Allied planning in the Pacific Theater called for the invasion of Japan. However, pulling off that invasion required securing a forward base for the troops who would be sent into action. Okinawa was selected for its close proximity to Japan, and the fact that it was large enough to hold multiple airfields for the great number of aircraft that would be needed.
The battle for Okinawa began on April 1, 1945 as the U.S. launched the war’s largest amphibious assault in the Pacific. Japanese leaders soon would dispatch the biggest battleship in the world, the Yamato, and nine other warships on what proved to be a disastrous mission to attack American and allied forces. U.S. aircraft carrier-based warplanes intercepted the Japanese force and destroyed it, sending the Yamato and other warships to the bottom of the Pacific. The nearly-nine month Battle of Okinawa proved deeply costly to both sides: Up to nearly 21,000 Americans were killed; the Japanese lost as many as five times that number.
The Americans who died on Okinawa included everyone from Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, killed in an artillery barrage while inspecting positions near the front lines, to famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle, hit by a machine gun bullet on the small nearby island of le Shima.
Through the darkness of those days shone moments of great sacrifice and bravery. Seven American service members would be awarded the Medal of Honor. Among them was Desmond T. Doss, a conscientious objector who served as a medic, and saved dozens of his fellow troops at the bloody fight for Hacksaw Ridge.
Allied forces were victorious at Okinawa, forcing a Japanese surrender. But the United States would not carry out its planned invasion of the Japanese mainland.