By Leslie Radford: CNJ staff writer
April Fool’s Day 1945 was not anything to joke about for Lamb Mackechnie. It was the day he landed on the beach at Okinawa for one of bloodiest battles in World War II.
Cutting his senior year at Clovis High to join the service, Mackechnie’s first memory of the island was being able to see ships for miles along the coastline. He also remembered seeing numerous suicide planes used by the Japanese and the stench of human flesh burning — an aftereffect of war.
“The first two days weren’t so bad,” said Mackechnie, a private with the 1st Marine Division in 1944-45. “But we didn’t know what to expect until after we had talked with some of the guys who were already there fighting.”
Mackechnie would spend 45 days fighting Japanese soldiers with a Browning automatic rifle known for its reliability under adverse conditions, but also its weight (40 pounds with accessories, according to one Web site), and sleeping in fox holes.
Okinawa was noted in historical documents as the bloodiest battle of the Pacific campaign. American casualties totaled around 72,000 with more than 200,000 Japanese soldiers and civilian casualties. Okinawa was the largest amphibious invasion and the last major campaign of the Pacific campaign.
“Nights were the scariest,” said Mackechnie, 79, a retired Curry County farmer. He said a soldier could not see much at night from the fox holes, but they could hear enemies talking in close range and “racket” from the fighting going on around him.
Mackechnie’s captain was shot between the eyes while assessing their enemy’s position. Mackechnie was only a few feet away from the fox hole. Another time, a grenade exploded over his sleeping quarters. A shell hit his rifle, which fell over and knocked him unconscious.
“I don’t know how long I was out,” he said.
Mackechnie’s job was to assist the division in securing the islands surrounding Japan in order for the U.S. to attack.
He said he was still in high school when he decided to volunteer for the military instead of waiting for the draft.
“I figured I was going anyway,” said Mackechnie, who was 18 at the time.
Upon signing up, Mackechnie discovered the government had already decided to call him to duty. “Off to boot camp I went.”
At the end of his training in 1944, his father died.
Mackechnie said only through the generosity of others was he able to attend the funeral before going to war.
“I didn’t have any money in my pockets, and neither did anybody else at that time,” he said, “but somehow they collected donations and that got me a train ride home.”
Mackechnie said he had worn the same trousers for those 45 days and was thankful when he was able to come home and farm again.
“Farming was all I knew,” he said. “There were no jobs, no money, after the war. It’s a lot different these days.”
He still helps his son farm from time to time.
Mackechnie said he doesn’t mind talking about the war, it’s just his memory is a little spotty.
“That was more than 60 years ago,” he said. “Sometimes you forget things. Sometimes you remember them.”
“It’s important to him to talk about it when he does remember,” said his wife, Marie, “so I listen. He remembers a little bit every now and then, but it’s never left his little mind.”