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Neighbors: Ugly personal account sheds light on WWII battle memories

Bob Lind, Neighbors columnist

On June 17, 2002 — 16 years ago this coming Sunday — Marine chaplain Bob Boardman stood on Kunishi Ridge on the island of Okinawa, where he had been exactly 57 years earlier when Japanese forces gave it up to American troops after a terrible battle in which 1,150 Marines were killed or wounded. But that battle ended Japan's occupation of the island.

Boardman later wrote of his memories of that battle.

One of the Marines who fought there and so appreciated Boardman's account was Gordon Ellis, from Wolverton, Minn. He was wounded but survived.

Years later, Gordon sent information on the battle to his cousin Don Brennan, Horace, N.D. Don passed it on to Neighbors.

That material included chaplain Boardman's personal account of the Kunishi Ridge battle. It includes this report (and be warned, it is ugly):

"One day," the chaplain wrote, "I was on the back taking care of a badly wounded infantryman. At this stage of the battle, there were no stretchers available.

"I talked to this young, fair-haired teenager over the roar of the twin diesel engines right beneath us. I held him firmly as our Sherman (tank) slowly crept down the crude, narrow, rocky coral road that we hoped would get us through No-Man's Valley and to the battalion and station set up in an Okinawan hut in the village of Itoman.

"I learned his name, which I've long since forgotten. He looked like young Mr. Mid-America.

"At first I couldn't spot his wound, but I noticed that his eyes were glazing over. That indicated that he was (mercifully) going into shock.

"Then as I looked more carefully down his body, I spotted his unbandaged wound. To my shock I saw that where his private parts once were, there was just a bloody pulp.

"This is the place on the body where every fighting man hopes and prays, consciously or subconsciously, he will never be hit.

"I must make one thing very clear," Boardman wrote in his report, "I was no hero. I was just a 21-year-old Marine trying to do his duty, often with fear and trembling. The real heroes were those infantrymen and corpsmen up on Kunishi Ridge who stayed there and tangled with the merciless enemy day and night."

Then a teacher

Don writes that after Gordon recovered from his wounds, since he had learned telegraphy from his father at the Wolverton railroad station, he was sent to north China with his Marine unit to report on Russian advances there.

After the war, he attended the University of North Dakota, where he received a bachelor of arts degree in 1952 and a master of education degree in 1958.

He became the principal of the Nathan F. Twining Elementary School in Grand Forks, then joined the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction as director of elementary education in 1966. He died in 2011.

But he never forgot the horror of a far-off place named Kunishi Ridge.

A house question

Now, on a less serious note, Mike McNamara, Dickinson, N.D., has a question for you.

"I attended North Dakota State University in the early 1970s," Mike writes, "and up close to campus there was a house everyone called the 'beer can house,' because the front porch windows were stacked with empty Old Mill beer cans.

"I remember the Old Mill distributor took pictures to use for advertising.

"Anyone else remember this and can share knowledge or pictures of that house?"

Mike wants to know. Neighbors?

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107, fax it to 241-5487 or email blind@forumcomm.com.

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