Frank Sadowsky, or Sadowski, whichever way you prefer to spell it, was my mother’s fiancé who was killed on Okinawa during the brutal battle that led to the end of World War II.
I mentioned Frank in my mother’s story about professional dancing in Chicago during WWII, which is where she met him when she danced with Frank’s sister, Margie. Both women were members of the Dorothy Hild Dancers that performed at the posh Edgewater Beach Hotel. You can read those articles here and here, if you wish, but the real story is about Frank.
I honored Frank with an article, Frank Sadowski (1921-1945), Almost My Father, on Memorial Day, 2015, since Frank clearly didn’t leave any descendants to do that for him. I can’t explain it, but I felt driven to record Frank’s story, and far be it from me to argue with a desire that strong.
That article, in a most amazing twist of fate led Curtis, Frank’s nephew, to find me when he was struck with a sudden urge to do a Google search on Frank’s name just three weeks later.
I know, I know, how strange could that be some 70 years after Frank’s death. It’s bizarre, but not nearly as bizarre as what was yet in store.
Curtis’s son, Bert, is serving in the military and Bert’s great-uncle Frank served as Bert’s inspiration, standing at his grave, before Bert enlisted.
Little did Curtis, or Bert, know that I had Frank’s ring, cherished lovingly by mother for all those years.
I still cry remembering this, but I knew deep in my heart what needed to happen. Yep, Frank’s Ring Goes Home is the next chapter that unfolded before Christmas in 2015 when Burt was gifted with Frank’s ring. I promise, you’ll want to read this with a full box of Kleenex nearby.
Bert is the proud owner of Frank’s ring today and I know beyond a doubt that Frank is watching over him.
Why, if I didn’t know better, I’d think Mother and Frank might have been somehow involved in this, from the other side😊
But the weird quirks of fate were not yet finished with Curtis and me.
Those articles would also lead Joan Mikol to find me. That wasn’t Joan’s first fortuitous discovery either. Nope, because several years ago, in Chicago, walking her dog, Joan noticed scrapbooks sticking out of the trash that included clippings and photos belonging to the Sadowski family. The scrapbook that Frank’s sister, Margie, had kept about Frank, including his letters home. After Margie’s death, non-family members threw everything away.
Thankfully, Joan pulled the scrapbooks out of that trash can and saved them – for decades – until she too googled Frank’s name. Below, Joan gifting the scrapbooks to the Sadowski family.
What Joan didn’t know is that house had been the Sadowski home which just happened to be inhabited by a ghost.
Joan, Curtis (above), his wife Janet and I met near Chicago as Joan gave the scrapbooks to me and I gave them a few hours later to Curtis. I told that story in Sadowski WWII Scrapbooks Salvaged from Trash Heap.
Those pages revealed such a treasure trove. I discovered information about Mom and Frank that I never knew before. Thank goodness the scrapbook is back with the Sadowski family where it belongs.
Janet is currently scanning the contents for all to share.
Who Was Frank Sadowski?
I wanted to know more about Frank – the mystery man that stole my mother’s heart and never let it go. Frank, a medical school student, enlisted in the war, even though he clearly didn’t need to. Why would he do that?
It appears that Frank’s interest in the military began in high school. This 1938 article in the Chicago Tribune mentions ROTC Second Lieutenant Frank Sadowski. He would have been 17 that year.
Frank graduated 2 years later, in 1940 from the Steinmetz Academic Centre.
You’ll notice that Frank is wearing his ROTC uniform in his senior yearbook photo, above.
A serious student, Frank recorded his dreams in his high school yearbook.
It’s ironic somehow that by February 16, 1943 when he enlisted, Frank was well on his way to becoming a physician, fulfilling his goal by following in his father’s footsteps.
Frank had also fallen madly in love with my mother.
So much for “down with women.”
However, Frank would never become a famed physician and surgeon, nor marry my mother, because his military interest overshadowed both. Frank’s infamy would be through the sacrifice of his life in the service of his country, saving others. Exactly how Frank saved others wasn’t exactly like he had envisioned.
Frank registered for the draft on February 16, 1942. I notice he registered under Sadowski, not Sadowsky as his military records are listed.
Then, exactly a year to the day later, on February 16, 1943, Frank enlisted.
Frank’s mother was dead set against Frank’s enlistment. Her reason was not what you might expect. You’ll find out why and a whole lot more in Frank Sadowski, Jr. – Bravery Under Fire.
Frank’s sister saved his letters and pasted them in that scrapbook, later found by Joan more than 30 years after Frank’s death. Not wanting his family to worry, Frank downplayed the severity of what was occurring in the Pacific in his preserved letters to his sister and father.
Sadly, I don’t have Frank’s letters to my mother, or hers to him, but I’d wager they were of a different flavor, probably intensely personal, and he likely downplayed the danger to her too. Mother told me that she knew when she kissed Frank goodbye at the train station when he left the last time that she would never see him again, at least not on this side of the grave.
1944 would be Frank’s last Christmas – ever. He was deployed to Okinawa on a destroyer on December 9th. Just before boarding the ship, Frank sent one last v-mail letter to my mother in which he says that he writes to her daily, whether he can mail those letters or not. I wonder if she ever received them. The other soldiers, “Joes” as he calls them, tease him because of his devotion.
Frank wrote letters to family members in which he tells them how much he loves them, thinly veiling his homesickness with attempts at humor and then finally, “Don’t forget, your son still loves you,” written to his Dad.
Lastly, “Well, Dad, my time is running out but my love for you and the family isn’t.”
Did Frank somehow know?
Maybe what the fortune-teller told Frank’s mother was right…
After arriving in Okinawa, Frank’s foot was injured in training, but he intentionally omitted that information in letters home. The military apparently informed his father and Frank was quite unhappy about that fact – telling his father that he had a “slight cut” on his foot from an ax but was in “the pink of condition.”
