Former judge recounts WWII battle

THE Battle of Okinawa was called the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific in World War II. It lasted 82 days from early April until mid-June 1945. After a long campaign, the allies were approaching Japan and planned to use Okinawa, only 340 miles from Japan, as a base for air operations on the planned invasion of the Japanese mainland.

Retired Belmont County Common Pleas Court Judge Charles F. Knapp, was in the thick of the battle. He described Okinawa as one big battlefield, and when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Japan, he said it was “a joyous occasion.”

“We survived the war. My battalion, the 102nd Infantry Division was scheduled to be the third wave in the Japanese invasion. We were told there would be 80 percent casualties. We were not looking forward to that. In my opinion, every soldier, sailor and marine who fought the Japanese on Okinawa showed tremendous acts of courage,” Judge Knapp said.

In 1942, Knapp joined the enlisted reserves at Ohio State University. He was called to active duty in March 1943 and went to Fort Hayes in Columbus. Lou Groza of Martins Ferry reported to Fort Hayes at the same time. Knapp was sent to Fort Eustis in Virginia, but he said he did not know where Groza went.

Knapp also went to Georgetown University to participate in the Army Specialized Training Program. He remained there for nine months and took engineering courses. Later, he was sent to the Ozark Division of the 102nd Infantry, which was activated in 1940.

“I did not like the Infantry, and I applied to the Coast Guard Academy, but before I heard about my application, I was transferred to Camp Hood in Texas.”

Knapp said he had field artillery training in ROTC classes at Ohio State and he decided to stay in the artillery. He said his artillery was an 8-inch howitzer that fired a 200 pound shell and was accurate up to 20 miles. “I was a sergeant of the third gun crew which consisted of 15 men. There were four howitzers in each battery. At age 20, I became a staff sergeant in charge of all four howitzers.”

It was on Okinawa that Knapp first saw combat duty. He said that one day while on patrol, he tore his right pants pocket and transferred what he called his lucky silver dollar to his left breast pocket. “Shortly thereafter, a sniper’s bullet hit me in the chest, striking the silver dollar. It saved my life. I was bruised but unhurt.”

The incident happened at a spot two miles south of the Okinawa town of Shuri Castle. Knapp said he stepped out from behind a huge rock and as he did so, he felt the the burning sting of a sniper’s bullet on his chest.

“I recovered my composure and sought cover. I found the sniper and took good care of him,” Knapp said.

He said his dad gave him the silver dollar before he entered the service. “I always considered it my lucky coin, even though I am not superstitious. I carried it with me throughout my years of service,” he said.

Following his discharge, Judge Knapp presented the coin to Mayor and Mrs. George Britton on the occasion of their 25th wedding anniversary. When Britton died, Mrs. Britton gave back the medal to Knapp. It is now in the possession of Knapp’s son, Chuck.

Knapp recalled another event that occurred in Okinawa. While he was on patrol with 15 men, a Japanese colonel came out from hiding and offered to surrender his men. The colonel gave a command and about a thousand soldiers came out from underground tunnels, behind rocks and other hiding paces. The colonel spoke fluent English and said he went to Stanford University in California. “I do not want to die,” he said.

Knapp described Okinawa as “a bloody battle. One day I was drinking coffee and a canteen cup was shot out of my hand by a Jap sniper. I saw where the shot came from and told my squad to keep the sniper busy while I went around in back of him. I got him with my machete,” he said. “I have not had a gun in my hand since I left the military.”

Knapp said he has many memories from the war, some good, many not so good. “At times, we felt all alone and that the war would never end, but it did, and we were happy beyond words.” He said he got some medals including the Good Conduct Medal, Expert With a Rifle, Battle Star for Okinawa, Pacific Theater and the Victory Medal.

Knapp said he does not like to talk about the war. “You just don’t want to talk about it after you see so much death and destruction.” He said it was only after his son, Chuck, started to ask him questions that he began to open up “just a little bit.”

Following his discharge in 1946, Knapp went to work in his dad’s garage. He then returned to Ohio State and got his law degree. He worked with Bellaire Attorney Emilio Bonfini from 1950-1965 and was chief counsel for Division 11 of the Ohio Department of Highways. He served as an assistant Ohio Attorney General for four years and then was an assistant prosecuting attorney in Belmont County. He was also a member of the law firm of Malik, Malik and Knapp.

From 1985 to 1997, Knapp served as a judge in the Belmont County Common Pleas Court.

He served as solicitor of the village of Bridgeport, formed the East Ohio Waste Water Authority and was president of the board for 25 years. He also did legal work and created three water and sewer districts in Belmont County. He created the York Township Water and Sewer Authority, the Tri-County Water and Sewer Authority and the Ohio and Lee Townships Water and Sewer Authority in Monroe County. He was also instrumental in the incorporation of the village of Wilson.

Following his retirement as Common Pleas Court Judge, Knapp was appointed a visiting judge and heard cases in neighboring counties.

Judge Knapp currently resides in St. Clairsville.