On this Rock

  • Published
  • By Brett Manis
  • 18th Wing History Office
The Air Force often talks about our resilience and heritage. With our service celebrating its 70th anniversary this year and the 18th Wing celebrating its 90th, we are constantly looking to our past for ways to honor, motivate, and inspire our Airmen. There are boundless opportunities to learn about the legacy of an island that saw the bloodiest battle in the Pacific Campaign of World War II, a history dating back millennia, and ancient castles dotting the landscape. Unfortunately, many people get caught up in their daily lives and never explore the amazing history that surrounds us here on Okinawa.

On Friday, 25 August, the 18th Wing History Office and the Kadena Chapel partnered for a unique experience for some of our young Airmen. The chapel hosted 50 Airmen for a breakfast buffet, a viewing of the movie Hacksaw Ridge, a lunch buffet, followed by a trip to Hacksaw Ridge in Urasoe. This partnership allowed us to offer spiritual resilience and heritage in one event. We discussed what it meant to be spiritually fit and ready to handle the challenges of life. We looked at the life of Pfc. Desmond Doss and saw the strength that faith can offer. Our Airmen were able to see a situation where a normal guy became one of the biggest heroes in World War II.

Whenever I give tours or history briefs, I do my best to explain what a unique opportunity we have while stationed on Okinawa. We are walking in the footsteps of American and Japanese soldiers who fought here in 1945. Although we don’t have the Air Force heritage here that USAFE does in Europe, we have the heritage of two mighty armies colliding with the soul of the world at stake. We have the heritage of a civilian population brutalized by war, after being mistreated by Japan in the lead up to the battle. These events have shaped this island in ways that most Americans will never understand.

Trying to gain that understanding offers the chance to follow those footsteps and walk the hallowed grounds of this island. When you walk Hacksaw Ridge, it’s easy to see only the trees and grass that have long since grown back. It’s easy to miss the impact of this event as development and terrain changes have occurred since 1945. Once you picture the ridge as it would have looked in April 1945 – desolate, charred ruins – then the weight of those actions become readily apparent.

Desmond Doss saved 75 soldiers from almost certain death by staying behind while his unit retreated. He could have ran with the others, but he stayed behind to fulfill his duties as a combat medic and care for the wounded at the expense of his own safety. Relying on faith to get him through an almost unimaginable ordeal, Doss lowered those 75 soldiers to safety while avoiding American artillery fire and Japanese patrols looking for survivors. Doss willingly ran into combat and stayed behind enemy lines without a single weapon, relying solely on his belief in helping those in need.

Although most of us will never be in his situation, it is important to realize that his actions matter. In a battle of enormous destruction, Doss brought peace to 75 men. Those men were able to go home to their families, to their wives and children, because one man chose to go beyond what was required or expected. Once accused of cowardice, Doss proved to be the bravest man in his unit during that battle. His unwavering faith in the need to assist is something we should all aspire to: he embodied service before self before the Air Force even existed.

Doss said his only mantra while on the Ridge was, “God, give me one more.” When he felt defeated and exhausted and afraid, he relied on his spiritual beliefs to help him continue. Whatever your belief system, we all need to be reinforced to take on the day-to-day stresses of life. We work at the busiest, largest combat wing in the Air Force. Our ops tempo is high and world events do not slow down when we need a break. Sometimes we have to approach our days and just say, “Get me through one more.”

This trip was a fantastic way for our young Airmen to see that spiritual resiliency in action. It was an amazing journey through our combat heritage, just a few miles from where we all live. Together, we reached many people and, hopefully, impacted their view of their stay at Kadena and their service in the world’s greatest Air Force.