Frank’s father suggested that he should not serve on the front lines until the foot could be further evaluated. After all, having a fully functional foot for a soldier is critical to safety, but Frank was having none of that.
That “ax” was actually a machete that caused an infection against which sulfa drugs were ineffective, as Frank later confessed to his sister, Margie, who he affectionately calls “Red.”
While Frank was fighting an infection in his foot and his father was encouraging him not to serve on the front, my Mom was busy preparing with the USO for a military show at which she is planning the best surprise EVER for Frank. I can only imagine the look on Frank’s face as he stood in the audience to realize that the “star” was his own lovely fiancée.
But of course, that too would never happen.
Like Frank’s dreams, mother’s wasn’t to be either.
Frank, recovered and back on a ship reports that he has all of his earthly possessions packed into a single duffel bag, including writing paper and an 8X10 photo of mother that he worries about being damaged.
Writing home to his family was obviously important, as was mother, because space in that bag was at a premium.
Frank says the Bible, a small New Testament I’m sure, probably similar to the one above, lives in his pocket.
Suddenly, Frank’s letters became sporadic, causing his family and Mom to compare letters as they try to piece together what is happening.
Then something goes wrong. In January, Frank winds up in Hawaii and tells his family he is sightseeing.
Of course, that wasn’t true.
While the machete wound didn’t kill him, something else nearly did.
On February 9th, Frank says he is scheduled to receive additional inoculations, but that doesn’t happen. By February 12th, Frank was quite ill in the Philippines with infectious jaundice, probably what is today known as Leptospirosis. Frank’s letter on February 17th is very short, telling his family that his skin is very yellow. He doesn’t write again until March 2nd.
His silence was driving them insane.
In March 1945, Frank was “hospitalized” for 18 days due to jaundice. I use that word loosely, because we’re talking a battlefield hospital where Frank tells his family that the soldiers have managed to rig up a shower – and how glad they are for that convenience we take for granted.
On March 2nd, Frank tells his sister he is so ill that he is falling asleep while writing.
Ironically, had Frank just remained sick a little longer, he wouldn’t have died in April.
Frank mentioned that mail is taking 5 months to arrive, so imagine Mom and Frank’s family receiving Frank’s last letters, dribbling in months after his death.
And not knowing which letter was actually the “last” that would arrive. They may not have received his Christmas letters until sometime in May, weeks after he died.
How gut-wrenching and traumatic. They must have looked forward to and simultaneously dreaded the mail delivery every single day – all while life went on around them and they had to go through the motions of participation.
On April 1st, the Battle of Okinawa began, which would claim the lives of between 100,000 and 130,000 men over the next 82 days. Between 14,000 and 20,000 of those men were Americans, with the remainder being Japanese and conscripted Okinawans. That’s roughly 1,500 deaths every single day with far more during intense fighting.
Just a month earlier, Frank was incredibly ill with infectious jaundice which followed on the heels of an infected machete wound. Frank would clearly have still been weak after being ill for several weeks during February and March.
By April 6th, the US was in the thick of the bloodiest Pacific Theater battle of WWII, on Okinawa, and had been for almost a week. April 6th was the day that Frank landed on the Okinawan beach and with the 382nd Infantry, Frank moved inland, engaging in a battle that lasted until June 22nd.
This horrible battle was anything but a sure win. In fact, there were days that winning was gravely in doubt.
The kamikaze Japanese soldiers fought hard, willingly sacrificing their lives, costing the American troops many lives and much equipment. Ultimately, the US forces won that battle, clearing Okinawa of Japanese soldiers – but at an exorbitantly high price – including Frank.
Frank’s story ended on April 19th, just 13 days after he arrived on the Okinawa beach and began making his way to Kaniku, the gateway village to Tombstone Ridge. How aptly that would be named, sadly.
Frank would die on Tombstone Ridge, but how, exactly? Frank was a medic, given that he had been enlisted in medical school at Northwestern before volunteering for the military to serve his country.
Was his sister’s statement true – that Frank was shot in the head as he threw his body over a fallen soldier that had been wounded? She also mentioned in a letter that Frank was awarded a medal posthumously for “bravery under fire.”
What medal might that have been? What happened to those medals? They weren’t in the trash heap, at least not that Joan found. Neither was the flag that would have draped Frank’s coffin at his funeral in 1949. That too is absent.
Any awards or honors would have been presented to Frank’s next of kin, his parents, given that he and my mother hadn’t married. That wedding was planned for his return, which of course never happened either.
Questions – More Questions
Why am I so plagued with questions? Always, more and more questions.
I think it’s the genealogy curse.
The circumstances surrounding Frank’s death are so murky. You’d think there would be more information. He died in the midst of hundreds, thousands, of other soldiers.
There has to be information, someplace.
Keep in mind that the National Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis burned in 1973. Frank’s records were assuredly among the records that went up in flames, incinerating irreplaceable history.
I check Ancestry, MyHeritage, Fold3 and other resources often for additional information. New records are being transcribed and indexed all the time, so you never know what might be found.
I discovered the Roster of the WWII Dead 1939-1945 on Ancestry which included Frank’s service number.
Frank’s service number is also reflected on his tombstone request, completed by his father in 1949, almost 4 years after Frank’s death.
Why was Frank’s tombstone being ordered 3 years and 11 months after he died?
Curtis tells me that Frank’s father, also a physician, had a terrible time getting Frank’s body returned for burial, finally having to “pull some strings,” taking measures outside of normal channels – but Curtis didn’t know exactly what, or when.
Frank’s father was finally successful, with Frank Jr. eventually being buried in All Saints Cemetery, at least supposedly.
Frank’s military headstone was ordered in March of 1949. The family was finally able to obtain at least some level of closure. Frank finally had a funeral, right?
Or did he?
