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An Unfortunate Occurance

The corpsmen were great...

The goat


Robert Akins discusses how the heroes were the ones who gave their lives 10,000 miles from home. Of the 120 men in his special weapons company Akins was one of three of the original members remaining by the time they left China [Annotator’s Note: after postwar occupation duty]. Akins attended Brady High School in Texas. During his senior year he and his classmates were given their diplomas early. Then ten of them went to join the Marines. When they got to the enlistment center there were about 100 men waiting to join the Marine Corps. After testing there were only ten of those men admitted into the Marine Corps. After boot camp there were only two of those ten left. The Marines drilled into the men that they were being given a one way ticket and that they would not come back. It was not until after President Harry Truman dropped the atomic bombs and the men of Akins' division were sent to China to repatriate Japanese soldiers that he realized he might make it home. The men wore one dog tag around their neck and one on their shoe laces. That way, if they were killed and only a part of them was found, they could identify that person. Akins wanted to join the Marines because he was a tough kid and the Marines were the best trained and would not let each other down. He enlisted in 1943 and was aware of the battles that had been fought already on Guadalcanal and Tarawa. Akins did not like the enemy. They knew what they were up against. The Japanese were brutal, and he did not mind killing the Japanese.


[Annotators Note: Robert Ray Akins served in a special weapons company in the 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division and saw action on Okinawa.] The first thing the Marines did on Okinawa was to cut the island in two. They encountered many Japanese hiding in tombs. On one patrol it was Akins' turn to go into a tomb to check for Japanese. When he approached it he could see a pair of eyes looking back at him. A fellow Marine named John Kerry came to help him. Akins is glad that he did not have to fight a war with today's rules. The enemy would show no mercy. During a push, Akins helped to pull some tank crewmen out of burning tanks. The Japanese snipers would shoot the burned tankers as they were being pulled out. Akins saw the Marines coming back to Pavuvu from Peleliu. He spoke to a Gunny Sergeant [Annotator's Note: Gunnery Sergeant] and asked if he had any advice. The Gunny told him that money did not mean anything out there and then explained what he meant. Akins met one of his buddies on Pavuvu. The man was a little older than him and was the gunner on their 37mm antitank gun. Akins manned all types of heavy weapons. On an outpost one night six Marines dug in next to a cliff. Where they were positioned, the Japanese would have to get pretty close for Akins to be able to see them, but he could hear and smell them. Around two or three o’clock in the morning Akins could smell the Japanese coming. Akins opened fire and killed a couple of Japanese soldiers.


One night the men were on a 100 percent alert. Robert Akins was manning the 37mm antitank gun. Around two in the morning someone dove across the ridge right at Akins so he shot him. He fell into the hole with Akins. The next morning he could see that it was a Marine that he had killed. Akins was brought before the colonel who asked if he was ok. He remembers the man’s name to this day. While moving the gun across a creek one side of it dropped down. When Akins looked over he saw that the man on that side of the gun had been shot through the head. Akins feels that the people calling the shots in the war today have no idea how wars are fought and he is upset about it. Akins was 19 years old when he landed on Okinawa. He weighed 202 pounds when he landed and 81 days later he weighed 146 pounds. They did not meet much resistance when they first landed. They cut across the island in three days. The army ran into severe combat. There were dead American and Japanese soldiers everywhere. When the Marines relieved the army they looked terrible. The army was not prepared for what they ran into. The Japanese had massive artillery pieces hidden in the hills with steel doors that were closed to hide them.


When the Marines were about half way down Okinawa the Japanese got around behind them. Robert Akins and some of his buddies got into one of the tombs then could not get out for fear that they would be hit by one of their own tanks. He was hit a number of times but never bad enough to be sent to the rear. He thinks that the corpsmen were great. On a patrol one night someone tripped an explosive. Akins looked back and saw two men flying through the air. The men were in bad shape. The corpsman cared for the men and told them that they would be ok. Moving the wounded was difficult. Jeeps were outfitted to carry stretchers. Okinawa having a civilian population did not hinder the Marines' movement. When the Japanese used the civilians as shields the Marines killed them all. War is hell. During the war they did not have the media and politicians breathing down their backs. If so, things would be different. The first time Akins thought he was going to die he was being strafed by friendly planes. He does not know how he was missed. Right after boot camp Akins did guard duty at Vallejo, California at an ammunition dump where powder charges were being packed for 16 inch shells. He hoped that the people working would not make a mistake. The Marines made very few mistakes. If they made mistakes they may not get a second chance. Akins used this philosophy when coaching football and won over 300 games.


