November 11, 1918 was officially recognized as the date World War I ended. The Germans signed the Armistice the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, ending all military hostilities. This day is now designated as Veteran’s Day, a federal holiday to pay tribute to the service of all United States veterans, whether they served in World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, Desert Storm, or more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The five large gray granite monuments on the east side of the courthouse square in Llano are reminders of the many soldiers in our area who participated in WWII. Most of those honored in previous articles fought in the Western Hemisphere in Africa, Italy, France, Belgium, or Germany. Because the war was world-wide, these countries only represented part of what WWII was all about. Hitler and Mussolini were formidable adversaries, but American freedom was equally threatened by the advances in the eastern half of the world by the Japanese Empire. Their aggression against America began December 7, 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. After Congress formally declared war on Japan and the Axis powers in Europe, young men who did not voluntarily enlist were soon drafted for military service. Eighteen was the minimum age to enlist, with age nineteen, the minimum age for combat experience.
On March 29, 1943, Randall Collins Hallmark turned eighteen. He was born and raised on the Colorado River to parents born and raised in the same area. The Hallmarks lived at various times on both the Llano and Burnet sides of the river. When the family sold their land prior to the completion of Buchanan Dam, they purchased property around Valley Spring in northwestern Llano County. The Hallmark grandfather bought property behind the Church of Christ building. Randall’s parents, David and Allie Davis Hallmark, built a home down the road on CR409, but Randall spent most of his time with his older brother and family, Aubrey and Honerhea Hallmark and daughter, Verna, who lived on the old Avery place, but later purchased land at Evergreen. Later, the parents returned to Burnet County on the San Gabriel River around Joppa/Bertram. Although Randall mostly lived in Llano County, his official residence was with his parents in Burnet County. He registered for the draft in Burnet County when he turned eighteen, but he wasn’t called up until early 1944. Somehow, his application was misfiled, and when the other boys who enlisted with him were called up, Randall’s name was not among them. As soon as the error was corrected, he was immediately sent for training. He first went to Ft. Sam in San Antonio, and from there he was sent for basic training at Camp Roberts in California for seventeen weeks. After thirty days of home leave, he was sent to Ft. Ord, where he was shipped out to the Pacific in March, 1944. Soldiers were badly needed in the war effort, and it was perfectly timed for him to turn combat age, 19, aboard ship already en route for battle.
Randall was assigned to the 10th Army, 27th Division Infantry. He was specially trained to carry a B.A.R., Browning Automatic Rifle, which had a hair trigger requiring the user to have good control and be able to shoot only one shot at a time to prevent giving away the unit’s position to the enemy. Their first island stop was at New Caledonia for Advanced Training. The 27th Infantry was to serve as a replacement unit for men who had fought on Saipan. From there, they shipped out to Okinawa, where the Marines had already landed and established a beachhead at the island’s north end. The Battle of Okinawa, codenamed Operation Iceberg, was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific War. After a long campaign of island hopping, the Allies planned to use the island, only 341 miles from Japan, as an air base for the planned invasion of the Japanese mainland. Four divisions of the U.S. 10th Army (the 7th, 27th, 77th, and 96th) and two Marine Divisions (the 1st and 6th) fought on the island for 82 days, lasting from early April until mid-June, 1945. The invasion was supported by naval, amphibious, and tactical air forces. U.S. troops took the sparsely populated northern area within a few weeks, but the military objective was to take Naha, where the Japanese had settled in the mountains in the southern range. It took a week to go ten feet. The first few days were easy going, but on April 9, 1944, Okinawa was strafed by Japanese planes. On the 19th, the unit began a big push on the island’s south end, where the enemy had dug into the hills with underground rooms big enough for 70 to 80 men. During one strafe, the Americans were in an open area and were forced to “dig in” as baseball sized pieces of metal fell all around them. The first fox hole Randall dug was three to four feet away from a hastily dug grave that had a Japanese arm sticking out of the ground. As one piece hit close to Randall, he told his buddies that “there was one of Grandpa’s old plow points,” because at one time scrap iron items from the U.S. had been shipped to Japan.
