Dani's Niche

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Typhoons, an Explosion, and a Stampede (a World War II story)

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.

September 12th

It was some kind of typhoon we had here yesterday. They say it was the worst storm in twenty years. The wind gauge recorded 120 mph. It was a terrific force. There must have been plenty of casualties at sea as some bodies have been drifting up on the coral reefs. We made a tour to see what damage had been done. Everywhere we went we saw where buildings and other structures had been blown over, twisted and broken. Ships were piled up along the coast in countless numbers. We still have food in the form of K-rations that should take good care of us as long as the supply is available.

My duty at the Port is over and I am now back as the executive officer of the 136th Port Company. I have also been appointed to the board for Special Court Martials as Defense Council. I don’t like this type of duty any more than the duty I had as Trial Judge Advocate when in the 33rd Brigade in San Diego.

Rain gear

September 16th

The Ryukyus Islands are referred to as “Typhoon Alley” and typhoons are called “Ladies of the Pacific.” It is typhoon season, and although the center of the storm was about fifty miles at sea, yesterday’s typhoon drenched our tents inside and out, and we were lucky to keep ours standing. We reinforced it and prayed that it wouldn’t go over. Many others did, however. Our rain gear consists of pants tied around our ankles and heads covered with a hood. The only exposed parts of our bodies are our faces. The boots are not waterproof. 

September 25th

Today a big gasoline staton across the road caught fire. The flames and smoke shot a great distance into the sky. We all ran for cover, afraid the gas tanks might explode. One man was badly burned. 

A few months later, Dan wrote about a worse explosion. 

I was writing a letter in my quarters when I heard a tremendous explosion. I hurried outside and saw the whole northern sky aflame. It was a huge Army dump, several miles away, where a large number of full acetylene gas tanks blew up and shot into the air like rockets, leaving their blazing contrails behind. It was a spectacular display.

October 1st

Capt. Chervin, Lt. Lanier, and I hoped into our jeep last evening and went to a large outdoor movie show located several miles north of here. The GIs sit on the hillside on box crates all crowded together. During the show something caused the audience to stampede. It was one of the strangest things I have ever experienced. All at once, like spontaneous combustion, everyone was a part of a big, horrible mob trying to get out of the place, desperately going in all directions all at once.

Quite a few men were hurt and nearly everyone must have received some bumps and scratches. I was knocked down several times and each time I got up was knocked down again. The seats (boxes) were all smashed as if they were match sticks. Scattered everywhere were hats, helmets, raincoats, etc. I lost my helmet and Capt. Chervin lost his raincoat.

The best explanation I could find for the stampede was that someone had caught a big rat by the tail and the disturbance triggered the whole disaster. It is a helpless feeling to be in the middle of a mob like that. When we went to get our jeep where we had parked it, it was gone. GONE! GONE! Gone! We had experienced this type of theft before as there was no way to lock an Army vehicle. Our only solution was to take the jeep belonging to another outfit and return to our camp.


The photo: 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 my story about Dan joining the army after Pearl Harbor, you can find it in the February 2021 blog, Dad’s Valentine. My March blog is Anxieties in War, Anxieties in Peace.

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

Next month’s post: A Mysterious Moaning