OMAK — CB Hopkins, 93, gazes at a black-and-white photograph of the 500 men of the newly formed 519th Military Police Battalion.
“Here’s a picture of all my close, close friends,” he said. “There was a lot of these that didn’t come back actually.”
The ones who did return home are now dwindling in company.
About 16 million Americans served in World War II, and 558,000 were still alive in 2017, according to the National WWII Museum. About 362 World War II veterans die each day, which is to say, “every day, memories of World War II—its sights and sounds, its terrors and triumphs—disappear,” according to the museum.
By 2027, the museum predicts fewer than 40,000 World War II veterans will be alive to tell of the experience.
If Hopkins doesn’t talk about the Pacific War, soon no one will, he said.
Accepting the call
Hopkin’s draft card came in the mail at his parent’s home in Electric City. At the time, 18-year-old Hopkins worked as a welder at a shipyard in Alameda, Calif.
“They said, ‘Oh, we can get you deferred because you’re working in the shipyard,’” Hopkins said. “And I told them no. I didn’t want to.”
Hopkins had seen war photos during news reels in the movie theatre, so “I knew what I was going to get into,” he said. “I just didn’t ever know where I was going to end up.”
Later, Ernie Pyle would snap Hopkin’s photograph, but he never did see the image, Hopkins said.
“It might have been in the news reel, you know, years and years ago,” he said.
He was inducted into the U.S. Army Oct. 30, 1943, and then sent to Fort Custor, Michigan in the winter. Hopkins remembers training endless hours in the deep snow for five months before heading to Camp Reynolds in Pennsylvania.
There, the battalion formed – a group of about 500 men, ranging from major league baseball players to the Hager Twins.
They were called to active duty at Camp Chaffe in Arkansas April 1944, where the battalion underwent stern training, as Hopkins describes.
“That damn Arkansas, it was more like the land in Okinawa with the valleys and hills,” he said. “It was rough – every day, that hand to hand combat, full packs we had to take. It seemed to me like every day we were hiking somewhere. They trained us hard. Of course, we was ready for the battle when we go there. We couldn’t be any more ready.”
First on Okinawa
One year later, the battalion deployed to the Pacific Theater.
On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, about 180,000 Army and Marine Corps troops landed on the island of Okinawa. Hopkin’s battalion, attached to the 10th Army, was the first to arrive.
“There was a little shooting, but not much,” he said. “They just kindly let us on there.”
The soldiers crossed the island, about 60 miles long, in four days and met up with the Marines.
“After that, well it just went from one thing to another – shooting, shooting, stumbling over dead soldiers,” he said.
The fighting continued past the sunset, as hundreds of Japanese soldiers used an underground tunnel system to connect with natural caves across the island.
Hopkins remembers one close call.
While sleeping in a hole formed by a bomb, Hopkins felt “something slipping along” no more than five feet away, he said.
Hopkins shouted “Halt” but the soldier dived at him with a bayonet. “It went through my shirt, but never scratched me,” he said.
So, he extended out his own bayonet and struck the soldier’s heart. Then, he called out to one of his comrades, who lifted the dead soldier off Hopkins and recovered the bayonet.
“I really think the good Lord took care of me,” he said of the encounter.
‘All kinds of friends’
While occupying the island of Okinawa, the battalion helped process more than 400,000 enemy prisoners taken during the seven-month battle.
After the war, Hopkins forged an unlikely friendship with a Japanese POW – through chocolate. He brought this particular POW a chocolate bar every day while guarding the stockades.
One day, he asked for Hopkin’s pocket knife, claiming he would create something for his newfound ally. Hopkins handed it over.
Looking back, Hopkins admits the decision could have resulted in far worse outcome. “But what could he really do with a little bitty pocket knife?” he said.
It wasn’t long before the Japanese soldier presented his gift: a pair of chopsticks nestled in sliding box painted with a dragon, the word “Okinawa” and the dates April 1945-March 1946 to represent Hopkin’s stay on Okinawa.
To this day, Hopkins can’t tell you where he found the paint. But the treasure remains on his display chest.
“I had all kinds of friends,” he said. “Everybody liked me, you know.”
Hopkins was discharged at Fort Lewis as a technical sergeant after spending 82 days on Okinawa.
He received the Asiatic Pacific Service medal, American Theater Service medal, the Victory medal, the Philippine Liberation medal with one bronze service star and the Good Conduct medal.
“I got all of the awards you can get other here except for the Purple Heart, and I came pretty close.”
Today, Hopkins resides in east Omak in the home he and his late wife built from the ground. Remnants of the war around his home – medals, photograph albums, his military portrait, uniform and Record of Service book – keep the 93-year-old’s memories sharp, lest he forget Okinawa.