On one wall of his clean, neat home hangs a glassed-in square frame that has gathered a little dust. Inside are displayed his medals from the war. He allows a visitor to take the plaque down from the wall for a closer observation.
The first medal is the Bronze Star. It was won during action in the battle for Okinawa, the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific War and a battle that resulted in one of the highest number of casualties of any World War II engagement.
The wording under the medal reads:
Staff Sgt. Arthur F. Sullivan. For meritorious achievement in ground combat against the armed enemy during World War II in the Asiatic Pacific Theater of Operations.
“Only one boy went with me as we crouched behind a tank advancing on a Japanese gun emplacement, bunker, or whatever. We did not know there were two machine guns up there,” Sullivan said. “One of them zeroed in on us and my buddy got hit twice. He took one bullet in the leg and another ricocheted off the tank and went down through his foot.”
Sullivan stood just over 5-feet 8-inches and weighed about 155 pounds when he went ashore on Okinawa with the Marines in early April, 1945.
But he found the strength to pick up his fellow GI and carry him back to were the rest of his company was hunkered down.
He had passed a second lieutenant lying on the ground.
“I didn’t even know he was out there with us. I went back out and got him. He had been shot in the stomach. He was a bigger man and I couldn’t carry him, so I dragged him back behind the line. Bullets were flying all around us and mortar rounds exploding here and there. How I kept from being hit, I’ll never know.”
His soldier buddy survived, although he lost the leg. He never learned the fate of the second lieutenant as his company pushed on across the jungle-covered ridges of Okinawa.
“My buddy wrote me a card after the war. He was from Wisconsin. I never got to go to a one of our reunions, but I guess he got my address at one of them,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan had one other action on Okinawa that went above and beyond the call of duty. He killed seven Japanese soldiers who were guarding an ammunition storage area, although he didn’t know at first that that’s what it was.
“I crawled up there on my stomach, shot the seven Japs with my Browning automatic, then threw a grenade in through the doorway,” he said. “I had started to run back down the hill when the grenade went off and set all the ammo in that dump to going off. I rolled into a ditch. It kept exploding. The ground was shaking. It was the one time during the battle that I was really scared.”
The battle for Okinawa, located just 340 miles from Japan’s main islands, was codenamed “Operation Iceberg.” It lasted 82 days – from early April until late June, 1945. The battle was referred to as the “Typhoon of Steel” in Japanese. The name referred to the ferocity of the fighting, the intensity of gunfire involved, and to the sheer numbers of Allied ships and armored vehicles that assaulted the island.
More than 100,000 of the civilian population were killed, wounded or committed suicide.
The Allies suffered more than 50,000 casualties and the Japanese more than 109,000.
Lt. Gen. Simon B. Buckner Jr., who led two corps of Army and Marine troops ashore on April 1, was killed during the ground fighting.
“I was supposed to have been put in for the Silver Star, but my captain who was going to do that got killed, and so I don’t know what ever became of that,” Sullivan said.
The Japanese fought desperately. Their air force launched some 6,000 kamikazes against American and British ships off shore. These suicide planes sank 36 vessels and damaged 322 others.
But the Allies prevailed, and now planned to use Okinawa as a base for air operations on a planned invasion of the Japanese mainland. After the fighting on Okinawa ended, Sullivan and others of the 381st Infantry Regiment moved on to the island of Mandora.
The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Soviet entry into the Pacific war caused Japan to surrender just weeks after the end of the fighting on Okinawa.
Sullivan and his fellow GIs underwent training for the occupation of Japan, but never went. Instead, they stayed near Manila helping the Philippines in their recovery.
He was discharged and returned home to his wife, the former Ruth Fannin. They had gotten married while both of them were working in the Baltimore Shipyards before he was drafted.
“I was on Saipan when our first son was born,” Sullivan said.
His wife died of a heart attack 15 years ago.
They had four sons and four daughters. There are 25 grandchildren and 35 great-grandchildren.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.