My Experience on Iwo Jima
18 February 1945, the Pacific Ocean, D-1
I saw my first signs of battle this evening at 2300. Several battleships were firing at our destination, the island of Iwo Jima, which hadn't come into view yet. I stood for several hours watching flares go up while our Navy blasted the invisible island, and our enemies. In a few hours it would be H hour, so I turned in to get some rest; I would need it in the morning.
19 February 1945, the coast of Iwo Jima, D-Day
We were awakened at 0400 for breakfast. It was a nice meal, consisting of ham, eggs, and coffee. As I sat and ate, I wondered what the day would bring, and how many of us would be here to see its end.
At around 0700, the island came into view. The most prominent feature was Mount Suribachi, standing about five hundred feet tall, having almost a vertical cliff face. The mountain was one giant mass of Japanese pillboxes. Another hill, about one hundred feet high and also covered in pillboxes, stood about twenty-five hundred yards away from Mt. Suribachi. In between these two mountain strongholds was the beach where we were going to be landing. There were three terraces leading down to the beach, which consisted of black sand and volcanic ash. Our Navy was pounding the entire island with everything they had. The ships had been shelling Iwo Jima for a couple of days, and B-29 bombers had been dropping tons of ordnance on the island for even longer to "soften up" the target for the landing.
As we neared the island, I began to feel excited, yet nervous and afraid at the same time. This island of death stood before me. Countless Marines would never leave this black sand, never see their homeland, the land they were fighting for, ever again. I have always been a praying man, and I had been praying ever since I got onboard ship. As we neared the island, I began to pray as I have never prayed before. As I faced death, I felt closer to Him than I have ever felt. I beseeched Him to protect me throughout this upcoming battle, to return me to my sweetheart Lois, to allow me to see her once again on this earth. As I prayed, God gave me peace amidst the pending storm.
It was almost H hour now, and the boys were standing by, ready to deploy. The LVT's (landing vehicles, tracked), filled with edgy Marines, were circling around the battleships, waiting for the word to go. Tension and anxiety grew as the boats and their occupants waited. I have often heard that waiting is worse than being in the thick of a fight, and as I watched the boats continue to circle, I believed it. Finally, I heard the officer give the command to land. I watched as the first waves of Marines went in; it was now 0900. As I watched them, I wondered if they felt the same way I did.
As we waited for our turn to go in, I saw one of the boys from my company coming back out; it had been fifteen minutes since the first wave had landed. He was wounded, not badly, but as I watched him, I began to get nervous again. Minutes seemed to be hours as we waited. About one hour after H. hour, the skipper of the ship hollered out over the loudspeaker, "We're going in boys." I picked up my rifle, loaded it, and put on my cartridge belt. I could see Japanese shells falling all over the beach and terraces, and some falling among the battleships and deploying LVT's. I again began to pray for God to watch over us and guide us safely in to land. The engines of the tractors were running; waiting, as we were, to deploy. As we continued to get closer, we were told that we weren't going in to the island, just to the line of departure. I then tried to relax, but to no avail. I sat in the bow of the ship, watching and waiting for the order that would send us into hell.
At about 1930, we left the line of departure; we weren't going in today. This day had been the longest day in my life; I felt exhausted. We had been preparing ourselves to land, only to be told to wait, and wait we had. We ate dinner, for we hadn't eaten anything since breakfast; indeed, I don't think I would have wanted to eat anything anyway. We were very lucky we didn't go in on D-Day, although it wasn't much better on D+1.
That night, we had our first Japanese air raid. Our ships laid down a smoke screen, and while we listened anxiously below, our planes took care of the Japanese aircraft before they reached us. I didn't get much sleep that night. I had to stand on guard for two hours, and after, I fell asleep for about three hours in the seat of a tractor, which I regretted afterwards, as it wasn't very comfortable. The rest of the night, I sat praying and watching the ships continue to pound the island.
20 February 1945, Iwo Jima, D+1
Morning came and we were woken up at 0430 for breakfast. After we ate, some Marines sat around joking and laughing while they smoked cigarettes. I didn't say much, I mostly just thought about what I would do once I was on shore.
After it got light, we all went on deck to look around. We had only been there a few minutes when I heard a tremendous explosion right beside the ship. The Japanese were firing anti-aircraft missiles at our planes, and the shells were crashing and exploding among the naval armada. We were very lucky to not get hit, for some shells hit close enough to rain shrapnel over the entire ship. The shelling stopped a few minutes later.
Less than thirty minutes after the shelling ended, we were told to go back into the line of departure. I expected that it would be at least a few hours before it was our turn to land, but instead, the skipper took her in full speed ahead. I was very surprised, but I didn't have much time to think, for in a few seconds everyone was ready to debark, men waiting and tractors running.
