I Saw the Futility of War
As told by former U.S. Army medic Russell Dixon
IT WAS 1944 on the Philippine island of Leyte. We were out in the steaming jungle on reconnaissance patrol looking for the enemy—Japanese soldiers hidden in the trees and undergrowth. I was a 19-year-old medical corpsman and usually among the last in the line, ready to rush in with bandages and aid during a skirmish. Somehow on this occasion, I was the first in line, the point man. Nerves were on edge waiting for booby traps and surprise attacks. Then, suddenly, something incredible happened.
A Japanese officer leapt up a few yards in front of me, waving a white cloth and shouting, “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! I’m from Chicago! I’m from Chicago!” Our trigger fingers were too edgy not to have a reflex action. The soldier behind me fired off several rounds from his rifle—and missed. The rest of us held our fire as the officer continued to scream, “I’m from Chicago!”
He hastened to pull some photos out of his pocket as he explained his story in clear American English. I was astonished. Here we were in the middle of the jungle, and this Japanese captain was showing us photos of his wife and children in Chicago. It was really true—he was a Japanese-American!
“They Won’t Surrender”
It turned out that he had gone from Chicago to visit his parents in Japan just before war was declared. He was drafted into the Japanese army, and here he was fighting against the United States. We asked him, “Any more with you?” He pointed to one hidden in the undergrowth a few feet behind him. We ordered him to get out of there fast! Out stepped a youthful Japanese soldier about my own age. “And where are the rest?” “Back there.” The captain pointed to the jungle behind him.
We started to bargain with the captain. “We’ll take you prisoner if you get the rest of your men to surrender. If not, we’ll kill you!” our sergeant said. The officer’s answer confirmed what we knew: “They won’t surrender. They will kill us if we try to get them to do it.”
We forced him to send the young soldier back to his men. Within a minute or so, we heard a shot. We looked at the Japanese officer, and he said: “They’ve killed him.” Deep down inside, I felt sorry for that young soldier. It was the same feeling that I had had so many times before and would have many times more, the feeling that war is so futile.
While a couple of our men took the officer back to our base camp, the rest of us advanced down the trail. As the medic, I kept to the rear of the group so that I could be ready to patch up any of our men who might get hit. A few more yards and we found the rest of the enemy. During a short skirmish, they were all killed.
But we had accomplished something almost unique—we had captured a Japanese-American officer—one of the relatively few that were taken alive. But I was sick at heart at the constant killing.
Often I asked myself, what was I, the son of an Oklahoma country doctor, doing out in that island jungle? The truth is, if I had followed my father’s principles, I would never have been there at all. I would probably have landed in prison. ‘How is that possible?’ you might ask.
When All Was Peace
I was born in 1925, the fourth of five sons, and raised in the peaceful farming atmosphere of the southwestern United States, in a small town called Mooreland, Oklahoma. Our parents were peace-loving Bible Students, known since 1931 as Jehovah’s Witnesses. They used to take us boys to the Bible meetings regularly, and I recall that on occasion I accompanied my father from house to house with a phonograph, witnessing to our neighbors. We also participated in what we called information marches through surrounding towns, announcing public Bible talks. But I had other interests in life.
I loved sports, especially basketball and baseball. Not that I was exceptional, but as a typical boy, I enjoyed them. The end result was that at about the age of 16, and like my brothers, I drifted away from the Witness meetings and association. At that time, we did not appreciate spiritual values. This must have grieved my parents.
The Realities of War
In 1943, at the age of 18, I was drafted into the U.S. Army and became a GI (member of U.S. armed forces). Since I had given up my association with the Witnesses, I had no strong convictions about Christian neutrality, and therefore I avoided the issue that could have led to imprisonment. Eventually, I was assigned to Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas, for training as an army medic. To this day I have no idea as to why they chose that training for me. Perhaps the fact that my father was a doctor had something to do with it.
After that medical training, I was sent to New Caledonia, an island in the South Pacific, to a replacement depot for U.S. soldiers. My first combat assignment was to a New York unit, the 77th Infantry Division on Guam. That strategic island, about halfway between Australia and Japan, was occupied by the Japanese. We landed there on July 21, 1944, along with the 3rd Marine Division. We immediately went into combat. I quickly received my first experience in real warfare.
My outstanding impression of Guam was rain, knee-deep mud, and chaos. Then came my first experience on the receiving end of heavy artillery fire and mortars. There was the initial “whoomf” of the gun being fired, followed by the eerie whistle of the shell through the air. I waited to see how near each shell would land. I must be truthful—like most GIs, I was scared on many occasions. I prayed to God and foolishly tried to bargain my way out of this mess. If he would get me out of it, I would serve him! Yes, I was nothing but another foxhole believer!
I feared the nights most of all. You had to dig yourself a slit trench about 18 inches [0.5 m] to two feet [0.6 m] deep, if the ground was not too rocky. The idea was that you should sleep there (what a hope!) without being visible to the enemy or to your comrades. This was important, since the rule at night was: ‘If it moves, kill it. Ask questions afterward.’ So I made sure that I kept below ground level, even if it meant, as it often did, that I had to sleep in rainwater and mud.
What were our basic instincts during those gory battles? I can assure you that in most cases it wasn’t “God and country.” Like so many other young boys, I saw lives snuffed out by rifle fire, flamethrowers, mortar and artillery shells, suicide attacks, knives, and bayonets. I soon became aware of how futile it all was. I felt trapped in a hopeless situation with no way out. My principal objective, like most others, was survival.
