Richard Parham, a WWII veteran, shares his story about being stationed in Okinawa, Japan.
“Well, all the training I had was just my basic training, and I was sent overseas immediately. Leyte is where I landed, and they had the finishing up of that project. But we had about a month left fighting there and after that was over, of course, then we went into more training for Okinawa. We made the Dalian invasion there. When they went in, I was a radio operator on that tank. I was the drivers’ eyes.”
With seven crew members on the tank, Parham tells more about each individual’s responsibility.
“One of them was the 50-caliber machine gun operator, and one of them was, of course, the driver and myself. That was three then, the gunner himself was four. And we had three ammunition people that set the different things on 105 howitzer, that he wanted like the distance and he would tell them how much power he’s going to need and they could set that thing on that hill and it would be real, accurate.”
As a radio operator, Parham says, “I had to take calls from the front line. I had a first lieutenant who was always right on the front line all the time. He called me in and he told me when I took that job, he said, ‘there was one thing you can’t do is make a mistake.’ I said, ‘Sir, there will be no mistakes because I’m going to have a pad and a pencil and I’m gonna write that down when you call it in and I’ll repeat it.’ It was just a direct line, he had some type of radio. I don’t know what it was, but they could call direct to me and to give me the call, firing call, and that was what was amazing to me. He said, ‘Boy, I’m glad you’re thinking already.’ When I told him that.”
Parham describes what it was like inside the tank:
“Well, it’s an open top M7 tank. It doesn’t have the turret, the 50 caliber machine gun just out on the nose of it. The 50 caliber machine gun had a, well I guess you could call a high rise deal on that thing. We got an operator that could see over the whole area. He was pretty high. He was a good target but he had just about a one inch shield steel all the way around him and that thing rotated 360 degrees. He sat on a little stool to run that thing.”
Because Parham could see quite well in the tank, he would assist the machine gun operator in spotting the enemy. Parham continues describing one Okinawa incident in particular.
“I was pretty lucky all the way through it. One of them was, one of these little streets over there was real small. Nothing they had would even compare with that tank. But they built four corners on that thing, and it was an intersection and it was really just built out of big rocks. How they got them in there, I don’t know. I never did see the heavy equipment to do it, but they would have been built for years. They was preparing for this war for a number of years, I’m sure. We got hung up on that thing and if we went forward, we were driving right into the enemy. We had to take a right or left turn. And I told the driver, I said they shot ‘one overhead on us’, artillery shell and then one right in front of us and I said. ‘We got about a minute to get out of here.’ I said, ‘The only way, we can do it is, hopefully knock one of them walls down, then get on down the side street and get out of here.’ And that’s what we did. I told the driver, I said ‘Put it in low give it all the power it has.’ and I said, ‘We’ll just pray that we get out of here.’ And we went about 100 feet when they hit one, right where we was trying to get out of, just a matter of less than a minute.”
In another incident, Parham explains, “They were shooting at us. That’s what I told the driver. The driver couldn’t see nothing where he was.”
The driver only had a little hole in which to see. Parham says that they were off the front line and back down a little hill. He thought they were safe but then the enemy saw them. About two minutes after getting out of the tank, an artillery shell hit close enough that Parham got hit in the head with a piece of shrapnel. Luckily, didn’t penetrate far enough to do any permanent damage and the shrapnel was removed.