by Donald Dencker, L Company, 382nd Infantry Regiment, 96th Infantry Division
Donald Dencker, historian for the 96th Infantry Division Association, was a gunner in the Mortar Section of Company L, 382nd Infantry Regiment, 96th Infantry Division during World War II. He joined the 96th in March of 1944, choosing to serve in a mortar section—a place he assumed was “somewhat safer” than a rifle platoon. Little did he know that there were no safe places on Leyte and Okinawa, where he would soon be sent. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service on Okinawa.
I am webmaster for the 96th Infantry Division’s web page. On Memorial Day this year, I received an e-mail. It said, “My father...I don’t remember him. He last saw me when I was one year old. He was killed on Okinawa on April 20, 1945. My mother remarried, and she wouldn’t ever talk about him. I would like to know something about dad.” He was, as it turns out, in my outfit—96th Division, 382nd Regiment, Company L. On Memorial Day, I was with my four daughters, and we went to visit the grave of their mother. I said to myself, “This poor man...my buddy...died. And here I have had 60 good years since then.” You don’t know why. Why you survived and somebody else didn’t. But that’s the way it was. Now to the Okinawa campaign. On October 3, 1944, the General Staff’s headquarters in Washington, DC ordered Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the Central Pacific forces, to forget about planning for Operation Causeway. Causeway was to be the landing on Formosa, from where they would plan to take a position in the Ryukyu Islands. These were a chain of islands that stretched about 800 miles from Kyushu, the southern main island of Japan, almost to Taiwan, or Formosa as it was called then. It was decided to bypass Formosa and instead directly take up a position in the Ryukyu Islands. Okinawa was selected, as it was located almost exactly in the center of the Ryukyu Islands chain. Notable in the Okinawa island group are the Kerama Islands, which I will talk about a little later, and Ie Shima. Planning for the invasion of Okinawa was then immediately begun under the direction of Admiral Nimitz, and the operation was assigned to the newly formed 10th Army under Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. Studies were begun to select where the invading forces should land. It was decided to land at the Hagushi beaches on the western side of the island. The Japanese defenders, however, arrived at the same opinion, and they planned their defenses accordingly. The 10th Army was a combined force consisting of the Army’s 24th Amphibious Corps and the 3rd Marine Amphibious Corps. The main combat divisions assigned to make the landing were the 7th Infantry Division and the 96th Infantry Division. The 7th ID was a regular infantry division, and was experienced in several landings. It had taken the island of Attu in the Aleutians and Kwajalein. They had also made the landing along with us, the 96th, on Leyte on October 20, 1944, so that General “Doug” (MacArthur) could come ashore. The core of the 3rd Marine Amphibious Corps were the 1st Marine Division and the 6th Marine Division, which was formed from the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade. Most of these Marines had prior combat experience. The 96th Infantry Division was basically organized the same as all other Army infantry divisions. We had three infantry regiments, the 381st, the 382nd (the one I was in), and the 383rd. There were four artillery battalions: three light ones with 105 mm howitzers to support each infantry regiment, and a heavier one, the 363rd. The total compliment of men was 14,250 men. One of our important attached units included the 763rd Tank Battalion, which was assigned to us in July of 1944 and remained with us until after the end of the war. They were terrific tankers. Another was the 593rd JASCO; that was a joint assault signal company, a large company made of up Navy, Marine, and Army personnel to coordinate amphibious landings. There was the 88th Chemical Mortar Battalion, which proved quite valuable to both the Marine Corps and the Army.