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Frank Christie recalls battles of Leyte and Okinawa

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ASHBURN -- For 60 years, Frank Christie kept the memories of the battles of Leyte and Okinawa locked away deep within himself.

Then five years ago, everything changed with a trip to the doctor.

"In 2005 I was diagnosed with stomach cancer," Christie, now 87, said. "I thought I was going to die and I realized that I'd never told my first wife (Hazel) or either of my two children of my experiences during (World War II).

"So, I thought it was time I told them my stories."

Christie, a native of Dawson, was a two-sport athlete at the University of Georgia when he volunteered for the US Army in 1944. Months later he found himself as a medic aboard an LST (Landing Ship Transport) about to hit the beach of Leyte as the battle for the Philippines got under way.

"As we waded onto the island, mortar rounds were hitting us as Jap Zeroes were strafing us," Christie said. "As we moved about half a mile inland, we ran into a swamp. The muck was about chest deep and some of the older guys, about five or six of them, were falling out."

Christie stayed behind with the group while the rest of the unit pushed on. He dug a foxhole for the men and stood guard all night watching over the stricken soldiers.

"I was wondering when the Japs were going to show up and annihilate all of us," Christie recalled. "The next morning, I led us in the direction I though the unit had gone. Around noon we caught up with our outfit.

"I was never so glad to see anyone in my life."

For this action Christie was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery. He also picked up his first Purple Heart after taking shrapnel in his foot.

"I lost a lot of buddies on Leyte, 25 in an ambush in a nearby village," Christie said. "We leveled that village the next day."

In March of 1945, Christie and his outfit, the 383rd Infantry Regiment of the 96th Infantry Division, set out for Okinawa. The battle for the island would be the final major ground assault of the war -- also the bloodiest.

On Easter morning, the 96th hit the beaches of Okinawa in "Ducks" (amphibious landing trucks).

"The first day we ran into very heavy resistance," Christie said. "The second day was also heavy. I saw many of my buddies killed or wounded. I was running around bandaging wounds, giving morphine and pulling guys out of fire into safe areas.

"All this time, machine gun and rifle fire were coming at me. I could hear the bullets whizzing past my head on one side and then the other. I thought my time had come."

The following days were worse as the fighting intensified.

"It was literally hell on Earth," Christie said. "I had two guns shot out of my hands. The wounded men were yelling 'Christie! Help me, Christie!' My hands were bloodied. I'd never seen so much blood in my life.

"At night, we'd dig foxholes in a perimeter. One night we caught a Jap patrol coming up on us just as a flare went up. Our machine gunners opened up on them and they scattered. One Jap hid behind a tree not three feet from us. We killed him.

"The next morning we found 31 bodies of Japanese soldiers scattered all around us."

The nights were worse, and it was not all because of the Japanese.

"Nights were very difficult," Christie said. "One of the most frightening things was when wild animals would come crashing through the bushes towards our perimeter.

"Then everybody would start shooting. The next day we'd find a bunch of dead caribou instead of Japanese soldiers."

In early May, the 96th attacked Conical Hill. The 476-foot hill was the eastern anchor of the main Japanese defenses and was defended by about 1,000 men.

"The hill lay directly in front of us," Christie said. " The Japs threw everything they had at us. The dead and wounded were all over the place. I was running around, pulling wounded men into a nearby cave. My buddies were pinned down, but I was up and running and was tending to a badly wounded buddy. I guess the Japs finally noticed me and sent a mortar our way.

"I heard the shell coming and threw my body over his. The shell landed a few feet away and that's the last thing I remember. Later I was told I was flown to Guam and then Honolulu."

Frank Christie's war was over. He picked up his second Purple Heart and was awarded the Silver Star for valor under fire.

The battle for Okinawa was the bloodiest of the war. Japan lost more than 100,000 troops and the Allies suffered more than 50,000 casualties. In addition, more than 100,000 civilians were killed, wounded or committed suicide.

Christie returned to his hometown of Dawson to recuperate from his wounds -- both physical and mental. He later returned to UGA, where he graduated in 1946, earning his third letter as a pitcher for the Bulldogs.

He went on to receive his dual master's in education and vocational education from UGA and played minor league baseball for four years with the Tifton Blue Sox and Fitzgerald Pioneers before hanging up his cleats in 1952.

Christie logged several stops through out the state as a school administrator before finally retiring in 1980. In 2001, Hazel, his wife of nearly 58 years died. A year later he married Nell.

"The Lord watched over me during the war," Christie said. "Then he blessed me with a wonderful woman."

When asked his most vivid memory of his time in the Pacific, Christie responded immediately.

"The thing that sticks with me most of the war is the memories of my dying buddies," Christie said. "They'd say to me, 'Tell my wife that I love her, Frank.' And it would break my heart because I knew I'd never be able to do it."

But Christie is comfortable now; his story is told.