It was impossible to get tanks to the island, so most fighting was with hand grenades, at night only, while the Japanese crawled toward the Americans. It was necessary to pull the grenade pin and hold it for five seconds before throwing it, or else the Japanese would throw them back at our soldiers. The grenades were flown in by planes, with the boxes dropped close enough for the men to reach out from the holes to get them before the Japanese soldiers surrounding them got them. There was a cabbage patch nearby; during one of the grenade fights, our soldiers thought they hit a cabbage that had splattered all over them, but they soon realized the matter landing on them was brains. Randall found himself and 16 to 18 men surrounded by Japanese, with one lieutenant and the rest PFC’s. It was always quiet around noon every day, so they chose that time to try to get back to the rest of the outfit. Randall took the lead, and the lieutenant had the rear. As they moved over the terrain, they had to step over men and civilians that had been killed by Japanese artillery. When they reached their outfit, Randall was sent back with a Marine to show him the enemy’s position so military leaders could decide if we could take them with 250 men. Troops going over the mountain didn’t make it, but Randall’s unit had gone around the mountain base. Over 500 men were lost that day on Okinawa, the most of any division.
When the men returned to the rest of their unit, they were given a chance to recover on the banks of a river. To the soldiers, the experience was like staying at a Holiday Inn. They were finally able to get a good night’s sleep. It was the rainy season, and it was foggy and misty all the time. The fox holes would fill with water. There were three to four men in each hole; one had to keep watch, while the others would crunch down under water with their head out to keep warm and try to sleep. They used their helmets as a pillow.
The Battle of Okinawa was the last major battle of WWII and the largest sea-land-air battle in history. It took Allied forces three months to secure the 60-mile long island, during which ¼ million people died in a “hellish landscape of greasy mud and rotting corpses.” It was the highest toll of American casualties in any campaign against the Japanese. Many historians believe it was this horrific battle that convinced U.S. Leaders to drop atomic bombs on Japan rather than to invade the mainland. The 27th remained in Okinawa doing “mop up.” They picked up civilians and stray Japanese that were hiding out. Caves were sealed up by flame throwers or demolitions; large quantities of enemy supplies and equipment were captured. The 27th division had been trained as stand-by floaters, equipped to go when it was time to invade the Japanese homeland. Randall believes if it had not been for the atomic bomb, he wouldn’t be alive today. His outfit became the first group to go into Japan when they surrendered. While stationed at a Japanese air base at the base of Mt. Fuji, Mr. Hallmark had the opportunity to go to Nagasaki, only forty miles away, but he didn’t want to go. After officially discharged in Japan, he re-enlisted to go to Germany as a M.P. (military police), to be stationed at Mannheim. He was in Paris three to four weeks before being sent to Rheims, France for about the same amount of time. His main job was to take supplies by train all over Europe. Compared to his other military duties, it was like being on vacation and seeing the world. His military career ended in 1948.
Mr. Hallmark spent most of his life in the construction business, using carpentry skills that had been passed down from his grandfather to his father to his brother and himself, as well as other family members. In 1948, he married a Bertram girl, Dorothy Crooks, whom he first met while home on a 90-day leave. The young couple spent their early years in Burnet and Llano before taking up permanent residence in Kingsland when it was little more than a popular fishing village. Many of the homes in that area were built by him. He and Dorothy raised two fine sons, Lanny and Gregory. The Hallmarks have three grandchildren and several great grandchildren. Randall serves as an elder for the Buchanan Dam Church of Christ.
Randall Hallmark is now 87 years old. The number of WWII veterans is diminishing rapidly. Thankfully, most Americans still appreciate the contributions our veterans made to secure the personal freedoms available to us today. Randall proudly stated when he wears his baseball cap with the 27th Infantry Division on the front, strangers come up to shake his hand and thank him for his service. Some of the time, restaurants will see the cap and refuse to accept payment for his meal in appreciation for his service. In reflection, Mr. Hallmark said he thought about his war experiences every day, but he didn’t talk about it much. He wonders about some of the men he was with, but he purposely only learned their last names and never tried to establish close emotional ties with them. When asked if he had something special to share with today’s youth, his reply was instant and emphatic: “If you serve your country, serve it well.” This is great advice for all of us, regardless of age, political affiliation, or personal goals. Be sure and thank the veterans in your private world for their service well done.
SOURCES: Personal interview with Randall and Dorothy Hallmark, October, 2012; THE WAR IN THE PACIFIC—OKINAWA: THE LAST BATTLE (Appleman, Burman, Gugeller, Stevens, 1991); militaryhistory.about.com; Wikipedia.org; ibiblio.org/hyperwar; sillysoft.net/lux/maps/Okinawa