Stuart A. Lindman: "I had no idea I'd been hit!"
Well-known Minnesota radio and television personality, Stuart A. Lindman, served in the South Pacific with the Company A of the 321st Medical Battalion, 96th Infantry Division during World War II. In a 2005 oral history interview, Mr. Lindman recalled the day he was wounded during the Battle of Okinawa.
SL: We were in the second wave and to a man we didn't think we were going to come through this alive because we knew it was a staging area. We’d been briefed very carefully. We knew what a strong garrison it was. Our division had the tenth highest number of casualties of World War II of the hundred divisions. You could say they were either bad shots, but that wasn't true because we were nicknamed the Deadeyes. Our second in command was a man by the name of Easley, graduate of West Point. He had many trophies and awards as a rifleman. He wanted his troops to be sharpshooters and they were. They were good soldiers.
I think the truth was that this was the end of the war. The Japanese knew it. They were fighting fiercely and savagely. They were fighting—now they knew this was the last stance before our invasion of the homeland. There were Marines along with these three army divisions that attacked Okinawa. A chap by the name of Eugene Sledge was in the 1st Marine Division, and he said of Okinawa in his book that it was "the most ghastly corner of hell I've ever witnessed. Every crater was half full of water. Many of them held a corpse. Swarms of big flies hovered over above them." He said he saw "maggots and decay. Men struggled and fought and bled in an environment so degrading I believed we had been plunged into hell’s own cesspool." And that’s about the best description of Okinawa that I've ever run across. Unless you’ve seen war, I think this statement by Sherman that "war is hell" is the most magnificent understatement ever uttered by man. No one can possibly describe the terror, the horror of war. And Okinawa was—has been described by many from general to private as a bloodbath.
Our division normally at that time had fifteen thousand men, and we had forty-five thousand men wear the patch of the 96th Division through those two invasions. So there was a tremendous number of casualties and of death. And death—the odor, the smell of death is something that—a stench again that no one who has ever had it on the battlefield will ever forget. It's . . . it's . . . it's a terrible memory. Terrible memory. Okinawa, the terrain was a little different there. Even at some times reminiscent of that which might be in northern Minnesota. There were some fir trees there. Didn't have quite the jungle atmosphere that you had down in the southern Philippines. But you still had the lizards. You still had the snakes. [Chuckles] That was still bad. And the fighting I think was even worse on Okinawa than it was in the Philippines.
DB: When you landed on Okinawa the landings were unopposed. The Japanese had pulled back
SL: That was a surprise because we, to a man, thought, "We'll never get across the beach because they're so well fortified. They knew where we are. Their guns are trained, and that shelling looks good but it's not going to take them out and we'll never get across the beach." And we walked on. There wasn't a shot fired. We couldn’t believe it. We crossed, got across the beach and into areas where there were trees and so on. But there wasn't a shot fired. Until we turned and then we found, of course, that their strategy, the Japanese strategy had changed from meeting us on the beach to letting us get inland and then zero in on us. And they'd fire from their positions, their fortifications in the mountains and ridges. There was one ridge after another. You'd take one ridge and cross the valley and another ridge and another mountain, another mountain, another mountain until we drove them into the sea on the other side of Okinawa.
DB: And as a litter bearer you had to be exposed often to enemy fire?
SL: Oh, yes. Yes.
DB: This is four men on one litter, right?
SL: Usually four men. Sometimes five. One would carry a bottle of plasma. Plasma was wonderful. Wonderful because you'd see so many soldiers go into shock and you'd lose them. They died. They'd just—shock would take them. And they’d get plasma and you could almost see them come back. Marvelous. And Sulfa. We were taught, of course, that that was the miracle drug at the time. No matter what the wound was you sprinkled it with Sulfa and used your styrette of painkiller.
SL: Morphine. Thank you. And I think there were twelve styrettes in our medical cases. I remember the fellows all saying, "Save one for yourself because you’re going to get hit. So save one for yourself because it’s going to be awful." It was not a joke. We meant it. But it was kind of a selfish thing that you thought of, too. Yes. That was our work, to pick the men up, get them to the aid station and give them first aid and help in transporting the casualties. And as our technicians were killed, new men were brought in from the States.