Where is the notice of Frank’s death, obituary or funeral in the newspaper? Surely a man killed in action defending his country would rate AT LEAST a mention in the Chicago Tribune. Not only that, but Frank Jr.’s father, also named Frank, was a physician, so money certainly was not an issue.
Other family members had obituaries including Frank’s father.
Frank’s father’s obituary in the Chicago Tribute published on February 7, 1972.
I needed to know more and opted to retain a researcher who specializes in reconstructing service records from multiple sources I’ve never even heard of – with the hope of discovering additional information about the circumstances surrounding Frank’s death.
Frank’s case is tough, really really tough.
Twenty months after my original request, I have finally, finally received a few more records about Frank along with associated records of Frank’s unit – the 96th Division, 382nd Infantry.
The only information directly about Frank is contained in only one document – his hospital admissions file.
Or, in Frank’s case, there was no hospital record. He died on the battlefield on April 19, 1945, of multiple wounds to the “thorax, generally.”
The causative agent was “bullet, missile not stated.” In other words, he was shot, and with what didn’t matter.
What exactly, is the thorax? The medical definition states that it’s an area of the body between the head and the abdomen. In other words, the chest.
I initially thought that Frank likely died of a severed artery or major blood vessel – but the record says, “with no nerve or artery involvement.” Of course, this suggests that someone actually investigated his wounds.
However, if Frank was hit with multiple bullets or missiles, he likely took a direct hit in the lower throat or chest and died immediately due to a severed artery or vein or blood loss. At least, I hope that, mercifully, he did.
Frank’s wounds may have been such a mess that trying to determine exactly “what” he died of was futile and really didn’t matter. He died of battle wounds. Period. They had hundreds of these reports to complete, daily.
Given the description of what happened during those horrific days, I have serious doubts that anyone devoted any time to any men who were already dead.
Soldiers and commanders had everything they could do to deal with fighting, tactics and the wounded. Not to be harsh, but dead soldiers weren’t a priority at that point, nor should they have been.
This leaves me with a general feeling that the circumstances surrounding Frank’s death listed on the hospital card may have been completed sometime after the fact and may simply be a routine completion of a mandatory form by someone who was not on the front and had no idea what actually happened to Frank. In other words, I question the accuracy of what information IS there, and I still wonder what really happened.
Let’s take a look at the formerly classified history of the 382nd Infantry Regiment to understand the circumstances under which Frank lived the last 13 days of his life, and the day of his death.
Reconstructing the Final Days of Frank’s Life
These records have been extraordinarily difficult to extract from the government.
I requested information about Frank’s service, death and his wounds. I was hoping to learn more about Frank’s activities and what happened to him.
Where was Frank’s body buried, exhumed and shipped home from? Was his body actually returned almost 4 years later, or is that just when his headstone was ordered?
Surely if Frank’s father had to move Heaven and Earth to obtain Frank’s body, then there’s a military record someplace. There HAS to be. The military doesn’t do anything without multiple copies of records – often stored in multiple places – which is how records can in some situations be reconstructed despite the 1973 fire.
We know from Frank’s letters that Frank was in the Philippines for training before he shipped to Okinawa. What else can we glean from the 382’s history, both from the documents provided by the government as well as Okinawa: The Last Battle from which I’ll be quoting as well.
The government’s History of the 382nd provided by the researcher with Frank’s hospital admission record tells us that Frank’s unit was involved beginning in October 1944 in the liberation of Leyte Island from Japanese control and establishing bases for future operations against the enemy. It’s worth noting that many men in the medical unit received commendations including the Bronze Star for bravery, heroic achievement and “untiring and courageous efforts instrumental in saving many wounded men” under intense fire.
Some men received these medals posthumously, such as Stanley Beeman:
Private First Class Beeman, a litter bearer went forward to a position where one of the line companies was under heavy machine gun fire from several pill boxes. With utter disregard for his own personal safety, he evacuated and treated many wounded men. In so doing, PFC Beeman sustained a wound but refusing treatment for himself, he returned again to the front line in an attempt to rescue a wounded soldier whose position was covered by fire from enemy automatic weapons. In this attempt, he was fatally wounded. His heroic conduct in giving his own life to save a comrade was in the finest tradition of the military service.
The commendations awarded to these men were recorded in the unit history for their service on Leyte Island.
It’s worth noting the extremely difficult conditions revealed by in the Bronze Star justification for Staff Sergeant Leland Jorsch:
When enemy machine gun and sniper fire began inflicting heavy casualties among our troops, medical aid men were not available for the evacuation of casualties.
Many of these awards reference highly concealed enemy positions. Several discussed injured men lying helplessly in a swamp and one mentions a soldier who exposed his position as a decoy to allow fellow soldiers to escape. Miraculously, the decoy lived and didn’t even appear to have been injured. Another man was killed within 6 feet of the man he was attempting to rescue. Yet another saved the man he was attempting to help, but was killed while giving aid.
All is not fair in war. One report tells of the enemy force masquerading under a white flag opening fire, killing 11 and wounding 33. One soldier crawled into a flooded rice paddy three times under enemy fire to save those wounded soldiers.
Another man crawled into the same enemy fire that had just killed his fellow soldier attempting to rescue a wounded man.
Yet another hero was assisting a wounded soldier when the platoon fell back, stranding them both – necessitating crossing enemy sniper fire carrying the wounded soldier to reach safety.
The posthumous award to Virgil Carrick based on his valiant behavior on October 21, 1944 reads like the description of what was said to have happened to Frank:
When a comrade was wounded while his platoon was moving through a rice field under heavy enemy fire, Private Carrick, without hesitation, went to his aid. In full view of the enemy, he administered first aid to the wounded soldier until he was himself mortally wounded by sniper fire. His heroic sacrifice exemplifies the finest traditions of the service.