I wasn't as scared this time; I was busy making sure that all the tractors were operating smoothly. This kept my mind preoccupied, and as I went from one tractor to the next, I heard a boy in the bow of the ship calling out the distance to shore. The last one he called out was fifty yards. I braced myself for the ship to hit the sand, for we were coming in quite fast, at eleven knots. I was fooled, for we didn't hit very hard, just gently stopped. The ramp fell down and I got my first close up glimpse of the black sand, and of a battlefield. It was a horrific sight; one I shall never forget. Large mortar shells were exploding on the beach, and the Japanese had set up a deadly crossfire from Mt. Suribachi and the hills surrounding the beachhead. Men and equipment filled the beach and the terraces, giving the Japanese easy targets. We got the equipment off our LVT without any trouble. After the last tractor was off, I got my tool box and stepped onto the beach. The sand was deep, making it difficult to maneuver through. As I went plowing through it, I met my CO (commanding officer), Captain Piercy. With a smile on his face, he gave me some comforting words, which helped to ease my fears. After I had gone about fifty yards, I grabbed my shovel and began to dig a foxhole, which turned out to be harder than I thought, for the loose sand kept on filling up my hole. I met up with a boy named Vidimick, who had rounded up quite a few sandbags, which we laid over the roof of my foxhole to make it a bit safer. We had been lucky up to this point, the Japanese had temporarily stopped shelling, and as we finished our foxhole, all hell broke loose. Both of us dived into our hole, and I tried to get myself inside the little helmet on my head; I never knew before that I could make myself so small. I was really afraid, and I began to pray again, asking God to protect us from the danger raining down everywhere around us. The shelling lasted about an hour, and I am sure I sat still for the entire time. Right outside of my foxhole, four Marines had been killed, one from a shot in the stomach, and the others from the concussion of a shell. As I looked out at them, lying on that black sand, far from home, I wondered what we had done to deserve this. Why couldn't something else have been done, why did innocent men have to suffer? It was awful, watching men die.
As the sun sank below the horizon, we prepared for a long night. I hadn't eaten a thing during the day, nor did I sleep at all that night. We received another air raid, but like the first, none of the planes got through to us. We also received quite a bit of shelling, though none of the shells came particularly close to our foxhole. The closest shell landed about fifty yards away, but after the shell exploded, I heard some boys yell for a Corpsman. I shall never forget the sound of those boys calling for help as long as I live. That was the longest night I had ever experienced, and it wouldn't be my last.
21 February 1945, Iwo Jima, D+2
Morning came, quiet and uneventful; we were in for another long day. During the morning, we got quite a bit of work done unloading supplies. All of our tractors were running well, and I was glad for that. I didn't venture far from my foxhole and I hoped that I wouldn't have to; I was so nervous I don't think I could've fixed an engine even if it had broken down.
Around 1100, the Japanese began to throw a few shells at us, but they didn't really do any damage. Then, all at once, all hell broke loose. A shell had hit an ammunition dump about forty yards from us. My buddy and I dived for our hole, but I got stuck on some beech mat. I tried to tear my pants, but I couldn't. I tugged and pulled, and finally was able to tear myself free, and fall into the hole. Seconds later, Lieutenant Clements came tumbling in. We made room for him in our small shelter and waited. We had some close calls during the hour and a half of shelling that ensued. All three of us prayed the entire time, and God took care of us. Three or four pieces of shrapnel hit me on the shoulder, but none penetrated my clothing. After the shelling ceased, I tried to move, but every part of my body was asleep. At least all of me was there, that was more than most fellows could say. As we looked around outside, we noticed that at least half of our sandbags had been torn open by shrapnel, that roof had helped us a lot.
After about two hours of peace, the Japanese started shelling us again. This time, the shells were closer; I think one of the shells fell about twenty-five feet from our foxhole, as the concussion was very strong. My buddy hollered at me, "Let's get the hell out of here," which we were about to do, when something told me to stop. I told my buddy to wait, and as the words left my mouth, a shell fell very close to our foxhole, way too close for comfort. Neither of us said a word as we got out as quickly as we could. We started to run for a Japanese pillbox about two hundred yards away. I had gotten no sleep since I landed on the island, and had very little energy as we slogged through the sand towards the pillbox, but my fear urged me on. I struggled through the ash and sand, trying to keep moving forward. After about one hundred yards, my legs gave way beneath me, and I landed upon the soft black ash, completely exhausted. I laid there for about thirty seconds, breathing heavily, when a shell exploded somewhere near me, giving me renewed energy. I got up and continued to run towards the pillbox. How I had enough energy to reach it, I'll never know, and don't really care to know; the important thing was that I got there. As I entered, I saw that my top Sergeant and another Marine were already in the pillbox. My Sergeant, seeing how nervous I was, gave me a drink of water and a cigarette, which I received gratefully. After a while, the shelling slowed, and finally stopped. I looked around the pillbox; it was very strong, with five foot thick walls of reinforced concrete. As I studied this stronghold, I saw why we were having such a hard time driving the Japanese from the island.
The night passed slowly, and I didn't sleep a wink. During those dark hours before dawn, we received quite a bit of shelling and the usual air raid, but most of the ordnance was aimed at our ships, not at us.
22 February 1945, Iwo Jima, D+3
From the beach, we had been watching the boys fight their way up Mt. Suribachi, and after three days of hard fighting, we saw the American flag raised atop the summit. We were all very proud to see our flag on that mountain, billowing in the breeze, a symbol of American determination, and sacrifice.
After D+3, most of the shelling during the day was directed at our armada. It was mostly during the night that the Japanese shelled us, but for the most part they fired at the same spot, and we learned to avoid these places. We were still, however, receiving quite a bit of sniper fire during the day, but things had quieted down for us considerably, though this was not the case for many other Marines on the island.
4 March 1945, Iwo Jima, D+14
I saw the first B-29 bomber land today on the air strip; it had been damaged bombing Tokyo, and had been forced to make an emergency landing.
18 March 1945, the coast of Iwo Jima
The island was secured on 17 March 1945, D+27. Today, at around 1300, we pulled off of the island. As we headed back to the ship, I looked back at Iwo Jima, a tiny speck in the vast Pacific Ocean. This little island had bereft many a mother and father of their son, and many a wife of her husband. Nearly seven thousand Americans would never leave the bleak, black landscape of Iwo Jima, would never see the smiling faces of their families again. They died for their country, far from home and in hostile territory, so that their loved ones, indeed, so that the generations to come, could live in a free America. They fought to rid the world of tyrannical, totalitarian dictators like Hitler and Stalin. They fought and sacrificed their lives for our freedom, and for that, we must be forever grateful.