WASHINGTON -- In a banquet hall filled with more than 165 World War II veterans, guardians and staff, Buzz Krone of Browns Valley stood up, grasped the microphone and began to sing a song he learned more than 70 years ago while serving with the Navy Seabees on Okinawa.
"Sa da ba Okinawa yo, mata kuro made wa, shi ba shi wakadeno, namade kuda sai. Shi ba shi wakadeno namade kudasai, shi ba shi wakadeno, namade kudasai," Krone crooned during a portion of the Friday night Heroes Banquet when veterans were asked to share stories and memories of war.
"Word for word I don't know what it means, but to me it sounds good," said Krone, who learned the lyrics from Hancho Mahara, the principal of Naha High School, while stationed in Okinawa. He was told it was a type of anthem for the Okinawa people, similar to America's National Anthem.
A native of Sisseton, S.D., Krone was drafted in 1944 at age 18.
"The invasion of Okinawa was on Easter Sunday of 1945," he said. "When I hit Okinawa, that was kind of crappy."
The worst part of war was the shooting, the noise and the bombings, he said, but when the Americans pushed the Japanese off of the island, things were much better.
"After that was all over with, it was hunky-dory, I thought. I was away from home but I never got homesick," Krone said. "I took care of them Okinawans, I was their boss and I kind of liked them. They were nice people. I guess they were a little bit different when Japan was there, but they liked me."
Krone stayed on Okinawa until his honorable discharge in 1946. While on the island, he was in charge of a fleet of 20 American trucks and about 30 Okinawans.
"I had to have three Okinawans with every truck and had to send them out in the country all over Okinawa to pick up debris," he explained. "I run bulldozer over there and I run a great big landfill that took care of the Army, Navy, the whole island. I had to bury all that stuff.
"Sometimes they hauled in 55-gallon barrels of aviation gasoline. I took the bulldozer, rolled (the barrels) in the fire and watched it blow. I tell you, that was something to see," he added with a laugh.
Krone served with the Navy's 36th Special Construction Battalion, otherwise known as the Seabees.
"You name it, we done it," he said. "We had to unload ships, load trucks -- it was lifting, lifting, lifting -- it really was work. I'm proud of what I did.
"They even had me carry wounded soldiers off of ships and put them in ambulances. They were just lined up and you fill them and away they go."
Krone was discharged from the Navy when he was 20 -- "a young guy full of vim and vigor," he said. He ended up spending his career operating bulldozers, Cats, scrapers and some backhoe in west central Minnesota.
Today, he's moving at a more relaxed pace -- spending his days fishing or working in his wood shop -- and sometimes singing the words to that song he learned oh-so-many years ago on a little island southwest of Japan.