[Annotators Note: Robert Ray Akins served in a special weapons company in the 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division and saw action on Okinawa.] The weather was very bad on Okinawa. The rain turned the ground to mush. The Marines were given shoes that looked like tennis rackets. Marine pilots got very close to the ground to drop supplies but the supplies were hard to get to because of the mud and Japanese snipers. At times the Marines had to resort to eating meat from dead horses. They also had to be careful with the water they collected to drink. Water discipline was instilled in them at Camp Pendleton in California. When you are hungry enough you will almost push your mother or grandmother out of the way for something to eat. The Marines were supplied well but there were still times that they went without. One night Akins was in his hammock on the outer edge of the group. At some point during the night he felt something poke him in the back. He thought it was a Japanese soldier trying to stab him. When he rolled over he discovered that it was a goat. Akins claims that they never killed any of the civilians’' livestock for food. When the civilians first encountered the Marines they hid from them, but they eventually learned that they would not be mistreated. Akins encountered more civilians up north than down south. The Japanese would tie themselves to the bellies of horses to sneak through the lines. When the Marines learned about this they had to start killing the horses when they came through the lines. The Marines trained for Okinawa on Pavuvu. They were training when the invasion of Iwo Jima began. One of Akins' friends was on Iwo and was killed and buried at sea. The 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marines Divisions were on Iwo Jima and the 1st, 2nd, and 6th Marine Divisions landed on Okinawa. The Japanese were very hard to find on the islands. They could lie in place for days. When the Japanese knew that the war was over in China they were very friendly with the Marines.


Robert Akins oversaw some work details [Annotator's Note: overseeing Japanese soldiers in China after the war ended and during occupation duty]. They were clearing out a bone yard. They were cleaning up bodies. The civilians would fight to get to the refuse to have something to eat. Akins had to fend them off. Akins went to church in Tienstin, China [Annotator's Note: also spelled Tianjin, China]. There were hundreds, possibly thousands, of people of all denominations present. The service was presented on a stage and acted out so everyone would understand. Akins was on the line on Okinawa for 26 or 27 days the first time. They were taken off the line to get cleaned up. They would periodically go back to shower and get cleaned up. Akins' unit took quite a few casualties. When they would come off of the line to get cleaned up they would receive replacements. Akins spent a lot of time on the antitank gun but manned all of the company's weapons. He knocked out the chains on an enemy tank. Akins fired canister shot at the Japanese when they would banzai charge them.


The veterans felt better having other veterans around. When replacements came in Robert Akins knew that they were well trained and could tell quickly if they could be trusted or not. The Marines did not take any prisoners. They did not even have enough to eat for themselves and had no place to keep them. Akins feels that since World War 2 we [Annotator's Note: the United States] have not fought a war to win it. Combat was a continuous thing. The men rarely knew the names of the towns they were passing through. They took care of each other. They never cared about themselves. After the war Akins unit was sent to China. Many of the Japanese there did not know that the war was over. The Russians took many of the Japanese off to Siberia and would not return them to the Marines so they could be repatriated. There were no strays in China. If the civilians did not have a card indicating that they were employed they would be executed. At one point the Marines had to give the Japanese their guns back so they could protect themselves from the Chinese. The Marines did not have to tell the Japanese what to do on work details. They had one man in charge and he led the others. Akins felt like he would never make it home during times like when he was pulling burned tankers out of their burning tanks while the Japanese snipers were shooting them. In combat they did whatever they had to do. When they were pulled off of the line for the last time and were told that the war was over it was a big relief. At that time, all six Marine divisions were training for the invasion of Japan. The Marines were elated when they heard of the dropping of the atomic bombs. If they had had to invade Japan many more people would have been killed on both sides.


The Marines knew they would be getting into a yellow jacket's nest if they had to invade Japan. When the war ended, Robert Akins' unit [Annotators Note: the 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division] got orders to go to China. Getting ashore in China was somewhat difficult. Akins spent three or four months in China after the war. His buddy went home before him. His friend had been in the Marine Corps for five or six years longer than Akins. They met while training on Pavuvu for the invasion of Okinawa. Akins thought that the people back home would have been more appreciative of what they did. Some of the men that Akins later coached fought and died in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Akins feels that having The National World War II Museum is very important. He was a school football coach for many years. When he was a kid he heard that money was the root of all evil and he now believes that is true. When Akins was a child he lived out in the sticks. His house had no floor. His teachers were there because they wanted to teach. Akins did the same thing. Now he sees ten coaches doing the job that one coach used to. Akins coached because he saw kids giving up. He was very bashful before he joined the Marines. The Marines make you fight every day whether it was wrestling or boxing. He realized that he was better than he thought and took that with him into coaching. The hardest part about climbing the ladder of success is getting through the crowd at the bottom.

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