View Full Version : WWII gun plucked from East China Sea

11-19-02, 06:17 AM

Jeremy Thompson / Courtesy of USMC
Marine Capt. Jeremy Thompson, right, and retired Master Sgt. Dave Davenport hold the .50-caliber machine gun Thompson and retired Marine Capt. Jim Rodgers retrieved from the East China Sea.

WWII gun plucked from East China Sea to be put on display in Okinawa battle museum

By Mark Oliva, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Tuesday, November 19, 2002

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — There’s treasure in that thar sea … historical treasure, at least.

Two Marines, a retired captain and one on active duty, recovered a .50-caliber machine gun they believe dates to the Battle of Okinawa just off the island’s west coast. They’ve found at least two more machine guns and continue to seek more.

Jim Rodgers, a retired Marine captain working as a civilian for the Marine Corps on Okinawa, and Marine Capt. Jeremy Thompson, in the Provost Marshal’s Office, recovered a .50-caliber automatic machine gun from the East China Sea in late September. Recently, they donated it to the Battle of Okinawa Museum on nearby Camp Kinser.

The machine gun, they believe, is likely to have come from the wreckage of a U.S. plane from WWII. To be certain, they’re tracing the serial numbers and manufacturers.

“The Army flew P-57’s and the Navy flew F4U’s during the battle here,” Rodgers said. “Each carried .50-caliber machine guns.”

Rodgers has been diving on Okinawa for four years. He’s found bullet casings and even used naval gun rounds, but this was his biggest underwater discovery.

“My dive buddy and I were going over a reef and found a bunch of spent .50-caliber rounds,” Rodgers said of the initial discovery. “So I started looking around and I found some coral that didn’t look right. Coral just doesn’t grow in the shape of a tube.”

Rodgers said he jerked on what he suspected might be a gun and as it broke free, he noticed the long tube-shaped coral he held in his hand led to the outline of a rectangular box. He knew then his suspicions were true.

“There’s no thrill like seeing something under the water that just doesn’t belong,” Rodgers said.

But getting the behemoth of a gun out of the water that day proved impossible. Rodger returned with Thompson and float bags, to lift the weapon to the surface.

“What amazed me was how close to the shore this was,” Thompson said. “We were in only about 20 feet of water. When I first saw it I thought, ‘This is so amazing. I’m looking at something that was part of WWII.’ I’ve dived probably 150 times and never seen anything this incredible.”

Rodgers and Thompson strapped inflation bags to the weapon and raised it to the surface. They swam the gun along the surface until they got into waist-deep water and carried it the rest of the way.

It marked the first time the gun has been exposed to the air in more than 57 years.

They brought the coral-encrusted weapon to the Provost Marshal’s Office, where Thompson began the clean up.

“I let it dry for about a week or so and then began working on it with a small mallet,” Thompson said. “I’d slowly hit on it and the coral would just crack off. Once it was off, I busted out oil and an old boot brush and toothbrush and kept working until there was nothing left but metal.”

There’s still coral blocking the barrel and the weapon isn’t anywhere near functional, but it was clean enough to glean the serial number and three manufacturers: Browning, Ford and a little-known appliance company from Dayton, Ohio.

“I saw that and thought how interesting it was to see right before the mobilization of an entire country for a war,” Thompson said. “We haven’t seen that since WWII.”

Rodgers said, for him, history came alive seeing the gun regain its nearly original condition.

“These are guns someone was standing behind defending themselves,” he said. “You get a chilly feeling when you see that.”

The gun was out of the water, but the question remained of what to do with it. Thomp-son called Dave Davenport, a retired Air Force master sergeant and director of the Battle of Okinawa Museum on Okinawa.

“It’s the only one found so far that I know of and I’ve been here since 1966,” Davenport said. “The first thing I thought was where was I going to put it?”

For now, Davenport is letting the gun continue to dry. The weapon, while not workable, is what he labeled “relic” and is destined for display later this month.

“I’m surprised it survived at all,” Davenport explained. “This is extremely significant. We can trace this back to the manufacturer.”

Davenport said it’s even more rare considering it came from an aircraft. Very few downed aircraft survived after WWII. Okinawans collected and recycled the scrap metal to use while the island was being rebuilt, he said. The closest thing to a .50-caliber machine gun at the museum is one U.S. .30-caliber machine gun used on Sugarloaf Hill and a replica of a machine gun from a Japanese Zero.

All three hope that among the serial number and manufacturers, they can trace the gun to a particular plane that flew during the Okinawan campaign.

“Maybe that plane is unaccounted for,” Thompson suggested. “After all these years, maybe someone can have the resolution as to where that pilot or crew went. If it would give a family the resolution they needed, it would mean a lot to me.”

“When I had it here at PMO,” Thompson said, “all the Marines kept coming in and wanting to see it. One of our Japanese security guards came in and told me I had to give this to a museum because it means so much to Okinawa. Really, it’s more than a gun. It’s our tradition and our history. It’s the Marine Corps.”

Rodgers is cleaning two more machine guns from the same site and also plans to donate them to the museum. He thinks he might have found the outline of a wing under the water — and if he is right, more guns lie on the ocean floor.

“The P-57 carried six of these guns and the F4U carried eight,” Rodgers said. “If there’s one thing there, there’s more.”



11-19-02, 08:27 AM
Brings up an interesting subject--somewhere I read of the tremendous dumping of US materal--guns, rolling stock, arty pieces, etc.--into the sea just after WW II--seems to me it was mainly Okinawa, bit I don't recall for sure and what else may have been involved--probably on a few webpages somewhere--Mr. Google should know.