The opening page of this report states that the 382nd Infantry Regiment, 96th Infantry Division was ordered to land April 1, 1945 on the Southern Hagushi Beaches on the West Coast of Okinawa Shima and attack south.
This photo shows Marines wading ashore on Okinawa on April 1st.
In the Pentagon document detailing the history off the 382nd Infantry unit provided with Frank’s hospital admissions record, the description of Frank’s unit’s activities during this time begins about page 72 with instructions to land behind the 96th and assist in the execution of the Corps mission of driving across the narrow neck and splitting the island in half. The 382nd infantry was tightly tied with the 381st and 383rd.
Page 75 and 76 discuss rehearsals and training, including:
- Short and distance fighting
- Target practice
- The requirement that all men be able to swim 50 yards
- Using tanks for fighting and protection
- Close combat and booby traps
- Combat in villages, clearing houses
- Scouting and patrolling
- Ambushes and surprise attacks
- Disarming and destruction of booby traps and gapping mine fields
- Map reading, compasses and sketching exercises
- Physical hardening – calisthenics, hardening marches and athletics
- Identification of friendly and enemy aircraft
- Weapons inspection and maintenance
- Ordinance and signal equipment
- Amphibious vehicles
The soldiers spent much of the month of March practicing before actually landing on Okinawa Shima on April 1st known as L-Day. Of course, Frank wasn’t practicing because he was desperately ill.
The typed images that follow are from the governmental history of the 392nd included with Frank’s report.
On April 4th, the 3rd Battalion took up positions in Nodake. Frank had not yet joined the unit, but he would on April 6th while this fighting was underway. Okinawa, at this point, is only about 3 miles wide with Nodake and Ginowan being about half way across.
In the The US Army in WWII, Chapter 5, we discover that on April 5th:
In the center of the island, troops of the 382d Infantry advanced more than two miles south from Nodake along the division’s east boundary (shown below).
On the west coast, the 96th’s right-flank units swept along the flatlands from Isa to Uchitomari. Progress was only a little slower in the division’s center along Route 5. Enemy resistance, which included artillery fire from the area to the south, varied from sniper fire to intense machine-gun and mortar fire directed out of scattered Japanese strong points.
For the 96th Division, 5 April marked the beginning of iron resistance on Okinawa. The 383d estimated at one time during the day that its forward elements were receiving fire from 20 machine guns and from 15 to 20 mortars, besides artillery pieces. Driving through the green, rolling country east of the Ginowan road, the 382d unmasked a series of fortified positions, many of them protected by mine fields. Each position caused American casualties and required enveloping movements. Well-camouflaged Japanese troops, supported by tanks, attacked the 1st Battalion during the afternoon, but the attack was broken up by artillery, mortar, and machine-gun fire. During the day, the 382d gained about 400 yards on the left (east) and 900 yards on the right.
Those fortified hills are shown in the red box on the map, above.
Page 106 of the document shows a photo of Frank’s Unit, and for all we know, Frank could be in the photo.
Published in a weekly intelligence report from 1945, the above example of the techniques used by Japanese to fortify defensive positions was provided with the following commentary:
The diagram does not show all the defensive positions in the area depicted and is designed only to indicate the method by which the enemy attained mobility even in fighting from positions underground. In describing this position, the bulletin states: About 50 yards south of the approach road was the camouflaged entrance to a typical tunnel system within the hill. The entrance was a square log-shored shaft 30 feet deep. A smaller curved shaft which came to the surface about 15 feet away was probably designed for ventilation purposes. The main tunnel to the hill installations ran from this shaft, under the road to the first of a series of caves approximately 100 feet from the shaft entrance. This tunnel was from four to five feet high and three feet wide. Walls were reinforced with logs six to eight inches in diameter, loose coral rock on the ceilings was held in place by logs. The tunnel apparently was used for ammunition storage as well as communication.
This is the environment that Frank and other soldiers would encounter in the region of Nodake, Ginowan, Kaniku, Kakazu, Nishibaru, Tombstone Ridge and the fortified hills and ridges.
This reconnaissance photo of Tombstone Ridge, near the village of Kaniku, was taken with North appearing at the bottom, not the top.
This map illustrates troop movements.
On the Google map below, you’ll note Kakazu Ridge to the left and the locations of Nishibaru, Tanabaru to the east with Ginowan in the upper right. It’s also worth noting that the large word, Ginowan in the middle of the map is the US Futenma Air Force Base.
Kaniku is located where the red arrow points, and Tombstone Ridge is located between the red arrow and Tanabaru according to the 1940s map.
Referring now to the activities of April 9th:
The 382nd was ordered to the ridge just east of Kaniku, also known as Tombstone Ridge, which was literally covered with caves, pillboxes and fortified tombs and dominated the flat terrain on both sides and front.
This aerial photograph taken in 1945 when the US built the Futenma Air Base would include the villages along with Tombstone Ridge. Flat areas were described as flanking the sides of Tombstone Ridge.
I can’t tell how far the ridge runs, but the darkest areas would hide the thickest vegetation. I’ve marked Tombstone Ridge with a red star, but the hilly area clearly stretched along the south of the base and then along the east side as well. Prime ambush terrain for troops attempting to travel along the southbound road from or to Ginowan.
The men fought their way very slowly south on this road.
From 6 to 8 April the 382d Infantry advanced slowly east of the Ginowan road.
Unfortunately, I cannot find Kaniku on Google maps, although GoMapper shows Kaniku as a small place-name, below, not far from the Okinawa National Hospital. That’s all I needed.
Based on the military maps, Google maps and GoMapper, it appears that Tombstone Ridge is the area between Kaniku and Tanabaru, closer to Kaniku, today dissected by the expressway and ramps.
This area is generally quite built up – but “driving” down these tiny roads in the green area today, you can still feel the remoteness and steepness of the terrain. Some roads aren’t paved.
