Frank Terrill starts:
Since the bombing at Pearl Harbor, my buddies were slowly disappearing into one service or the other and I began to feel not only a sense of loss, but also an obligation to somehow help end this awful war. After some thought about not wanting to be in the Army and being apprehensive about possibly going down with a ship, I enlisted in the Marine Corps at the young age of 17 with my parents permission to do what I could.
The Marines had broken up some regiments of their Rangers and Recon Parachute Marines that had fought on Guadalcanal and New Guinea and this became the backbone for the 5th Marine Division to which I was assigned following boot camp. I was assigned to Company H, 3rd Battalion, 27th Regiment. Our Company was commanded by Capt. Ralph F. Hall and the Executive officer was Captain Robert L. McCahill. Within a Company there are 3 Rifle Platoons plus a machine gun and mortar Platoon along with Headquarters personnel. A platoon is commanded by a 2nd Lt. and a platoon Sgt. Each platoon has 3 squads headed by a Sgt. and each squad had a four man fire team headed by a Cpl. The other members of the fire team consisted of a B.A.R. man, his assistant and a rifleman.
At the time that I first met what was to become my best friend and mentor was after a particularly hard day in the field at camp Pendleton. We had been on sea maneuvers for a week or 10 days and were awakened before daylight on the last morning and made to stand in formation for a rather lengthy period of time. Finally some officer showed up and very quickly inspected our ranks and then just as quickly, left without a word. We were finally allowed to form up and we were marched for the main barracks to shower and chow down. By this time it was well past breakfast and getting hotter all the time.
We entered the Company area too late for lunch and there was the Regimental band playing to greet us and I guess some of the men just needed someone to take it out on so they scattered the band by rushing them with rifle butts raised. Later, they did get the cooks to open some canned food and managed to feed us.
Before being dismissed, our C. O. also informed us that we had guard duty for the weekend. This set off a bad mood with our platoon and after the disappointed roar subsided the Captain said “We are men and will do our duty as men!”
On entering the barracks, we (still dirty and in a bad mood) were all cursing, throwing equipment on the floor and grumbling over the way we had been treated that morning.
That’s when we spied some fresh new faces toward the back of the barracks. They were wide eyed and just watching us but staying well out of the way. One man caught my eye as he was removing his gear from one of the bunks nearest mine. After witnessing our display of temper tantrums and thinking the bunk might belong to someone, none of the new men wanted any problems.
He was a rather large man and was clean and had on a fresh set of dungarees. He also had this wide-eyed expression and had backed into a corner. After coming to my senses I walked over and introduced myself and learned that his name was Charley Bollinger. By this time some of the bedlam and cursing had died down so the environment was not quite so threatening. Since both of us were farm boys we hit it off from the beginning. I showed him a set of bunks and told him that the person assigned one of those bunks had shipped out. I offered him the lower one and said that I would take the upper.
Charley had arrived at our barracks via the Navy. He was 28 years old and had a wife and child; he had joined the Navy April 3, 1944 just ahead of the draft, I suppose in hopes of being the safer route. However, sometimes fate takes over where our lives are concerned. On his first military physical a Marine officer came by and hand picked several of the larger men and told them to step out of line. He said “You have just joined the Marine Corps.” and hijacked the whole bunch right there and then.
Thinking back, I just had to laugh. I had joined the Marine Corps because I didn’t want to be on the ocean and was to spend a third of my enlistment on one ship or another.
Over the next few weeks, I helped Charley adjust to the differences between the way things were done in a line Company and the tight regimentation of boot camp.
For the next few months we were occupied with maneuvers and proper assault methods. Several times I was put in charge over our group and it felt rather strange being the youngster and in charge of the older men. We practiced from various troop transports and landing craft
We exchanged platoons and fire teams several times while at camp Pendleton so Charley and I were not always together during this period. We didn’t get our permanent assignments until later.
We were together on one unforgettable occasion. We sailed west out of San Diego on an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) into the close-to-California Pacific for yet another 3-day practice maneuver. However, this time the Pacific was far from peaceful. I remember the surface appeared very rough with deep, rolling swells and waves breaking high over the bow.
Charley and I were assigned to stand afternoon watch together on the fantail gun-tub. The gun-tub was approximately 8 feet in diameter and 4 feet deep with a 20mm gun mount in the center. Since there was no gun mounted at the time, we were looking at a simple circular depression ringed with a horizontal railing around the circumference. That would prove to be our little horror chamber for the next many hours.
Our duty called for us to stand watch in the gun-tub from 1600 to 2000 hours. As 1600 approached and it came time to report aft, we were both groping our way along the life- line as we struggled to keep our footing on the now pitching and rolling deck of the ship. We didn’t speak but both of us had to be feeling the same kind of dread. The sea, spraying white foam, was getting meaner by the minute and it looked like we were in for a very long 4-hour watch (little did I know). The LCI was groaning and pitching in an almost predictable rhythm. It would ride up one wave slowly and gracefully only to point its bow skyward, shudder briefly, and then plunge sharply downward roller-coaster fashion, forcing the bow deep into the next wave. Tons of water would then break high and down both sides of the ship with violent rivers of water crashing all the way back over the fantail and into the gun-tub. Lucky us!
Things just kept getting worse as it got dark and now we were soaking wet as we endured a constant state of flood in the gun-tub. An hour later when we didn’t think it could get any worse, we began to see times where the entire fantail was submerged in five feet of water. Each time the gun-tub would flood to dangerous over-flowing, we were both forced to hold our breath and hang on for dear life as our heads were plunged under water and our feet were violently floated above our heads. During those times, we clung to the handrail as we fought against the raging seawater trying to pull us overboard. Several times I lost a sense of up and down but was quickly slapped back to reality when I would have to dodge one of Charley’s rather large Marine-issue brogans flying by my face.
