Thursday, August 21, 2014

Honor flight attendee recalls war experience

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Gordon Knuths has seen hell on earth and lived to tell about it.

Almost exactly 69 years ago, Knuths found himself in the middle of the last great battle of the Pacific War when he landed on Okinawa as a replacement in the U.S. Army’s 184th Infantry Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division. He would not leave unscathed.

Knuths was 20 and working on his parents’ ranch in Garfield County when he was drafted into the Army in 1944. His family had only moved to Montana from Wyoming in 1941.

Knuths went to basic training at Camp Fannin outside Tyler, Texas. From there, he was sent to Fort Lawton in Seattle for embarkation to the Pacific Theater in March 1945.

He remembers his experience on the troop transport ship to Hawaii vividly.

“We started out in a hell of a storm, and everybody on the boat was seasick,” Knuths said.

They “finally ended up at Okinawa.”

The Army had first landed on Okinawa on April 1, 1945, which also happened to be Easter Sunday, and would ultimately launch over 180,000 men into the assault to take on the 120,00 Japanese defenders.

The U.S. military suffered some 14,000 deaths from the battle, which raged until the end of June, the highest number of casualties lost in the Pacific War. More than 75,000 Japanese soldiers were killed in the fighting.

Knuths and his unit landed at the city of Naha “right after they hit the island,” and from there moved inland, into a battle that has been called the “typhoon of steel.”

His time on Okinawa would prove short-lived, however, though fortunately, he wouldn’t.

“I was only with the outfit for probably about a week before I got wounded,” Knuths said.

He was hit in the neck by a ricocheting bullet. He said the Army quickly removed wounded men from the island, as there was nowhere to safely treat seriously wounded men amongst the maelstrom of Okinawa.

Knuths was sent to a military hospital on Guam, where doctors “took a piece of shrapnel out of me.”

The dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki three days later sealed Japan’s unconditional surrender. 

“Them people who comment about how bad those atom bombs were and how many innocent people were killed, it wasn’t a drop in the bucket to if we would have had to take that damn island,” he said.

Knuths was sent to Korea for occupation duty, where he would spend the next year in Seoul before finally getting to go home in November of 1946. His most prominent memory from his time in the Korean capital is the stench. Back then, Seoul was not the glistening modern metropolis it is today.

“There was a million people in Seoul, and no sewer system,” Knuths said. 

After being discharged, Knuths returned to Garfield County, though he endured another harrowing and sickening sea passage, sailing through the midst of a typhoon.

He and his wife moved to Dawson County in 1988, where they have been ever since, continuing to ranch and raise cattle in peace, the “typhoon of steel” having long since passed into history.

Knuths recently returned from the Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C. He made the trip with his grandson.

 

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

 
Get the full story in the Sunday, May 11, 2014 print issue of the Ranger-Review.

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