It was here that Frank died, on the ridge named for the burial tombs on either side.
This Google Maps Street View photo is from the top of the ridge looking down the west side, where our soldiers were fighting.
Other roads are still 2-track and dirt in these hills today.
The enemy fought stubbornly from hilly ground north and west of Kaniku and delivered heavy fire from his strong positions on Tombstone Ridge, just south of Kaniku, and from Nishibaru Ridge, southwest of Tombstone.
The hills north of Kaniku would likely be the green undeveloped area.
Quantities of rifle, machine-gun, mortar, and artillery fire were poured on the troops as they moved south. Savage hand-to-hand encounters marked the slow progress of the regiment, which suffered numerous casualties. By night of 8 April the regiment was strung out on a wide front just north of Kaniku and Tombstone Ridge. Heavy fire from the front, from the Kakazu area on the right (west), and from its exposed left (east) flank, where the 184th was slowed by strong opposition, had brought the 382d virtually to a dead stop.
Frank might have only landed 2 days before, but by this time, he was in the thick of the fighting and that beach landing must have seemed a lifetime ago.
All 4 locations, Kakazu, Nishibaru, Kaniku and Tanabaru are shown above. The distance as the crow flies between Kaniku and Tanabaru is about 2000 feet, but of course, that would be directly over Tombstone Ridge, through the green area. All green areas are undeveloped for a reason – they are terribly difficult terrain, or very low along a river.
As we read the events that took place over of the next few days, note that the 382nd was divided into three Battalions. I did not find any direct information as to which one of the Batillions of the 382nd Frank was fighting in, at least not in his records. However, based on where the 1/382 was located on the fateful day of Frank’s death, I suspect he may have been assigned to the 1st, but that’s far from a fact. Therefore, as I read this, I realize that regardless of exactly where Frank was fighting at any specific moment in time, all men were embroiled in the fight for their life – a fight many would not survive. Half of one Battalion was annihilated.
Back to April 9th, 1945 in the government report, below.
My God, this was brutal. One LMG (light machine gun) section killed entirely. The rest running low on ammunition, and all while being attacked from the hills above.
Among other things, the soldiers were exhausted.
The government report begins discussing the 19th, above, describing how the 382nd assaulted the ridge, struggling to fight their way to the top through the foothills through a brutal attack under a hailstone of bullets and mortar fire.
The 1st Battalion led the assault, but all 3 Battalions were fighting close to each other, with the 1st and 2nd moving together to assault and attempt to take Tombstone Ridge, passing through the ranks of the 3rd Battallion. Clearly Frank could have served in any of these – men were mowed down in all three.
Photos from Okinawa show all vegetation destroyed including leaves entirely stripped from trees and plants by the intensity of the warfare. It’s no wonder that this battle was nicknamed the “typhoon of steel” by American troops and “rain of steel” by the Japanese based upon the ferocity of the fighting, the intensity of the Japanese kamikaze attacks and the sheer number of troops and vehicles involved in the assault on Okinawa.
In another document, we find additional information about the days before Frank’s death. This verbiage from the US Army in WWII: Okinawa: The Last Battle tells us the following:
The 382d Infantry of the 96th Division, in the center of the XXIV Corps line, also came to a standstill during 9-12 April. The 382d had three battalions on line by 10 April – the 2d on the right (west), the 1st in the center, and the 3d on the left. On the west the 2d Battalion tied in loosely with the 383d Infantry on Highway 5; on the east a large gap lay between the 184th Infantry of the 7th Division and the 382d.
The terrain fronting the 382d was notable for its irregularity but had a few prominent features lending themselves to defense. The enemy had fortified Tombstone Ridge, a long low hill running northeast southwest just south of Kaniku, as well as high ground south of Nishibaru. Kakazu Ridge extended across much of the regiment’s right (west) front; and the upper part of the gorge, east of Highway 5, was an effective obstacle even if less precipitous here than on the other side of the highway north of Kakazu.
Tombstone Ridge at Kaniku cut by the expressway.
The main effort of the 382d during this period was made on 10 April, while the 381st and 383d on the west were attempting their “powerhouse” attack on Kakazu. The 382d attacked southwest with three battalions in line. On the west the Battalion advanced several hundred yards and crossed the gorge, only to halt in the face of heavy fire from its front and flanks. On the regimental left (east) the 3d Battalion gained one of the knobs east of Tombstone Ridge, but continual rain, which bogged down the tanks and decreased visibility, combined with heavy enemy mortar, machine-gun, and 47-mm. fire to force the battalion to withdraw to its original position north of the Ginowan road.
This photo donated to the WWII Museum by Thomas Hanlon shows the 96th infantry advancing through Okinawa – clearly in a flat area.
The 382d suffered its worst setbacks of 10 April in the center of its line. The 1st Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Charles W. Johnson, attacked Tombstone Ridge, which dominated the ground across the entire regimental front. By 0840 Company A had seized the northern nose of the ridge, but it was stopped by small-arms fire from the steep slopes of the ridge and by heavy artillery and mortar fire. Colonel Johnson then swung Companies B and C around west of Kaniku for an assault on the ridge from the northwest. The Japanese were unusually quiet while Companies B and C advanced to the crest, but shortly afterward they delivered a 15-minute concentration of mortar and artillery fire, at the conclusion of which they swarmed out of pillboxes, trenches, and caves.
A furious struggle followed. From the reverse slope of Tombstone machine guns opened up on the Americans at almost point-blank range. The Americans used portable flame throwers, but the Japanese brought forward flame throwers of their own.