We began to lose track of time as 2000 hrs. had come and gone. But time was the least of our worries as we were struggling against the powerful water’s swirling grasp in a now pitch-black night. We were beginning to lose body heat from the cold during the night and started to shiver in the cold salt water. But, by looking after each other, we managed to fight off the hypothermia and hang on throughout the night. Then, just when we thought we might not survive much longer, our cold exhaustion changed to awe. We saw a beautiful daylight starting to break and the sea turn calm at very nearly the same time.
Shortly after that welcome dawn, some of the Navy crew, using ropes tied around their waists, leap-frogged out to our position. While we were making our way out of that hellish gun-tub, using the human rope chain, we were still shivering from the night’s ordeal and our legs still shaking, Charley commented that “We should be drawing submarine pay for last night!” About 15 feet from the hatch a blast of air struck us and I think every Marine in the ship had upchucked. This was our deliverance?
Sailors on board later told us, that it got so rough that night they got very worried about our plight on the fantail. However, as much as they wanted to help us, they couldn’t risk braving the heavy weather and slippery deck (that was mostly under water) to get to us.
I am sure that experience was the first of many that bonded Charley and I to be very close friends even beyond the Marine Corps.
Some time later in our landing exercises, President Roosevelt himself came out to observe us.
Later we were sent to another camp to crate supplies for over-seas shipment so we knew we would be shipping out soon. One night we were put on guard duty and Bollinger was posted to a walking guard for several warehouses surrounded by a chain link fence with strict orders to prevent anyone from entering the compound.
He had almost completed one round when a staff car came through the far end of the compound. Charley ran over to get a line of sight and ordered them to halt but they kept going. He opened fire which brought the car to an abrupt halt. He held them at gunpoint and called the Sgt. Of the guard. The Officer of the Day tagged along with the Sgt. and took charge. He sent the Sgt. back for a relief guard and sent Charley back to the guard house until morning. He was to stand a Captain’s Mast for firing his weapon.
The officer in the staff car just happened to be the camp commander that issued the strict orders for Charley’s post and told the Officer of the Day that Charley should not be punished but should be commended for obeying orders and that it was his fault for entering the compound the way he did. That officer showed up at the Captain’s Mast and testified on Charley’s behalf. He recommended that no action be taken so all charges were dismissed.
The next few weeks we were busy packing and preparing for overseas. During this time 1st. Lt. Hall (the company exec officer) was promoted to Company Commander and 1st. Lt. McCahill became the executive officer. Both were field promoted earlier for their part in the Solomans and Guadalcanal battles. It was a great relief that our original Commander was transferred out. We now had officers that were gentlemen and concerned for the enlisted men they commanded.
By August of 1944 we were in a high state of conditioning and esprit de Corps. We were formed up and shipped out to a man for Camp Tarawa Hawaii. The camp was originally an abandoned Army post but was renamed in honor of the 2nd Marine Division who returned there after the assault on Tarawa. They had moved out before we arrived; to fight again at Saipan.
Before leaving Camp Pendleton, I was permanently assigned the B.A.R (Browning Automatic Rifle). This rifle with loaded clip of 20 rounds weighs about 20 lbs. Each clip weighed about 1 lb. 7 ozs. And each bandoleer carried 8 clips. I only weighed about 145 lbs. However, I was assured that some of the other men would spell me occasionally. So the smallest man gets the biggest weapon.
On arriving in Hilo, Hawaii, we were assigned to unload the ship. We had loaded one of the cargo nets crooked and the crate spilled out and busted open. I was surprised to find it loaded with sheep skin coats. Why they were in the south sea islands was beyond me.
We got to know most of the codes from loading the crates in the States but every once in awhile a strange code would come through. We would load it so that it would fall and bust open to see what was in it. One of the crates had cushion soled wool socks in 1 dozen bundles and sheep skin coats. I strongly voiced my opinion as to the sanity of it all. One of the crew that had served in the earlier Pacific tours advised me to grab some of those socks as I would never get anything more useful or comfortable anywhere. So I grabbed a couple of bundles and hid them in my backpack. Later I gave one bundle to Charley. The man was right, as they later turned out to be a blessing in disguise both during and after the Iwo campaign.
After unloading the ship we boarded narrow gauge railroad cars (originally designed to carry sugar cane from the fields to the refinery). The engine was steam and there was plenty of sand and cinders while going through the tunnels. After arriving at the nearest point to camp, we were disembarked and hiked to Camp Tarawa. Our quarters were 16’ X 16’ pyramid tents with wooden floors and 4’ sidewalls.
It was hot during the day but quite comfortable during the night not counting the drifting sand that got into everything.
While on Hawaii, we were given the opportunity to form our own platoons and fire teams. We were then asked to get together and elect fire team leaders who would later be promoted to Cpl.
Charley, R. C. Williams, Casey Brown and myself made up our original fire team and since Charley was the oldest and I suppose the wisest, the entire platoon elected him to be our fire team leader. This required that he interview with the Top Sgt. For final approval. The top asked Charley “If you were walking guard on the parade ground and you saw a battleship coming at you, what would you do?” Charley’s answer was “I would pack my friggin sea bag and go home.” This answer was not taken in the humorous vain that it was given and it irritated the Sgt. so much that Charley was not allowed the position. We were forced to select another man from our platoon and that was that. The type of answer that the Top was looking for came from an earlier issue of Stars and Stripes and went something like: “I would throw a grenade and blow it up.” When asked “Where would you get the grenade?” The response would be “The same place that you got that ship.” I guess Charley hadn't read that issue of Stars and Stripes.
Sgt. Harward became our assistant platoon Sgt. And I found him very hard to get along with at first. He was often belligerent and I had my share of arguments with him. Once he made Platoon Sgt., it was a different story and the concern he showed for each man was to be admired. This was the man that led us into battle.
