On July 23, 1945, the 136th Port Company Transportation Corps of the United States Army arrived by ship at the Port of Naha, Okinawa. The following are excerpts from the letters of Captain Daniel E. Lewis.
Strong winds blew in from the sea and we tied down everything we could. We were warned that a great typhoon was headed our way and that we would get the most powerful part of it. All airplanes on the island were grounded and tied down facing into the approaching storm. Larger ships, outside the harbor, headed out to sea where they would attempt to ride out the storm.
We put on our special typhoon clothing and vacated our camp area. As the storm increased it began to blow away tents and buildings and nearly everything in its path. The air became full of flying debris. Most of the men by now were hiding in the hills, the caves, and the burial tombs. I stood up against a protective concrete wall, near our camp area, where I could observe what was taking place. For several hours I contemplated what devastation and loss of life might be taking place. My supposedly typhoon-proof clothing gave little protection as it could not withstand the great amount of water being thrust at me. I was soaked.
I watched our super-fine new latrine building lift up in one piece, sail over a six foot wire fence, and then drop down on top of our neighbor’s latrine smashing both to smithereens. The force of the wind was terrific. I dared not venture from my protective concrete wall lest I go the way of the latrines. Water blew against me, not from above, but horizontally. I licked my lips. They were salty. I then realized that this was not rain but was water being blown in from the sea.
Later I heard the moaning of whistles from the direction of the ships in the China Sea. It was a weird sound; a mournful sound as if something was in its dying moments. Between me and the coral reefs was the hill with those numerous burial vaults. I had a strong desire to see what was going on over the hill. There wasn’t anything else to do anyway. I made my way, crawling on my stomach through the tomb area, to where I could see the ocean.
The wind was so powerful that I had to stay as low to the ground as possible or I would join the flying debris. The force of water blowing toward me stung my eyes, blinding me. I put my hands over my eyes and squinted through the spaces between my fingers. Then I saw the reason for all those mournful sounds. I could see the shadowy forms of ships being blown onto the coral reefs. There was no way I, or anyone else, could respond to their calls for help.
After many hours, the winds decreased to the extent that we could create a shelter from the debris and get some much needed rest.
Today we were like ants, a hustle and bustle of men rebuilding shelters of of the rubble. Several of us toured the island in a jeep and everywhere saw nothing but destruction. All along the coast ships lay piled up on the rocks. Lots of stuff was drifting in from the sea, including some bodies.
I was told this typhoon, the greatest of them all, was named Louise (Dan’s wife’s name). The wind gauge broke at 135 miles per hour and some estimated the wind velocity may have been as great as 170 mph. The entrance to the port of Naha is completely blocked by sunken ships, stopping our unloading operations for the time being. Our only food at this time is the K rations. Food and new supplies will be flown in from the Philippine Islands.
B-29 Superfort planes are to bring in 284 tons of food for the 150,00 mean isolated on the island.
Today I became the commanding officer of the 136th Port Company. We have a big task to rebuild after the “big blow”.
The soldiers were not permitted to bring cameras from the States so there were only a few on the island. One of the officers had a 620 box camera which Dan borrowed, using film sent to him from his two sisters.
If you missed the other stories about my dad’s experiences during World War II, you can find them in my February April, and May blogs.
If you have narratives or photographs of your family members from World War II, consider donating them to the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. For more information, contact them at https://ahec.armywarcollege.edu/donate.cfm