Spigot mortar shells burst on the hill. Colonel Johnson, who had previously extricated Company A from its deadlocked position on the north of Tombstone, now committed it on the right (southwest) of the other two companies. It was of no avail. On the northeast flank, now open, the Japanese overran a machine-gun position; only one man was able to escape. The American troops on the right made a few more yards in a desperate effort to gain a firm foothold on the ridge. By 1415 it was obvious to Colonel Johnson that further attack would be fruitless, and he secured permission from regiment to pull out of the fire-swept area. The men made an orderly retreat to high ground north of Kaniku. More spigot mortar fire fell during the withdrawal, but the troops remained calm; they were “too tired to give a damn.”
The abortive attacks of the 382d Infantry on 10 April were its last attempts to move forward until the Corps’ offensive opened on 19 April.
On 11 and 12 April this regiment, like the 7th Division to the east, mopped up small bypassed.
On April 13th: The attack on the 32d and 184th Infantry was not in regimental strength, as planned. Two infiltration attempts by about a squad each were repulsed by the 184th before midnight. Two squads also attacked the 3d Battalion of the 382d Infantry, just to the west of the 184th, and a savage fight ensued, during which an American private killed a Japanese officer with his bare hands, but the enemy did not follow through with this assault. While groups of two or three tried to infiltrate behind the 7th Division front, the only attack of any weight came shortly after midnight against Company G of the 184th. By the light of flares it discovered to its front from thirty to forty-five Japanese, carrying rifles and demolitions; the company opened fire and sent the enemy running for the cover of caves and trenches. Perhaps, as Colonel Yahara later said, the 22d Regiment, which was not familiar with this part of the island as was the 62d Division, was bewildered by the terrain and became too broken up for a coordinated attack. Perhaps another change of plans further weakened the enemy’s attack on the east. Possibly the 22d Regiment moved by design or by chance to the west and ended by taking part in the attacks on the 96th Division.
The assault on the 96th was heavy, sustained, and well organized. The enemy artillery and mortar preparation began promptly at 1900 as planned and continued in heavy volume until about midnight, when it lifted over the center of the division line. Japanese in groups ranging from platoon (about 50) to company size (about 200), with radio communications to their own command posts, began to infiltrate in strength into the American lines in the general area between Kakazu Ridge and Tombstone Ridge. (See Map No. XIII and also this map.)
On April 12-14th, the three Battalions of the 382nd were shown by blue lines, with the Japanese in red, in this section of Map XIII above. Regardless of which Battalion Frank was embedded with, he was in the midst of this Hell.
The 96th Division front in the area under attack was thinly held by the 382d and 383d Regiments. There was a large bulge in the lines where the 382d had been held up by strong enemy positions in the Nishibaru Kaniku Tombstone Ridge area. A series of fire fights broke out as the Japanese closed with elements of the 382d strung along Highway 5 and with troops of the 383d just west of the highway. Troops of the 2d Battalion, 383d Infantry, saw a group of sixty soldiers coming down the highway in a column of twos. Thinking they were troops of the 382d, the 383d let twenty of them through before realizing that they were Japanese; then it opened fire and killed most of the enemy group. At 0100 the 2d Battalion of the 382d, calling for artillery fire, repulsed an attack by a group estimated as of company strength. Although troops of the two regiments in this sector killed at least a hundred Japanese during the night, a number of the enemy managed to make their way into the Ginowan area. Japanese proved to be the only ones who attained any measure of success in the entire offensive of 12-13 April.
This map reports the movements of April 6-15; the movements of April 15th shown by dots with the heavy hashed lines indicating their positions as of 4 PM. The 382-1 marched to the east of Kaniku and the 382-2, if I’m understanding this correctly, marched directly to the west of Kaniku. Regardless of who moved exactly where, Frank was in one of these units that surrounded Kaniku along Tombstone Ridge and where he would remain until the 19th.
Given those movements, it looks like Frank was fighting someplace in the area triangulated by the red arrows, probably near the upper arrow.
The government report on the 19th, the day Frank died, reports the following:
Based on this verbiage and the report from the 20th, Frank died taking Tombstone Ridge. Mop up probably meant not only removing the Japanese, but also assisting our injured soldiers and removing our dead.
The gorge above, is likely the area just north of Kaniku where the river cuts through the ridge.
The description of April 19thon this page, including a few photos, tells us a little more:
Meanwhile the 96th Division was attacking with the 382d Regiment on the left (east) and the 381st on the right (west). The 382d Infantry had the task of taking Tombstone Ridge and the Tanabaru Escarpment; the 381st, that of seizing Nishibaru Ridge and the Urasoe-Mura Escarpment beyond. The 3d Battalion, 381st Infantry, on the division right at the saddle between Kakazu and Nishibaru Ridges, was a mile ahead of the division left. Facing the 96th in the Kaniku-Nishibaru sector, the 12th Independent Infantry Battalion, which had absorbed the depleted 14th Independent Infantry Battalion, defended the center. It had the 1st Light Machine Gun Battalion attached, and altogether numbered about 1,200 men.
On the left, the 2d Battalion of the 382d Infantry moved out at 0640 and began occupying the series of small hills to the front, only a few of which were held by the enemy. Sniper and mortar fire from the Rocky Crags on the left was a source of trouble and caused casualties. A few spots of resistance developed but were easily overcome. At one point a Japanese popped out of a small roadside cave and satchel-charged the lead tank of a column; by a strange quirk the tank toppled over against the hole and closed it. The road was now effectively blocked to the other tanks. A few scattered grenade fights took place but did not prevent a gain of 800 yards on the division’s left.
Immediately to the right there was no opposition to the advance of the 1st Battalion until Company C on the left and Company A on the right started a pincer move against the northern tip of Tombstone Ridge, so named because of the large number of burial tombs on either side. About seventy-five feet high and half a mile long, it was the dominating terrain feature of the vicinity.
On this contemporary map, the red broken arrow in the lower right hand corner marks 500 feet, so the combination of red arrows above marks a half mile, roughly 2500 feet. The information about the ridge elsewhere says that it runs northeast to southwest, and we know there is a gully marking the northern end, which is likely the river.