Another Marine had a personality conflict with a different Sgt. that had been one of our drill instructors back in the States. This Sgt. would occasionally pick out one man from the platoon and just berate him, sometimes for days.
One day the Sgt. and this man were arguing between some quonset huts. The Sgt. struck him with a three-cell flashlight and so the man decked him and dared the Sgt. to get up for more. The Sgt. did not offer any further abuse. Later, on Iwo, this same Sgt. put him on point as a scout even though we were face to face with the enemy. The Sgt was obviously trying to get him killed. This Marine told me on Iwo that a couple of times he had drawn a bead on the Sgt. But couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was rumored to have happened to other individuals.
At one point, I was sent for sniper training. I do not, to this day, know how I was chosen, as I did not qualify as an expert rifleman on the boot camp rifle range. They picked 3 men from each Company. We were given the ’03 Springfield rifles with a rather elongated telescope for sights. We were allowed some time to familiarize ourselves at 500 yards on the rifle range and then started a shoot off against each other. The range used for this was 1000 yards and the poorest scores for the day were eliminated. They finally wound up with the best 3 out of 10 shooters. I was eliminated on about the third round of shooting. As goes in the military, no snipers were landed or used on Iwo that I know of.
The big forearm on the B.A.R. proved very difficult for me to get my hand around comfortably. I found out later that it was designed overly large because they would get hot, smoke and then burn during extended rapid fire.
One day I noticed another B.A.R. man that had a cut off baseball bat extending out of the bottom of his forearm. I asked him where he got it and he said “The MSgt. Over at the armory put it on for me.” Well, I had to have one of those so I walked over to the armory and asked the Sgt. if he would do that for me. “Sure” he said and asked me how long I wanted it. Well, I thought if a little was good then longer would be better. That idea was disastrous as I found out later. The longer handle required that you expose more of yourself to level the weapon. He dismantled the B.A.R. and drilled holes in the forearm stock and the modified baseball bat. He then screwed the makeshift handle to the forearm and re-assembled the piece.
Our training continued on Hawaii and was coordinated with air cover, tanks, artillery and all other types of support for the assault.
At one point we got into a competition with the Army
Rangers on who could hit the beach the fastest. They put in a real good time and
we thought all was lost. Then one of our men said if we get up on the top of the
ramp and ride it down it will open faster. We did and it was. We beat them by a
large margin. Marine Corps
ingenuity at work…..
Sometime after enjoying a big Christmas dinner on December 20th, the men of the 27th Regiment boarded The USS Sandoval APA 194 (Auxiliary Personnel Attack troop transport) USS Sandoval history. This ship was one of the newly built Kaiser Victory ships. We were told to pack a khaki uniform as we might get liberty when we got back to Hawaii..
Later, we moved out of Pearl Harbor for a 60 mile cruise to Maui and Kahoolaweee Islands in Maalaea Bay. During the following three days, we conducted full-scale practice assaults with day and night landings and Naval support fire on Maui’s sandy beaches. The practice assaults were made against an area approximately the same size and shape of Iwo Jima and the physical conditions proved later to be very similar.
The landings instilled some confidence in the men of the 27th but was intended more for training officers in the necessary art of timing and logistics for a large island landing effort. We were now in top physical conditioning and our units moved as a well trained fighting force.
After the mock battle for Maui, The Sandoval returned to Oahu for re-supply and for a critique of our practice. We finally got our liberty. It was short being only until noon but it sure felt great to get off the ship for a few hours. We spent the next few days taking on supplies, checking ammunition, provisions and inspections for readiness. Then, we finally cast off lines for an island that we would later learn most intimately.
Since we weren’t forced to exercise much on the ship, other activities took up our days and nights. Two days out of port, we were finally told our destination and given the opportunity to see the map. We were assigned landing positions and they were high lighted by color and a number. The 27th’s beachheads were Red 1 and Red 2 across the narrow neck of Iwo Jima with the 28th on our left (against Mt. Suribachi) and the 4th division on our right. G-2 had provided us with some low-level aerial shots of Iwo also. I remember one in particular, taken by a P-38, with Japanese running in all directions.
We were also informed that the commanding Japanese officer was General Tadamichi Kuribayashi. He had fought in the Russo-Japanese war and had spent time in the U.S. and Canada. He headed the 109th Army Division along with some others. He would prove to be a formidable foe. He applied his defenses based on lessons learned from previous failures on other island campaigns as it turned out.
After a short time at sea, we were joined as a convoy of 485 ships with a single purpose. Some were pre-loaded with DUKWs (ducks) for quick discharge. A few were loaded at places from as far away as recently liberated Guam. I was awestruck at the vision of ships that stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. A scene that an18 year old, land locked Montana boy could never have imagined.
For safety, all of the ships continually maneuvered in a zigzag pattern from one location to another within this procession of ships. Every seven minutes brought a new course change for the whole convoy. Weaving around and through the middle of the large convoy, even at night. Charley expressed amazement with the precision of changing positions in that vast crowd of troop ships, destroyers, tenders and battleships. We would take note of our position at night as we turned into our bunks for sleep. After going topside the next morning we would find that our new position might be on the opposite corner of the convoy.
One night the Sandoval encountered serious problems with her rudder and had to sideline herself out of the convoy. Word was passed about the mechanical difficulties and all of the Marines began to envision Japanese subs out here in the middle of the Pacific that they had heard so much about. However, by the next morning, there we were again, steaming along in the middle of the convoy as if healed from above. How did they manage to catch up after lagging for so long?
After many days at sea, the men were going stir-crazy and losing the fitness edge that they had struggled so hard to attain in the past two years. Some turned out for calisthenics on a spotty basis but most of the Marines were losing their training readiness from weeks on the ship with little activity. This inactivity would come back to haunt us later as we struggled with the demands of heavy combat and little sleep on the island.
