Tehachapi's Online Community News & Entertainment Guide

Great Bank Robbery

The Spirit of Tehachapi

Some years ago, my longtime friend, Dick Johnson, when he was Editor of The Tehachapi News, called me and asked me to tell “Gracey,” my husband, to write up some of his Marine Corps experiences to print in the paper. My husband, Doyle, didn’t need a second invitation and for several years he would write something up every few weeks. I would edit them for spelling and punctuation flaws; something he didn’t like to bother with, and my old school friend, Dick, would print them. People seemed to enjoy reading the stories.

My husband refused to write about the “blood and guts” end of the war time years, which for him included World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He simply wanted to tell the tales that military men experience during a good portion of a life devoted to serving in “Uncle Sam’s” United States Marine Corps. Finally, upon the encouragement of friends, I copied the stories on my trusty copy machine, put a cover on it, and called it a book. We gave a few hundred of them to friends and apparently one of them ended up in the hands of a Marine Corps Archive employee who asked if we would mind if they placed the book in the Archives. I was honored. I wish my husband had lived to know about that.

The following tells of an incident that happened during the Battle of Okinawa (April 1 through June 22, 1945). No “blood and guts;” just a story about a group of Marine combat troops who were momentarily distracted during the largest amphibious invasion of the Pacific Campaign and the last major campaign of the Pacific during World War II.

The Great Bank Robbery

Any person ever having served in the armed forces of this great country will have acquired some souvenirs that mean a great deal to them. Many items are stored away in trunks or locker boxes. Often the more elaborate ones are displayed in cases or hung on the walls of homes and offices. Most have little or no monetary value but are priceless to the owners. These personal treasures are, for the most part, small items for they must be hand carried or packed in a sea bag or locker box. Some larger items are shipped home and a delighted girlfriend or wife may find a lovely hand carved teakwood chest, or perhaps a much less desired native chieftains’ headdress! Often the story surrounding the gathering of the articles, purchased in liberty ports around the world, is far more interesting than the souvenirs themselves. At the very least, upon an inquiry of such collectibles, you will learn a bit of history and gain some insight into the teller of the tale.

In 1945 I was a young man and one of the Marines that fought in the Battle of Okinawa. One would not imagine that combat troops would get a chance to side-step the war for a few moments, but we did. After the initial landing we began to work south and moved through villages and towns. We found ourselves in a bombed out building that we assumed that had been a bank because of a large safe still within the ruins. It was a big safe some six feet square and still locked. What a situation! Who could walk away from a locked safe without making some attempt at opening it; especially when we had the means (explosives) with us?

While the war waited, some of us who carried pliable explosives, now called C-4, decided we would try our hand at safe-cracking. It didn’t take long to push the C-4 into the cracks around the door. This type of explosive is as workable as silly putty so we had no trouble ringing the safe door with it. The moment for the “big bang” arrived. We amateur safe crackers had completed the job. We then stood back. I guess we may have used just a “mite” too much C-4 because we not only blew the door off the safe, we blew the whole damn door through the opposite wall!

After the smoke cleared we saw Japanese yen fluttering down like autumn leaves; we were ankle deep in the stuff. It was a great disappointment to us: no gold, no jewels, just a great amount of Japanese money, worthless to us. We each picked up a few yen notes for proof that we had had all that fun, then moved off to continue the war. We heard, some months later, that Japanese currency was redeemable in U.S. money. Guess I missed my chance for I still have the one Japanese yen note whose denomination I do not even recall, that I picked up that day so many years ago.

A few weeks after this article was printed I received a letter from a retired Army Sergeant who lived in Georgia. His son, a Tehachapi resident, had sent the story to him. I received a letter from him saying that his battalion must have followed us into the area for when passing the gutted bank building, the yen was still fluttering down. I often wonder if they picked up any yen for a souvenir.