class Earl R. Fickies 381st Infantry Regiment 06/12/1945|
|Private Eugene E. Fitch 382nd Infantry Regiment 11/03/1944|
|Private Manuel Gonzalez 383rd Infantry Regiment 11/06/1944|
|Staff Sergeant Jessie J. Gray 382nd Infantry Regiment 04/06/1945|
|Technician Fourth Grade Edward J. B. Guidroz 382nd Infantry Regiment 10/26/1944|
|Private First Class Harold L. Houk 382nd Infantry Regiment 05/24/1945|
|First Lieutenant Eugene Hughes 381st Infantry Regiment 04/10/1945|
|Private Garnett W. Ingram 383rd Infantry Regiment 01/10/1945|
|Private James D. Jackson 382nd Infantry Regiment 05/11/1945|
|First Sergeant Peter J. Katkauskas 381st Infantry Regiment 06/08/1945|
|Private First Class Billy Kent 382nd Infantry Regiment 11/04/1945|
|Private First Class Bernard J. Kundrick 382nd Infantry Regiment 05/14/1945|
|Technician Fourth Grade James V. Lawrence 321st Engineer Combat Battalion 05/31/1945|
|First Lieutenant Augusta J. Lawson 382nd Infantry Regiment 10/13/1944|
|Private First Class John Laxton 382nd Infantry Regiment 04/08/1945|
|Sergeant Harold M. Lerch 381st Infantry Regiment 05/23/1945|
|Sergeant Paul H. Middleton 381st Infantry Regiment 04/12/1945|
|Private First Class John B. Murphy 383rd Infantry Regiment 04/02/1946|
|Private First Class Arhtur K. Nelson 381st Infantry Regiment 05/20/1945|
|Second Lieutenant Richard P. Neu 381st Infantry Regiment 04/26/1945|
|Private First Class Douglas W. Passard 382nd Infantry Regiment 10/31/1944|
|Private Tony P. Reyes 382nd Infantry Regiment 04/10/1945|
|Private First Class Charles D. Sales 321st Engineer Combat Battalion 05/31/1945|
|Private First Class Felipe Sanchez 382nd Infantry Regiment 04/25/1945|
|Private First Class Luis Sanchez 382nd Infantry Regiment 04/04/1945|
|Second Lieutenant Marion A. Scheel 383rd Infantry Regiment 10/25/1944|
|Private Paul E. Stickley 382nd Infantry Regiment 08/31/1945|
|Private First Class Dareld A. Studey 383rd Infantry Regiment 09/04/1945|
|Private First Class Theodore A. Wallace 381st Infantry Regiment 08/12/1945|
|Private James A. White 382nd Infantry Regiment 04/23/1945|
|Private First Class Wayne A. Young 383rd Infantry Regiment 10/22/1944|
|Private First Class Stuart D. Zysk 381st Infantry Regiment 06/06/1945|
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