As for myself, I was scared to death of being locked down below with water-tight doors, a requirement of the Navy when they were practice firing their big guns. I had noticed that just inside the hatch before going below, there was an iron wicker-basket looking cage off to the right side. I took my chances and hid behind it until the hatch was locked. I then slowly made my way out onto the deck and approached the Navy Chief. I pretended to be interested in the big guns and told him that I would like to learn more about them. He said, “come around when we are firing and I am sure that I can find you something to do.” Well he did! He gave me this over large pair of asbestos gloves that came up to my shoulders and told me I was the hot shell handler. I had to keep the spent brass shells cleaned up so they were not underfoot and rolling around the deck. You had to stick one arm into the open end and then attempt to get under the other end so you could heave them into a big wire cage. That was a hot and miserable job.
Charley managed to become a back up gunner and was allowed to shoot at tow targets. He once said that he would also practice on U.S. planes. The Marine Corps made you just a little crazy. One or two of the Navy Chiefs harrassed their underlings unmercifully. They attempted to push us around but we pushed back and they left us alone.
Charley met a Navy painter that happened to be from Aberdeen, South Dakota near where he lived. They got chummy and the painter showed us how you could go below, across the ship and through the paint locker to gain access to a stairway. It led up to a small landing, topside where you could sit and get some fresh air. Below was so hot and reeked of body odor that the change was refreshing. Charley and I would sit there at night for hours just talking. One night we heard a scuffle going on but couldn’t determine where it came from since the ship was observing the required black out of the convoy. The next morning, we heard that some men had tried to throw a Navy Chief overboard. He got away and I imagine he was a much-changed man after that.
We stopped at Eniwetok for refueling and I got my first glimpse at the aftermath of Island hopping. It was a small spit of an island and from our transports we could see both ends of the island and the water surrounding it.
On to Saipan and yet another one day invasion rehearsal off the West coast of Tinian. It was a familiar sight for some of the 4th Marine Division and V amphibious Corps. They along with the 2nd Marine Division and the 27th Infantry Division had captured Saipan and neighboring Tinian in June and July the year before. We could still hear artillery fire hitting the higher cliffs as the mop up actions continued on Saipan.
Following the next morning’s Officer briefing, we left Saipan for our 4 day run to Iwo.
We were told that the nights on the Island would be cold and encouraged to try to scrounge up a jacket before disembarking. I managed to get an Eisenhower jacket and Charley was able to get a Navy pea coat. We decided that the best place for our new coats was secured with the straps on top of our backpacks.
We were ordered to leave the bottom half of our backpacks aboard ship and they would be delivered to the beach later. Our orders were “Take only what you need for the initial assault.”
Feb 19th 1945 (D day), before dawn, we arrived at Iwo after 54 days aboard ship. After a breakfast of steak and eggs, we watched Naval ship to shore salvos pummel the island from 0640 to 0805. Following the gunfire came the drone of the carrier based planes corsairs, hellcats and dauntless dive bombers and they had their turn at strafing, rocketing and napalming the island. Then the big boys B-24 Liberators bombed the island from high altitude. Previously it had been bombed by the 7th Air Force for days. There couldn’t be much fight left in them could there? The ships opened up once again for the final softening up phase.
Soon after, we watched as the amtracs headed toward the landing beaches. At about 09:00 we climbed down the landing nets and into the LVTs (Landing Vehicle Tank).
We found ourselves circling for what seemed like hours waiting to form up and assault the beach. We were in combat team reserve and waiting on the Marines that had previously landed to move up and make room. It looked like complete bedlam with all of the explosions, bodies, smoke and broken machinery everywhere. No matter how much training they gave us, it just never prepared me for this. I remember wondering if I could perform my duty under fire. Circling out here as a moving artillery target wasn’t helping.
We had been warned to keep our chinstraps fastened while in the boat but there is always one ‘John Wayne’ that has to be different with his chin straps flapping in the breeze. We were being bumped around pretty good by the swells and wakes and sure enough his helmet went over the side. The little coxswain had an extra Navy helmet that he loaned him. These helmets were robin egg blue and he sure stood out from the rest of us. The returning amtracs passed by on their way back and gave us the thumbs up sign.
Someone suggested to Lt. Fisher (our platoon leader) to speak to the coxswain and tell him that we did not want to get our feet wet on landing.The coxswain looked to be about 11 years old and small in build. One of the men went back and relayed the message about a dry landing. The coxswain said “If at all possible, I will land you clear on the other side of the island.” He almost did! I heard later that his boat had taken a mortar round and he was killed.
There were many young looking men in the service. One of ours was called Casey Brown (so called because of a short stint as a fireman with the railroad before entering the service). He looked to be about 13 years old and was thus viewed by the upper echelon as being too immature for frontline duty. He was kept back for beach duty on our initial assault. Being one of our fire team that made us one man short.
We finally commenced our assault and the coxswain, true to his word, revved the engine and just rammed the LVT as far as it would go up on the beach. First problem, the ramp would not go down. The Lt. ordered everyone over the side but before anyone had cleared the LVT, the ramp broke free and we all left by the front door.
It had been drilled into us to "clean the beach." Get as far up the beach as you can and do not bunch up to avoid making a bigger target for the enemy. So we ran up the beach as far as we could and then flopped down. Charley and I immediately found the error of our ways. Once we fell into firing position and attempted to look up hill the coats that we had so cleverly tied to our backpacks pushed our helmets forward and we were left looking into the inside of our helmets. We had to kind of roll over and look sideways to see forward. We managed to remove each other’s jackets and made other arrangements. It was chalked up to another lesson learned the hard way.
We heard a big Japanese anti-tank gun firing real close and could watch the shells hit the water but we never determined where it was coming from. Eventually we regrouped into our respective platoons and moved to the right and forward.