They brought in replacements. Rated men. That's right. Which was very discouraging, very distressing to us because we wanted to get rid of that job of being litter bearers. But no matter where you were, if you were a medical officer, if you were a major or a colonel, you were just as subject to being killed as the litter bearer. We were working side by side.
DB: And your fellow litter bearers took a lot of casualties?
SL: Oh! Tremendous. When we sailed out of San Francisco there were two hundred men in our immediate company and it got to the point where there were just twelve of us left who had not been killed or wounded. And the prayers toward the end came to be, "Please, I want to be wounded. I want to be hit. I don't want to lose an eye or an arm. I don't want to be hit badly but please make it bad enough so I can get out of this hell."
We were praying to be hit.
DB: A million dollar wound.
SL: The million dollar wound. That was the phrase. Yes. And mine was answered in a very dramatic fashion. We had been on the Shuai, Yonabaru and Naha line for several days. And it rained.
Oh! The mud. We'd go into these caves that the Japanese had and I remember we'd push them across a ridge and we'd get across the ridge and darkness would fall. And we'd go in these caves. I remember the Japanese had a weapon. I know we called them buzz bombs. I don’t know if they were. They were so large you could see them coming and they would fire one of these each afternoon and we'd stand and watch it and it would dig a crater as big as a house. They never hit anything that I remember, but we were in a cave one of those days. It was raining and they hit the top of the cave and it collapsed.
There were probably maybe a hundred of us in that cave. I was towards the mouth of the cave and this whole thing came tumbling down on us. I was covered from the neck down. All this earth. And you're scrambling to get out and it’s like a nightmare. Everyone’s had a nightmare where you can't—I was barely saved. There was just a very few of us that got out of that. And a couple of days later we were ordered to be taken off the line. There were two litter squads and they sent up a weapons carrier for us. We were in the same area and so the two squads were going to get on this weapons carrier to be taken back for some rest…
As we boarded the truck I said, "Wait a minute. I forgot my rifle." And you’re living with a rifle every day. How often does a soldier get up and walk away without his rifle? And I went back, picked it up, And I jumped up in the truck. I walked the length of the bed of the truck and sat down behind the driver. And just as I sat down there was a—just a deafening roar. And immediately it was just obvious we'd been hit by a plane strafing us. I went out the passenger’s side through the cab of the truck and I ran across a ditch and maybe fifty, a hundred yards, to an ambulance and crawled under the ambulance. There was no second pass by the plane. There was no firing. There hadn't been firing for hours. And so with the silence, I realized it was all over.
I had no idea that I'd been hit. And then when I tried to get out from under the truck, then I saw blood all over. My right arm had been broken. My right hand had been shot. My left hand had been shot. The biggest wound was in my left leg, and I couldn't walk, of course. How I ran, I don't know. The men who were replacing us were right there to pick us up. So I was put on a makeshift ambulance. We converted Jeeps so we'd put litters on Jeeps.
DB: Were the other men on the truck also wounded?
Yes. There was about maybe ten or twelve of us and I think there were two or three or four of us that were not killed. Two subsequently died.
I got to the collecting station. They cut our clothes off. Our own doctors, of course, the men with whom we were living, looked at us and there was no life-threatening situation. I was put on an ambulance and taken back to the field hospital and put in a tent all by myself. This happened at four-thirty in the afternoon and around the supper hour our battalion surgeon walked in. A man perhaps twenty years my senior. An awfully nice colonel. He said, "We've been trying to get to you." He said, "Your father has passed away a few days ago and there’s a telegram from the Red Cross." He said, "I'm sorry to bring you this news." And that's the way I found out that my father had died.
Lindman, Stuart A.; Douglas Bekke, Interviewer, Minnesota's Greatest Generation Oral History Project, Minnesota Historical Society Oral History Collection, 2005.