The current location of the area known as Kaniku, which is probably close to but possibly not the exact same location as the village in 1945, is marked with a red star. The Ginowan Road is the curved road to the north of the star where foliage today overlays a tunnel under the Ginowan road.
Frank and the soldiers had unknowingly walked into a trap.
As soon as the two companies moved forward the Japanese positions on the ridge broke their silence. Company C was stopped on the east side by machine-gun and mortar fire, Company A on the west side by grenades. Artillery and tank fire was brought on the position to neutralize it. At noon Company A charged up the west slope only to find that it could neither stay on top nor go down the other side. The company commander was killed on the crest. In the midst of this action a supporting tank was lost to a 47-mm. antitank gun. At the end of the day the 1st Battalion held only a precarious position across the northwest nose of the ridge and along a portion of the west slope. The crest was nowhere tenable and the east side was wholly in the hands of the Japanese. Though Tombstone Ridge was unimposing from a distance, it harbored a maze of mutually supporting underground positions that opened on either face and made it a formidable strong point.
You can see in the above excerpt from Map 23 that the 382nd in blue was pressing south and the Japanese, in red, were entrenched on Tombstone Ridge. Given that Frank died, these troop movements might suggest that he was fighting in the 1/382.
April 19th could well be described as the worst, bloodiest, most difficult battle of the war on Okinawa – aside from the fact that Frank was killed.
This next section of the government report is very telling – 43% of their men, almost half, has been killed or wounded. An utterly horrific day from which no soldier would emerge unchanged.
By noon on the 24th, the top of Tombstone Ridge has been reached by all Battalions. Frank would have been proud. His body probably lay someplace on that ridge where his blood had been spilled and his lifeblood seeped into the earth by the Okinawan tombs.
The 382nd went on to move south until the end of June when the island was once again swept for final cleanup.
The end of the report contains statistics about equipment and rounds of ammunition in addition to a summary of the Japanese defenses and why they were so costly in terms of American lives. In essence, the Japanese dug into the natural terrain, taking advantage of caves, causing the Americans to literally fight an uphill battle in terribly difficult terrain that offered a great deal of camouflage to the Japanese.
One interesting comment was that on Okinawa, “there has been a noticeable decrease in infectious hepatitis which has assumed epidemic proportions during the rehabilitation period on Leyte and aboard ship enroute to this target.”
This commentary about insects is telling as well and may provide a significant clue as to what happened to Frank’s body.
Their recommendation was also to increase the medical detachment to 36 from 32 men. It was noted elsewhere that the medical detachment experienced much higher mortality rates than the regular troops.
In the section about enemy tactics, we find further information. Note that blue means US troops and red, Japanese.
The Japanese soldier’s apparent expectation and welcoming of death seemed to make them appear fearless. The US soldier may have won the battle, but clearly, they respected the character of the Japanese soldiers.
Near the end, a summary of the losses was included.
I didn’t realize that this area is only comprised of 6.3 square miles. That’s not much. 380 Americans killed, 1997 wounded and 11 missing means that we sacrificed 60.32 men for every square mile. There are 640 acres in a square mile, so we gave one life for every 10.61 acres and a man was wounded or killed for every 1.69 acres. If you include Japanese casualties, there were bodies everyplace – literally 2.54 Japanese dead per acre, in addition to the American casualties. No wonder they had problems with retrieving bodies, burials and flies. I would wager that the caves and existing tombs provided a fortuitous ready-made solution.
We won, and Frank’s service certainly helped to achieve that.
But Frank lost, making the ultimate sacrifice.
Truthfully, I expected a much higher American casualty count. This makes me wonder if indeed Frank’s body could have been initially missing and since no Japanese were left on the island except for prisoners, that’s how it was determined that Frank was in fact dead. In other words, there were no American POWs from this battle. Was Frank’s body found later? Is that why his grave marker was ordered almost 4 years later?
That report caused me to wonder if the rest of the men killed were shipped home and buried right away, so I checked. I discovered that Thomas Beeman’s military headstone was ordered in February 1949, just before Frank’s was ordered. I checked another man who was listed as killed in November 1944 and his military headstone was ordered in October of 1948. This looks like a pattern.
Was Frank already laid to rest, and the headstone just ordered later for some reason?
I called All Saints Cemetery in Chicago where Frank is buried and they informed me that Frank was actually buried on March 23rd, 1949, the day his marker was ordered. They have no further information except that he was killed in action. They don’t know where his body was shipped from, nor do they have an obituary nor funeral home information.
Where was Frank’s body for almost 4 years?
You will note that the events of the day Frank was killed are vague and later, reports said that the battle and terrain were so rough that they were unable to retrieve either our men or the Japanese for burial.
Given the description of what happened beginning April 10th, I wonder if Frank actually was killed on April 19th, or if that was when they recorded his death and that it actually occurred a few days before in the fighting.
Was Frank’s body actually recovered? If it was, does Frank’s body rest someplace in Okinawa? Was he either buried there, or not found and actually not buried? So many questions. Are there any answers at all? Not in Frank’s file, that’s for sure, but maybe elsewhere?
In an article by Ian Michael Spurgeon in the publication, Army History in the winter of 2017, titled, “The Fallen of Operation Iceberg,” the name for the Okinawan invasion, Michael discussed the burials of the men killed during this period:
The US Army moved across Okinawa in a steady, but bloody, march. Though successful, the campaign cost the lives of more than 12,000 Americans. By 1945, after nearly 4 years of operational experience in the Pacific, the US efforts to recover those killed in action – called graves registration activities – were at their wartime peak. Usually American forces rapidly evacuated most casualties for treatment or burial behind the front lines. As a result, over 95% of those killed in ground fighting were recovered and identified. However, the intensity of the fighting on Okinawa as well as the poor weather resulted in the loss of identification material for many remains. They became the unknown soldiers of Operation Iceberg.