The man with the coxswain’s helmet began complaining that he was taking a lot more fire than anyone else. We all laughed and told him that it was probably the blue helmet and that the Japs thought he was an officer or general. Some of the guys took some composition C-2 and burned off the blue color for him. That made the difference.
There was a wrecked Japanese boat on the beach off to our right and every once in awhile we would take fire from there by an enemy sniper. It was eventually cleared and that annoyance was removed. Shelling on the first day was light to moderate as we regrouped and formed on line. However, the Japanese made up for it on the following days.
I began to have jamming problems with my B.A.R. because of the sand so I would toss it aside and pick up another loose weapon. At one point I had a Thompson sub machine gun that I really liked. My squad leader made me put it down and find another B.A.R. Once a B.A.R. man always a B.A.R. man.
Another time I spotted the barrel of a carbine sticking out of the sand and pulled it free. I beat the stock on a rock until the bolt freed up and started flopping. Without even changing the clip, that little rifle fired first time every time. My squad leader again made me take another man’s B.A.R. Now this guy was known for not taking very good care of his weapon and it was rusty and pitted from the get go. However, it was the only B.A.R. that never jammed on me? I finally figured out that too much oil combined with the sand made the B.A.R. jam and from then on I used far less oil when doing my field strips with better results. I did find out later that our B.A.R.s would heat up after long continuous firing and at some point when you pulled the trigger on a new clip, you couldn’t shut them down until the clip was empty.
I encountered a beach point early on that was marked with blue squares. I was standing there wondering if this was some sort of minefield when a tank with mine sweeper arms entered close by and, sure enough, exploded one near me. So being much wiser, I skirted my way through this maze of blue markers. I thought later, the Japanese must not have remembered or didn’t have time to remove the minefield markers after they had finished placing them.
Other units of our Regiment were ahead of us so we had light resistance and mostly mop up action against bypassed enemy positions.
Our objective after getting to the other side of the island (some 700 yards wide) was to pivot right (North) and take the airfields (two completed and one partially constructed). This would cut Mt. Suribachi from the rest of the island to be dealt with by the 28th division. After a fierce day of fighting we were at the Southern and Eastern edges of Motoyama Airfield No. 1.
We crossed on over to the Western beach area just below the airfield and tied in with the advance units. Turned right to the North as planned and dug in for the night under light artillery fire. The 28th was taking heavy artillery fire from the volcano. They turned left as planned and assaulted toward Mt. Suribachi.
Following intensive artillery, naval gunfire and air preparation the airfield was nothing but dust and shell holes. Well directed enemy mortars kept the dust stirred up. We were told it was about 800 yards across and our objective was to get to the other side. Due to the lack of visibility, we moved forward by keying off of the man in front and to the sides and would leap frog our way across the airfields. I started out running in a serpentine fashion, as per training, but wound up exhausted and just walking with the grim reality that if it was going to happen then there was really nothing I could do about it. The many days spent on the ship had taken its toll on my conditioning.
I came across a Sgt. that had tended bar at the officer’s club in Hawaii. We always called him dad as he was older than most of us. He was just sitting there, in the midst of this bedlam, on his helmet, rifle across his lap and smoking a cigarette. I said, “Dad, are you hit?” and his reply was “No, son go on I’ll be along directly”. I never saw him again. I have since seen his name in the Wounded in action column of the 5th Division Spearhead book.
During the airfield engagement we took fire from Japanese airplane wreckages caused from previous Air Force bomber raids. After one of the snipers had been eliminated was when I saw my first close up of our enemy. I never really saw many Japanese dead or otherwise due to the way they were killed in their defensive positions. On searching the dead sniper we found a white uniform and other things identifying him as a sailor? Most of the island defenders were also bigger than we were led to believe by the paratroopers and raiders. We were told they were small and had poor eyesight so they could not shoot very well. At days end we had gained our 800 yards. One regiment was pulled back 200 yards for better night defense.
Airfields two and three were going to be even more costly and took some of the heaviest fighting on the island. It involved a hill called 362 from which the Japanese poured accurate and deadly fire into our positions.
We met immediate and violent resistance. We had run into a steel and concrete emplacement that was a mile and a half deep and extended entirely across the island. Williams was shot through the abdomen without hitting any internal organs. He later died of shell shock anyway. Now we were a fire team of two. After the fighting had died down some, Charley wanted to go over and make sure that William’s body had been evacuated
We were slogging along when two recon vehicles towing sleds pulled up near us. The men got off and ignited some kind of timing mechanism as pretty soon there were rockets being fired in an orderly fashion. The first vehicle finished and was pulling out when a mortar barrage commenced hitting the area. The guys in the second vehicle jumped in theirs and left in a hurry with rockets still being fired from the sled. We thought that was pretty comical and livened up our day a bit. After the day’s fighting General Rocky was able to move his offshore headquarters to the southern end of airfield 1.
At dusk, the Japanese hit our entire 5th division lines and there was some fierce close-in fighting.
I am sad to say that both Lt. Hall and Lt. McCahill were killed the second night on Iwo by a direct hit in the Company Command Post by and artillery shell. It killed five of eight men in the Command Post.
Next in command was Lt. Hewitt that lost a foot the next day and was evacuated. Lt. Fisher was offered the position but requested to stay with our platoon.
Next in line was Lt. McCumby. He did not feel capable and said that he would step down for anyone that wanted to command. He and another Lt. were the only officers in our Company to survive the campaign.
It began to rain in the morning making it now wet, hot and miserable during the day or wet, cold and miserable during the night. The rain finally turned into a torrent and there went our air cover. To make matters worse, we were taking devastating fire from the high ground between airfields 1 and 2. With the ground being so uneven, our tanks could not support us very well and it was a slugfest with marines against pillboxes.
