by Jon Baker, Times-Reporter.com, New Philadelphia, Ohio, 27 May 2013
The three buddies met during advanced infantry training at the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, NC, in the waning days of World War II. All three would participate in the invasion of Okinawa, the last major battle of the war. Only two of them would come home alive.
Harry McKnight was from Columbus, Ohio, Bob McTureous from Florida and Don Mahoney from Massachusetts.
Harry McKnight, 2013
"We were all high school athletes, and our bunks were close together," recalls McKnight, 86, a retired teacher and coach in Columbus. His son, Dr. Tim McKnight, is a physician at Trinity Hospital Twin City in Dennison.
Harry McKnight spoke about his war service during a program today at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New Philadelphia.
Each of other two spoke English with an accent, McKnight said. They became good friends, going through advanced training in California and then being shipped to Guam in preparation for the invasion of Japan. They were members of the 6th Marine Division.
In the spring of 1945, the men of the division received new orders. They were being sent to Okinawa as replacements to help wrest control of the island from the Japanese.
The Allied invasion began on April 1, and the battle proved to be the bloodiest in the Pacific Theater. The Japanese sustained more than 100,000 casualties, the Allies more than 65,000.
Tens of thousands of civilians also were killed, wounded or committed suicide.
At least 30 U.S. warships were damaged or sunk by Japanese kamikaze attacks.
“We arrived in early May at night during one of the kamikaze attacks,” McKnight recalled. "The sky was lit up like a Fourth of July grand finale with all the tracers heading up against the planes. We agreed we would be much better on land, digging a nice deep foxhole." When they landed, the three friends were separated. Mahoney was assigned to G Company, and McKnight and McTureous to H Company.
Once they got into combat, they lost track of the days, which were an endless repetition of firing their weapons and then moving on, McKnight said.
On June 4, they made the last landing of the war on the Oroku Peninsula on the south end of the island.
The following day, Mahoney was hit in the chest three times by Japanese fire as his squad was moving out. "He later told me it was like getting hit hard in football," McKnight said.
Mahoney rolled into a ditch to avoid more bullets. A corpsman ran out to help him. The corpsman was killed instantly and fell on top of Mahoney. He passed out and woke up later on a hospital ship.
On June 7, McTureous and his comrades had just captured a hill on the peninsula. In the process, the unit suffered several casualties. As the stretcher-bearers went out to retrieve the wounded, they came under enemy machine gun fire.
Acting on his own initiative, McTureous filled his shirt with hand grenades and charged the Japanese-occupied caves where the firing was coming from. He succeeded in drawing the enemy's fire away from the stretcher-bearers and in silencing the Japanese machine guns with the grenades.
As he passed one cave, he was shot in the stomach. Unwilling to further endanger the lives of his comrades, McTureous crawled 200 yards to the American lines before asking for help.
He died four days later on a hospital ship.
For his gallantry, McTureous was awarded the nation's highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor.
McKnight was the luckiest of the three friends. He survived the Okinawa battle without injury, though he had three close calls.
The battle ended on June 22, and McKnight returned to Guam in late July. There, he found Mahoney in a hospital. His friend had lost 40 pounds, and McKnight didn't recognize him until Mahoney spoke to him.
Mahoney was in the hospital for eight months, losing a lung and several ribs because of his injuries.
Following the Japanese surrender, McKnight and his unit were shipped to China, serving there 10 months. He returned to the United States on August 23, 1946.
McKnight graduated from Ohio State University in 1951 with a degree in biology, health and athletics. He taught school and was a coach for 36 years, retiring in 1986. While he was at OSU, he joined the Air National Guard. He was called into active duty twice -- in 1948 when the Soviets blockaded Berlin and in 1968 when the USS Pueblo, a Navy intelligence ship, was captured by the North Koreans.
He retired from the Air National Guard in 1973 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
His friend Don Mahoney now lives in Kennebunkport, Maine. They still keep in touch.
For McKnight, Memorial Day is an important holiday.
“There are not many of us guys left from World War II, he said. "Every Memorial Day, I mentally go through the list of my friends who are no longer here."