EASTON — Dick Morton said goodbye to small-town life and the Eastern Shore when he was 19 years old. It was 1943, and there was a war on. He enlisted in the U.S. Army.
Easton was a very small town in those days, and Morton knew everybody. His dad was an industrial arts teacher and fine cabinet maker in town.
He had gone to high school in Easton and, after graduation, worked as a coastal surveyor. That turned out to be a handy skill for the U.S. Army that wished to scope out areas and advance lines of troops.
Morton’s first army gig was basic training in Mississippi. From there, he was sent to the West Coast and shipped out from Vancouver, Washington to New Guinea and then to the Philippines.
His unit was ordered to “push back the Japanese,” and Morton quickly found himself in danger, under close fire and the target of kamikaze attacks.
Morton’s role was a risky one — part of an advance team of forward observers who surveyed the land ahead and checked out conditions before the troops could go forward.
Some of the areas were so unstable that he remembered a time when one of their huge Howitzer guns had been sabotaged by the Japanese.
Morton took part in the battles of Skyline Ridge and Conley Peak where casualties were high.
Circumstances were rough. Morton contracted jaundice and he was sent to New Guinea for treatment.
He returned from the hospital just in time for the Battle of Okinawa, codenamed “Operation Iceberg.”
The battle was considered to be the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater of World War II, and lasted for 82 days, from April 1 until June 22, 1945.
Referred to by the Japanese as “tetsu no ame” (rain of steel) and sometimes “tetsu no bofu” (violent wind of steel), Operation Iceberg has gone down in history as one of the most ferocious, with massive numbers of Allied ships and armored vehicles assaulting the island and intense Japanese kamikaze attacks.
There were at least 75,000 Allied casualties and 84,166 to 117,000 Japanese casualties, including Okinawans who were forced into service and wore Japanese uniforms.
The population of the island was, in effect, cut in half, with 149,000 Okinawans dead or missing out of an estimated population of 300,000, according to authorities.
Both sides lost a considerable number of aircraft and ships, including the Japanese battleship Yamato.
When it was all over, the Allies had a new base of operations, an anchorage for their naval fleets, airfields and troop staging areas for the planned invasion of Japan.
Morton said a close call was one time when he narrowly escaped by standing on the running board of a small moving truck with snipers firing at him from both sides of the road.
“You just did it. You just got out the best you could,” Morton said.
Morton made it back to the states, and now, at the age of 95, he lives a quiet life with his wife Ella in Trappe. He still loves the outdoors and adventure, being very active in the Izaak Walton League.