By early evening when we were ordered to halt for the night, my dungarees were soaked from top to bottom. This made it very cold with the wind coming off the ocean and I was one tired shivering mess. My home for the night was a large shell crater and I managed to stay busy by making a tent over it from some flimsy sticks and a poncho. After a while Charley showed up and we began to look around for whatever we could scrounge to make life a little more comfortable. There was a disabled and abandoned tank near us and it had a large wax impregnated tarp over the back. Charley opened it up and found it contained sets of dungarees. He found one about my size and brought them over. You would have thought it was Christmas! I had just managed to change into the dry dungarees and was feeling so much better when one of the pockets of water on my home-made tent burst loose and just drenched me. Charley thought that was pretty funny.
We spent most of the day re-equipping and performing maintenance. The supply situation from the beach was improving somewhat and a few supplies were getting up to us. Now both the 4th and 5th Marine Division headquarters were able to setup on the southern end of airfield 1.
Fighting our way across airfield number 2 became hand to hand with rifles, grenades, and entrenching tools in some cases. We continued on assault and eventually tied in with the 3rd platoon. We were in an open flat space and one of the men was shot in the leg. He went down but the Japanese continued to snipe at him.
About this time, I never really saw much of Charley during the day. He would usually come up to my position at night and we would use that time to visit and catch up on the latest skuttlebutt
We were on assault when the flag raising took place so we were not in a position to celebrate as such. We actually got the word about it later through the grape vine but we were still pretty proud on seeing it waving up there.
There were a few times when I would be out on point and Charley would come up to get me. He was always looking out for me and the other guys especially in our platoon. As it turned out, Charley had a quick sense for sizing up a battle front situation and planning a defense or attack as needed. Once, the squad leader had put me out into an area where it was too hard to dig good cover. I managed to stack some rocks around me for protection. Charley had asked Lt. Fisher where I was and he replied that he did not know so Charley came to find me.
I heard someone approaching and firing an M-1 so I rotated a bit to give covering fire for whoever it was. Charley appeared and started swearing at me and wanted to know “Why you crazy little SOB are you out here?” I said “The squad leader had ordered me out here.” Charley went back and brought Lt. Fisher up and the Lt. then ordered me back.
Charley was tired and upset and he got into a shouting match with the Lt. over why he kept leaving me out there like that and if he couldn’t keep track of me to assign he and I together at least. He said that there were plenty of Sgts. to take over his runner errands. The Lt. finally admitted that Charley and I were the only fire team that he could depend on and as of now we were both Sgts. Lt. Fisher was later killed in action so the promotions never happened.
Charley later apologized to Lt Fisher for coming down on him that way. He was always one of our favorite leaders and we missed him after he was killed.
Lt. Fisher was one of those leaders that insisted on being totally immersed in every part of the campaign and, if anything, was too emotionally involved in all aspects where his men’s welfare was concerned. He was a perfect candidate for shell shock. When it did come after about a week in combat, no one was too surprised but that wasn’t to be the end of the story. Knowing in, his own mind, that he was afflicted with shell shock, he refused to relieve himself from harm’s way. His total devotion to his men wouldn’t allow him to leave. Sadly, he bravely continued fighting on the front lines, his condition making him an easy target and he was eventually killed.
I have since read that at the end of the day’s fighting that casualties had risen to 7,758. Eventually we were combined with G Company and of our original two companies of 300 men there were only 83 of us remaining.
On this day we encountered some of the bitterest fighting to date. By days end, we were dug in for the night in the shadow of hill 362.
One time Charley and myself were sharing a shell-cratered foxhole and waiting for our turn to cross a road and advance upward toward the western slope. We couldn’t believe our eyes when a Marine by the name of Po Shepney paused under fire in the middle of the road long enough to do a little tap dance just to taunt the Japanese. This brought a little levity to the nastiness of the battle. Fortunately, when it came our turn to cross the firing had stopped.
Charley and I were sharing yet another crater when some of the other marines spotted a Japanese gun emplacement firing at them. They called me up to a ridge on the crater for my B.A.R. firepower and attempted to point it out to me but I could never make out where it was. Pretty soon one of the other Marines spotted the muzzle flash and dove into firing position. Before he could get a round off another Jap round hit him in the face.
Charley eventually saw the muzzle flash and was able to put a fix on the Japanese position. He went to the back lines and managed to bring up a two-man 60 mm mortar team. They went through the drill of setting elevation and windage and estimating distance to the target. Then just as the gunner was dropping the mortar round into the pod, he lost his balance and knocked the tripod back. This caused that round to go almost straight up and back down scattering us in all directions. After recovering, they were, eventually, able to knock the emplacement out.
Charley later checked on the Marine that was hit in the face earlier and said that he heard him talking but they still weren’t sure that he was going to make it.
Many of the Japanese committed suicide in various forms but one of the more popular ways that we heard about was to blow themselves up when they could determine that a group of Marines were on top of them
Another notable experience was when Charlie was lying in a makeshift hammock and I was nearby. As we started to relax and think about sleep, we started hearing voices... but not in English! We froze and listened more closely. It quickly became obvious that there were Japs in a hole right beneath the hammock Charlie was lying in. We talked about what to do and finally decided to find a man with a demolition MOS (Military Occupational Specialty). He arrived in a short time and threw a shape charge down into the hole. Jap body parts flew in all directions! If they had been contemplating suicide, we just managed to help them along.
We were also engaged in occasional grenade fights that were a common occurrence on the island and at very close distances. These seemed to mostly occur at night when all we wanted to do was sleep.
Charley and I were sitting in a foxhole when a mortar round knocked the tread off a tank near us. Some shrapnel plowed through the edge of our foxhole and broke Charley’s arm. If it hadn’t hit the edge of the foxhole, Charley may have been killed right there. If Charley hadn’t been sitting where he was I would have been mortally wounded. Charley stayed on the rest of the day thinking it had only bruised his arm. A corpsman finally looked at it and took him by the arm back to the rear. He was treated on a hospital ship.