In that respect, our approach was different from that of the Japanese. They had been thoroughly indoctrinated and considered it an honor to die for the glory of the emperor and Japan. That is why they could send in kamikaze (suicide) planes against the naval vessels and troopships. And on the ground, their suicide soldiers would try to crawl into our trenches with a satchel charge tied to their backs and blow us and themselves to pieces. How the ruling elite, using false religious ideas, had deluded them!
But Guam was only the beginning. After a period of rehabilitation on Manus island, just north of Papua New Guinea, we were sent to our next battlefield, Leyte in the Philippines.
“Am I Going to Die?”
It was the same story of battles, of wounded and dead. I was kept busy crawling through mud, trying to patch up the wounded. On many occasions, I would be lying alongside a buddy in the mud, applying a tourniquet and trying to patch him up with compresses before dragging him back to a safer spot. Often I had to cut open the sleeve or the trouser leg and give a quick injection of morphine sulfate to help kill his pain. Some would ask me, “How bad is it, Doc? Am I going to die? Don’t leave me here!” At times there were so many to attend to that all I could do was try to calm them and tell them that we would be back for them. The truth is that in many cases we got back too late. They had died. Such is the futility of war.
Our next battle assignment was the little island of Ii-shima, just off the coast of Okinawa, then occupied by the Japanese. There was one friend with whom I had been in several battles. He was always very careful, not taking any unnecessary chances or doing anything foolish on the battlefield. Like the rest of us, he wanted to survive. One day, in the final mop-up operations on Ii-shima, several of us were lying belly down trying to protect ourselves from enemy fire. He was a few feet in front of me, when suddenly one of our own tank machine guns carelessly swung too far to the right, fired a burst of rounds, and killed him and three other GIs on the spot.
On another occasion we were strafed by our own planes, and several of our men were killed. Human error and more futility.
On this same island, Ernie Pyle, a famous wartime correspondent, met his death in April 1945 by a sniper’s bullet. On one occasion, he wrote sentiments with which I came to agree: “I don’t see how any survivor of war can ever be cruel to anything, ever again.” Unfortunately, experience proves otherwise. Man’s cruelty continues.
Pinpointed by a Mortar
Our next move was across the channel that separated us from Okinawa. The Japanese were dug in, hiding in caves and once again difficult to get out.
One day I was sitting on top of a big boulder on a ridge, observing a battle taking place in a ravine just ahead of me. Suddenly, I heard the distinctive sound of a Japanese knee mortar. In a matter of seconds, a shell landed a few yards ahead of me. It struck me as odd that one should fall so near to me on the fringe of the battle. Next thing I knew, another one was fired and landed just behind me! It suddenly occurred to me that perhaps the enemy was zeroing in on me. I quickly climbed down and got behind the boulder. The third shell was a direct hit on the spot where I had been sitting! It was one of several close calls that I experienced.
The battle for Okinawa raged for about three months. One history book reports: “Okinawa was the costliest operation in the Central Pacific. Some half a million men were involved in the fighting and it cost the Americans 49,000 in casualties of whom 12,500 died. More than 110,000 Japanese were killed on the island.” At least 122,000 soldiers were killed, and thousands of civilians, for a virtually unknown island of some 870 square miles [2,300 sq km]!
After that campaign, we were sent to the Philippines for a period of rehabilitation and preparation for the invasion of Japan. At this time, I got a sight for sore eyes. Replacements were sent into our division and who should be among them but my younger brother, Roger. However, he was never to see action. On August 6, 1945, the first atom bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later a second bomb was released over Nagasaki. That spelled the end of the war.
A Death That Made Me Think
My brother and I were assigned to the occupation forces in Sapporo, Japan. Shortly afterward I was released from the army, but my brother stayed on in Japan for another year. I headed for home and a family welcome.
Back in Oklahoma, I picked up where I had left off and went back to college, where I took a premedical course for four years and one year of postgraduate work. During this period, I met a lovely girl, a student from Oklahoma, Nancy Wood. Within 18 months we were married. She has been my faithful companion over the last 40 years.
I still had not taken any further interest in my parents’ religion, that of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was too wrapped up in my own interests. Then, in 1950, tragedy struck.
My father, who was then 66 years old and still active as a country doctor, died of a heart attack. For Mother it was a severe blow. His death took us all by surprise. We five sons had lost a father and a good friend. Of course, we all attended the funeral talk given by one of Jehovah’s Witnesses from a neighboring town. That talk had long-lasting effects on all of us.
The speaker showed from the Bible that Dad would return in the resurrection when the earth was restored to a peaceful paradise state. All of this triggered my memory of what I had known years before. Within a short while, the Witnesses were studying the Bible with Nancy and me. The more I studied, the more I realized what a mess the world is in and how futile war is—all those lives sacrificed to advance the selfish ambitions of political rulers and condoned by the clergy of every nation.
When Men Will Live in Peaceful Habitations
I also came to realize that events since 1914 were a clear fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy regarding the time of the end. Everything that he had stated was coming to pass within the span of one generation. Therefore, soon God’s war of Armageddon, a just war to rid the earth of all evildoers, would take place and be the forerunner of a restored earth under the peaceful rule of God’s Kingdom government.—Revelation 11:18; 21:1-4.
Nancy and I were baptized in 1950. Rather than continue our college education, we arranged our affairs and took up the full-time ministry in 1956. Over the years, we have preached in many parts of the United States in the traveling ministry where I have served as circuit and district overseer. For over eight years, I also instructed the Kingdom Ministry School for congregation elders and taught the Pioneer School for full-time ministers. For the last nine years, we have served at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York.
[Picture on page 18]
With my wife in front of the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses where we work
[Picture Credit Line on page 19]
U.S. Army photo