Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

What the Marines in this photo were thinking: A Best Defense mystery solved!

Last year, Hunter and Eric Hammel and dozens of others held a thoughtful and robust debate on this blog about what the Marines in this photograph, taken on Okinawa on May 1, 1945, near the end of the war, were thinking as they charged a Japanese position. Hunter: "I can’t help but think, through my ...

Courtesty of Eric Hammel
Courtesty of Eric Hammel
Courtesty of Eric Hammel

Last year, Hunter and Eric Hammel and dozens of others held a thoughtful and robust debate on this blog about what the Marines in this photograph, taken on Okinawa on May 1, 1945, near the end of the war, were thinking as they charged a Japanese position.

Hunter: "I can't help but think, through my cynical eyes, that the thoughts running through these guys heads were "1) this shit sucks 2) we're all gonna die 3) we're skylining like mofos.""

Hammel: "So the thing I think the four were going over in their heads were: Can I drop fast enough if the other side opens fire? If not, will it be quick? Because, with me or without me, we are winning."

Last year, Hunter and Eric Hammel and dozens of others held a thoughtful and robust debate on this blog about what the Marines in this photograph, taken on Okinawa on May 1, 1945, near the end of the war, were thinking as they charged a Japanese position.

Hunter: "I can’t help but think, through my cynical eyes, that the thoughts running through these guys heads were "1) this shit sucks 2) we’re all gonna die 3) we’re skylining like mofos.""

Hammel: "So the thing I think the four were going over in their heads were: Can I drop fast enough if the other side opens fire? If not, will it be quick? Because, with me or without me, we are winning."

Now, by chance, I think I have the answer to the question. The other day I picked up Battleground Pacific, a new memoir by Sterling Mace (of K/3/5) and Nick Allen. Flipping through it, trying to decide whether to read it, I noticed the photograph in question. And then on page 269, I read what he was thinking as he moved toward a Japanese position:

"As soon as we reached southern Okinawa on May 1, 1945 — WHAM! — they let us have it … Zigzagging at a run … I dropped into an army-made foxhole. Other marines did the same, peeking out over the rims of their holes and flash! A volcano erupted and sent so much muck into the air, there was only a giant wall of brown before our eyes. I closed my lids, and all I saw was red.

They’ve got this whole place zeroed in. Realization hits hard. There’s nothing they can’t hit out here

So, that seems to be what he was thinking: We move or we die. Let’s move.  

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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