Spurgeon goes on to say that specific platoons were tasked with collecting the dead which were to be brought down from battlefield positions to collection points where men retrieved the bodies and the balance of the platoon processed the dead elsewhere. Sometimes due to this practice, the deceased soldiers bodies were actually separated in the records from the location where they were killed.
On April 10th, these soldiers tasked with removing the bodies found themselves in the midst of the fighting among the 96th Infantry division.
This page shows the hills on Okinawa honeycombed with caves and dugouts. Perhaps this was Tombstone Ridge.
The photo above of a large sacred tomb cave taken by “photolibrarian” on Kadena Air Base illustrates that tombs, some quite large, were concealed in caves and often camouflaged. These tombs held the bones of generations of ancestors and were revered in Okinawan families. You can read more about those traditions here.
Below that photo, we see the 96th Division Cemetery of Okinawa.
The above photo taken in 1945 of the entrance to the 96th Division Cemetery, where Frank was probably initially laid to rest, was donated to the National WWII Museum by Charles Reed.
This photo of the cemetery from June 1945 with its rows of stark white crosses was donated by Thomas Hanlon.
The article goes on to say that the bodies were to be delivered as soon as possible to the nearest military service cemetery. Due to the climate, injuries and terrain, not all bodies were complete or in good condition and some soldiers were not buried intact.
While the wooden white cross markers in these photos appear to be orderly and graves individual, that’s not exactly the case as shown in this YouTube video where servicemen are being buried in the 96th Division Cemetery during WWII. Bulldozers cleared trenches and canvas-wrapped bodies, men still wearing their boots, were buried in mass graves, side by side in long orderly rows with their fallen brethren, where their remains were covered by hand with shovels. White crosses were placed in rows above the graves.
As best I can tell based on the map in the article, the 96th Infantry Cemetery was located someplace close to the star on the map, below.
These cemeteries were intended to be temporary, until the end of the war, and battlefield burials were discouraged.
In December 1945, the War Department began the process of removing and returning fallen Americans to their homes from across the world. On Okinawa, remains of servicemen were scattered over rough terrain and found in isolated areas. American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) investigation teams recovered few remains from the battlefields since most of the remains had already been removed and buried. Civilians often found remains before teams arrived.
In July 1947, AGRS established a mobile identification laboratory in Okinawa where disinternment teams removed remains from graves and all identification material buried with them. They looked for the original report buried alongside the remains, in a bottle or other weather-proof vessel, and compared it with the cemetery records. Remains were then transferred to tables and examined for decomposition, bones, damage, teeth to be compared with dental records, personal effects and ID tags. After positive identification, the remains were then reburied for later transfer.
In March 1948, the AGRS ordered the relocation of more than 9000 remains from Okinawa to a processing laboratory on Saipan where they were stored in a temporary mausoleum at Naha. In the end, of more than 10,000 burials, only 203 sets of remains remain unidentified in 2017.
It sounds like Frank was buried several times; initially in the 96th Cemetery, reburied waiting for shipment, then interred in a mausoleum at Naha, next shipped home on a refrigerated vessel, likely sent by train to Chicago and finally buried one last time in All Saints Cemetery. That’s a long nearly 4-year final journey no one knew about.
Curtis mentioned that Frank’s father had a difficult time getting Frank’s body shipped home. This article explains why. It doesn’t say how long the remains stayed in Naha, but I browsed through several Headstone Applications for Military Veterans killed in April 1945 in Okinawa, and nearly all of those headstones were ordered in the same timeframe as Frank’s, so it appears that Frank arrived home about a year after his body was sent to Naha.
Soldiers cards marked as “nonrecoverable” had headstones ordered in 1960 which gives me at least some confidence that Frank’s body is actually buried in his grave in All Saints Cemetery in Chicago.
Assuming that Frank’s body did make a final journey home inside that casket, we also know that part of him remains in the earth on Tombstone Ridge as well as in soil of the long-defunct 96th Cemetery.
In reality, I don’t think where Frank’s actual body is matters now, because whether any part or all of Frank’s remains came home in that wooden box, his grave celebrates his life, honors his sacrifice and provided at least some modicum of closure for his family. Not only that, Frank’s grave served as inspiration for Bert and will continue by its very existance to stand as a silent sentry, whispering encouragement to others for decades to come.
My biggest disappointment is that while the unit report detailed who received medals of honor for the earlier battle on the Island of Leyte, it doesn’t include that information for Okinawa, the battle in which Frank died.
Margie, Frank’s sister, indicated than he posthumously received an award for “bravery under fire.” Mom told me that he died trying to save another soldier on the battlefield. I’m presuming of course that a family member told Mom that. She would have no other way to know.
Frank would have worn a Combat Medic Badge based on his assignment.
If Frank was awarded a Bronze Star, which would have been for “heroic or meritorious achievement or service,” it could also have included a “V” for valor.
I was unable to determine what medals Frank was awarded, or why. If any of you have any idea how I might make that discovery, I’m all ears.
Unless new information comes to light, I feel that I’m closing this final chapter of Frank’s story, at least the portion that I can tell. You never know, Frank might not be finished quite yet😊
He seems to be quite a character!
Frank died in 1945, was later laid to rest, a few times apparently, then brought back to life by the combined efforts of many people (plus fate) in order that his story have a heartbeat of its own.
I take comfort knowing that Frank is with Mom and that his ring is with Bert where I feel with all my heart that both he and Mom would unquestionably want it to live on.
After all, it’s within the Sadowski family that Frank will be fondly remembered, his story told and retold to future generations, having become not the famed doctor, but instead a courageous legendary hero, his memory bathed forever in the colors of our flag.
Gone, but never, ever, forgotten.