Now I was a fire team of one……….
Thinking I had seen the last of Charley, I was almost bowled over when I later saw him coming back up from the beach, unshaven, long hair and just the basic dungarees and his arm in a sling. He was carrying a box of hand grenades with his good arm. He had jumped ship and returned for another round with the Japs. MacArthur and his return speech didn’t have anything on Charley.
One of the corpsman told Charley he had better get back to the rear. Charley just replied that he would see if he could manage and how it went first. I cannot say enough about the bravery and courage of the Navy Corpsmen. There were times when the mortar shells were so thick that I dared not show my head and up they would pop and go at any and all calls for “Corpsman!” We lost a lot of very good corpsmen.
I found Charley an M-1 rifle but he couldn’t fire it without some kind of support and then only with his left hand. He found someone’s helmet but it was so soiled that he just carried it until we could find him a clean one.
We later worked out a system of watching with each man responsible for a 90-degree sector of observation from his position.
Charley became primarily a runner after being wounded and was all over the battlefield carrying ammo, water or whatever else was needed. His stamina for running in that lava sand was unbelievable. He was also good at checking up on and looking out for the other men. One time I looked back and here he came with his long hair sticking out from under his helmet, unshaven and B.A.R. bandoleers just flopping off his sides. I rolled over and just started laughing so hard and beating the ground. I told him he looked just like Pancho Villa coming up that hill. He failed to see the humor in that at all.
Once when scrounging the beaches of Iwo, he claimed to have been chased and strafed by a Japanese Zero. He managed to escape by jumping into cover.
Some of our additional support forces included dog handlers (the dogs were used to sniff out the Japanese and warn their handlers) and Navajo code talkers (artillery and gun ship spotters). On the front lines, one man would be assigned per code talker and had orders to shoot him in case of certain capture. We also had a few of the old China Marines with us.
Charley said that once they had sent a dog around a bend in the terrain to check out the enemy situation. When the dog didn’t return they assumed all was well. On moving around the bend, they took heavy small arms and machine gun fire. They saw to their horror that the Japanese had tied a female dog, in heat, to distract any dogs coming their way. Most of the Japanese we encountered were very good shots and many, having been educated in the U.S., spoke English as well as we did.
At night, we would get into shouting matches with them. They would say “Roosevelt eats shit.” and we would reply with “Tojo eats shit.”
I remember the nights being the blackest that I had ever experienced. You could not see your hand in front of your face. We learned early on that you rarely saw a muzzle flash from a Japanese rifle. If you did, it was a sure bet that you were the target and looking right down the barrel. On the other hand, our weapons shot flames for 3 feet at night and smoked like a railroad engine. If you shot after dark it gave away your position. We kept our night firing to a minimum.
Some of the old Solomon veterans claimed they could smell the Japanese and we just laughed thinking they were pulling our leg. After a couple of weeks we found it to be true. I cannot describe the odor but it was definitely unique and identifiable.
On one occasion, our own 81 mortars shelled our position and was killing our men. We had to use a code talker to get them to cease firing. He earned his pay that day.
To call in air support or artillery fire took a long chain of command (Company Lt., Regiment, division, corps and out to the ship). Usually this took so long that by the time it was provided we were already beyond where we needed the fire support. It was seldom used (at least by us anyway).
One day I took a grazing bullet across my shoulder that opened up my shirtsleeve. It later sun burned and blistered. On another occasion, I remember looking down at my hand and arm at one point after firing the B.A.R. and seeing black with blood oozing. I sincerely thought I was really wounded but after I got it cleaned up it turned out to be just black powder marks and hundreds of tiny brass bits from the shells. It turns out that after some extended firing, the B.A.R. was hot, dirty and firing before the chamber could completely close and what I was seeing was caused from blow by. We all had many of the smaller wounds but if it didn’t put you down most were ignored.
Many Japanese positions had to be bypassed in order to keep the assault moving and we would occasionally take fire from behind us. We only encountered two spider traps that I remember and they would not shoot from there unless they spotted a straggler or loner so as to not give away their position. Once we were taking such fire but we couldn’t make out where it was coming from. A Cpl. finally spotted the spider trap door closing and informed the rest of us. We bent a piece of rebar to form a hook. One of the guys would reach out and hook the door and yank it open and another man would quickly drop a hand grenade in the hole. The Japanese were so tightly squeezed in an upright fetal position that they had to be helped in and out. They could not move to get out of the way or escape. The grenade landed in his crotch and much screaming was heard before the explosion.
We were approaching a little grassy opening on our way to the top of a hill when our point man shouted “Grenade” and started running toward us. It seemed the whole top of that hill exploded and he went down. Some of the men went out to see if he was still alive. Seeing blood and guts all over him they suspected the worse. Then he began moving. It turned out that the suicide’s entrails had been thrown at him like a bola and had wrapped around him and hog-tied him. He was later isolated and shunned for the rest of the day as the stink on him was unbearable.
About two weeks into the battle, we were stalled in position and here came some overweight mess Sgts. With a net over their backs full of Pineapple and Grapefruit juice. I took back all of the bad thoughts and cursing that I had ever given those guys. Those juices were a real treat on the front lines. Sometimes the only liquid that was available was water from Gerry cans that had been used to transport gasoline or diesel fuel. Even if you had to hold your nose, you drank what you could get. In spite of later reports, we never found an empty Jap canteen nor an empty pre-stashed bladder (like a hot water bottle) that they also used.
We had one man in our outfit named LaTrease who would sit down every time there was any lull in the fighting and make a cup of coffee. We would take an empty ration can for the stove and set our canteens or rations on top. We then, would roll composition C-2 into little balls and drop them into an opening of the empty can. That was how we heated our coffee or food. Later we found out that if those little balls had contained an air bubble we would all have been blown to bits. It was an art form as you couldn’t drop them too fast or they would get too hot and scorch or burn the food nor could you drop them too slow as the first one would go out and the next one would not ignite.
