Saints quarterback Drew Brees has a special appreciation for military history; both his grandparents served in World War II, and his dad was drafted in Vietnam.
It was several months ago when Brees visited Okinawa, where his grandfather participated in the invasion of that Japanese island 63 years earlier.
From Jim Trotter at SI.COM:
Ray Akins was a member of the first Marine units to storm the island during World War II, and as Brees tried to mentally put himself in the boots of his granddad, who participated in what has been called the bloodiest land battle in the Pacific, his mind raced, his heart pumped and his eyes welled.
“Tears started rolling down my face — tears of pride,” he said a few days in advance of Memorial Day, which has taken on added significance for him this year. “I was just so proud to know that my grandpa was a part of that. It was really an emotional experience, one of the greatest things I’ve ever had a chance to do.”
The Battle of Okinawa, also known as Operation Iceberg, was fought on the Japanese island of Okinawa and was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater of World War II. The 82 day battle lasted from late March through June 1945.
The battle has been referred to as the “Typhoon of Steel” in English, and tetsu no ame (”rain of steel”) or tetsu no bōfū (”violent wind of steel”) in Japanese. The nicknames refer to the ferocity of the fighting, the intensity of gunfire involved, and sheer numbers of Allied ships and armored vehicles that assaulted the island. The battle has one of the highest casualties: the Japanese lost over 90,000 troops, and the Allies (mostly United States) suffered nearly 50,000 casualties, with over 12,000 killed in action. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed, wounded or attempted suicide.
Upon landing on the island, Brees phoned his grandfather and asked him what was going through his mind:
“I asked him, ‘Grandpa, what were you thinking when you came ashore?’ ” Brees recalled. “He said, ‘I was just trying to live to be 20.’ He was 19 and his birthday was in May. As he was telling me this, my eyes were just welling with tears. I was thinking about what that must have been like. I mean they were kids, 19- and 20-year-old kids that had this huge responsibility and huge burden on their shoulders. A lot of them died.”
I’m talking to [my grandpa] and he’s recalling everything as if it were yesterday. He’s like, ‘Yeah, you’re at Yomiton Airfield; we came on the beach and we stormed up the hill because our first objective was to capture Yomiton Airfield. It was a really strategic point because we needed it for all of our supplies to be able to land. And then we were going to invade to the North.’
Back to WIKIPEDIA:
American losses at Okinawa were so heavy as to elicit Congressional calls for an investigation into the conduct of the military commanders. Not surprisingly, the cost of this battle, in terms of lives, time, and material, weighed heavily in the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan just six weeks later.
“As we get down to the beach, I’m just picturing what it would look like, going back in time 63 years,” Brees said. “Again, I was just so proud of my grandpa.”
So are we.