On Guard at Naha Bay

October 17, 2017 Updated: October 17, 2017    

The trap had been set. Though simple, the line strung across the path with its pebble-filled C-ration cans was enough to alert of approaching enemies.

It was May, 1945, and the surviving men of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Marines had withdrawn from Sugar Loaf Hill, the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific War, and had made their way to the shore of Naha Bay, Okinawa. After being on the battle line for over a month, the company took refuge in an abandoned brick-making compound in order to reorganize and gain some much needed rest. Corporal Timothy Eldridge, Private First Class (PFC) Harold Fugett, and PFC Ernest Walker, machine gunners, set up their position in a conical brick oven. This oven stood on a narrow dirt road, the only entrance to the brickyard. The three were in a good position to protect the troops from any late night invaders. They had set the trap and had hoped to get some sleep.

Ernest Walker. (Provided by the author)

In the early morning hours, the trip line rattled and the trio went into full alert. Darkness masked the enemy but the sound of running, loud and fast, alarmed the men. The running went too fast to open fire and in just moments, it was gone. The night once again became still. Guns poised, the men remained on guard in anticipation of an attack.

When daylight broke, the three saw no soldiers, no infiltration, no signs of danger. That which daylight did reveal was a horse standing in the bay. Immediately Corporal Eldridge, PFC Fugett, and PFC Walker realized that the trip line and the forceful sounds of running could be attributed to the beautiful creature standing knee deep in the water. As they approached the animal, it became clear that its right knee was battered and it had sought healing in the salty water.

Each day, the horse repeated its healing regiment, arriving in the morning and leaving later in the day. After three days, the men of Easy Company moved out, never to know the fate of the horse in the bay.

Pauline and Ernest. (Provided by the author)

Reflecting on the incident, Ernest Walker, now 91 years old, says, “The victims of war are not just the soldiers who face the enemy head-on. They include the people whose lives and homes are in harm’s way. There were over 120,000 fighting men killed in this one campaign, the Battle of Okinawa. But there were 150,000 civilian men, women and children killed—that’s over a quarter of a million lives lost, plus an untold number of wounded. Suffering is not restricted to human life. This little episode reminded these Marines of the impact of warfare on those beautiful animals that serve us and make our lives happier. It made the men of Easy Company aware of the value of life and the intuitive fight for survival.”