Not your typical April Fools’ column

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — Instead of my usual April Fools’ column reminiscing about past political pranks or trying to pull one of my own, I am reminded of a promise made 10 months ago that is appropriate to begin fulfilling today.

On June 6, 2009, full-scale D-Day commemorations were held at Normandy and many other locations around the world.

Such commemorations normally are held in 10-year intervals but many veterans organizations announced the 65th D-Day anniversary would be their last because their numbers had dwindled to the point they could barely muster enough troops to make a showing.

Figuring that might happen with some of this year’s 65th anniversaries of World War II observances, I promised to write columns at appropriate times to commemorate the major events of 1945.

To fully disclose my promises, I’ll reveal that in 2005, I covered World War II events in the Pacific, where the New Mexico National Guard fought on Bataan and many other New Mexicans participated in taking back the Pacific, from Guadalcanal to Nagasaki.

I intended to gather those columns into a book as I had with my stories covering the effort to dig up Billy the Kid and his mother in 2003-2004. But it didn’t happen — to the disappointment of many of my Bataan survivor friends.

So this is my fall back position. Every so often I will update one of the 2005 columns with info on present-day commemorations.

I should have started last fall, covering the deployment of the New Mexico Guard to the Philippines in 1941. April 9 will be the anniversary of their 1942 surrender and the beginning of the Death March.

I realize I should have spent more time talking about the many brave New Mexicans who served our country in the rest of the world. I grew up in Deming and Silver City. Deming was home to the Headquarters Battery of the New Mexico Guard.

Col. Gurdon Sage, soon to become a general, was the state Guard commander. Sage owned the Deming Headlight newspaper. He succeeded Col. Clyde Ely of Silver City as commander. Ely had owned the Headlight and then purchased the Silver City Daily Press.

I was a child during the war but clearly remember mourning the losses of my playmates’ families. I later worked at the state Legislature with Rep. Tom Foy and Nick Chintis, Death March survivors from Silver City.

This column has been carried for many years by both the Daily Press and Headlight.

Thus my abiding interest in New Mexico’s contributions to the War in the Pacific.

On this day in 1945, U.S. forces were preparing for the April 1 invasion of Okinawa. It wasn’t lost on U.S. troops that this first battle to be fought on Japanese soil was being launched on April Fools’ Day. Controversy surrounded the entire operation.

Officials in Washington wanted to fight a tactical battle but the Army’s Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner wanted to grind it out.

Nearly 8,000 kamikaze attacks sank 36 American ships, the most in any battle. On land, it was the muddiest, bloodiest, most brutal combat ever experienced. It was worse than Iwo Jima.

U.S. casualties were the highest of any Pacific campaign. The Navy lost more men than in any other battle. And it was the only Pacific battle in which both commanding generals lost their lives.

But somehow Okinawa was overshadowed at the time by the Mount Suribachi flag raising picture in March, Germany’s surrender in May, the massive fire bombings of Japan in June and July and the atom bombs in August.

The lesser attention to Okinawa was good news for our leaders in Washington. To those who did pay attention to what happened in Okinawa the losses were unacceptable and forecasted even worse to come.

Could we afford to lose even more Americans as we reached the Japanese homeland?

 E-mail Jay Miller at insidethecapitol@hotmail.com.