Once we got further across the island, you had to put a blanket or poncho in your fox hole as the ground was so hot it would blister your bottom. We would dig a small hole or ledge in our foxholes and set our rations there to heat them up. Water bubbling from below ground reached the surface at 160 plus degrees.
One day we came across some Army troops that were part of a force being shipped in to eventually take over Iwo defenses. They wanted to visit and talk about what we had done and seen. They even invited Charley and I to eat with them. Since we hadn’t eaten in awhile, a hot meal sounded good to us. However, their mess Sgt. Took one look at us almost cried and said, “I cannot feed you guys. I would rather be shot then not feed you but if I do the whole Marine Corps will be over here and I just do not have enough.”
So, we walked away and Charley decided that he wanted to go over by a ridge to look back at the landing beach. On the way, we came across a mountain of K rations as big as a house with only one guard. Charley said “Now I will take him over by the ridge to ask him some questions and you sneak up there and grab us a box of rations.” Off they went and I took a running start and climbed up almost to the top and managed to knock off a box of rations. I had just picked it up and was making off with it when I heard “Halt” followed by a rifle shot. Even though the box was digging into my arm, I just kept running and he kept hollering Halt and shooting. Since I could sense no bullets whizzing by and there was no sand being kicked up near me, I just kept running. I suspect that guard had the time of his life shooting up into the air. I will never know. The rations were designated with numbers only so we didn’t know what we had until we opened them but I do know that we enjoyed those K rations whatever they were.
Many times during the battle, we were very short of non-coms and most men were fighting as individuals instead of teams. Casey Brown was even brought up to the front. He stuck to me like a shadow. I will say that I saw many a Top and gunnery Sgts. fighting right on the front lines with us during the campaign.
We were part of an assault to take some high ground that had once contained usable radar. It was a particularly rough fight against Japanese knee mortars and grenade attacks. We eventually won out and now had possession of this high ground paid with a high cost in men and material. I recall that this was the first time that moving forward would be downhill since landing on the island.
The day was spent blowing caves and pillboxes and we dug in for the night. After dark, the Japanese came out of these same caves and harassed us all night. They infiltrated our lines with brute force and the fighting was in both directions at one point, to our front and behind our lines.
Our company had been on assault for several days when Charley was sent to the rear to guide a new company forward to relieve us. We were all looking forward to some rest and relaxation.
About this time, Casey Brown and myself were sent to a forward position that they called an “Advanced position” for reasons we never understood, as we were already eye to eye with the Japanese concealed defenses. As we moved out all was calm and we received no fire in our direction. We later attributed this to lack of early morning light, out of range or perhaps we were just being ignored which I really doubt. Later we heard heavy firing behind us and were puzzled as we were receiving no fire at all. After about an hour everything calmed down again. After some time we began wondering what was going on. We were unaware that Charley had brought the replacements up and our company had moved back. The firefight that we had heard caused the other company to pull back leaving us there by ourselves. Suddenly I heard someone call my name. I didn’t answer that first call as the Japanese were known for calling a name that they had heard earlier just to fix a position on you. On the second call I recognized the voice of Sgt. Harward and I responded. He had missed me after the pull back and had come forward to bring us in. He wanted to know if we could get out of there. My answer was “I thought so.” He said he would cover us the best he could.
He was in the edge of a boulder field that ended on the flat sandy area we were in and several hundred yards from him. I asked Casey if he wanted to go first or last and his reply was “Whatever I thought best”. I pointed out to him that the first one would have the element of surprise and with my B.A.R. that I could cover him from the rear. With that thought off he went with a Nambu machine gun shooting his tracks out most of the way to rocks and safety. I waited another ten minutes to get up my nerve, as I really didn’t expect to make it across. Well, I did get to safety and without a shot fired at me. I even walked the last hundred yards or so.
On reaching safety, the sergeant asked if I knew Charley had been hit that day. This came as a complete surprise to me and I became worried about him. He showed me the location where I could go and check on him. It was through a saddle in the rocks and he assured me that the saddle would be under fire and to take care.
Charley and PFC George P. Thorton had gone up to try and get a wounded machine gunner to a safe area. Both Thorton and the machine gunner were killed in the attempt and Charley had taken multiple machine gun wounds to his leg.
I started out at about noon and made it safely across to the area that the Sgt. Had directed me. Coming to a shallow cove about thirty feet square with a sandy bottom I was surprised to find four or five bodies covered by ponchos or blankets. This was our method for marking our dead for evacuation. Fearing the worst, I looked under each cover and was relieved to find that Charley was not among the bodies, however, I did recognize each of the men.
I started searching for Charley in the rocks and began to wonder if maybe he had been evacuated. Suddenly the hair on the back of my head stood straight up as I came eye level with a bloody boot. As I continued looking upward there was a bloody leg and attached to that leg was Charley. He was crouched back in a small niche. I approached him but he didn’t seem to recognize me. When he saw me he drew his .45 automatic and pointed it from about knee high directly into my face. It was Charley with a wild and crazy look in his eyes and the end of that .45 looked to be the size of a 2 inch gas pipe. I thought I was about to be killed by my own best buddy.
He was crouched in a crevice about six feet above the ground which was a very good defensive position. I tried to talk him into putting the .45 down and he became very abusive, waving the pistol around and swearing at me. Told me to “Get out of here and go back with the rest of those SOBs”. He was referring to some other Marines that had found him earlier but had pulled back without him or me and Casey for that matter. They had, however, stopped long enough to inject him with enough morphine to make him dangerous. Just the glazed look from his eyes was enough to scare the hell out of me.
I assumed he had been over medicated and was suffering from shock. Understanding that, I told him “I am going for help to get him out of there and to not shoot us when we returned.” This seemed to bring up more contempt and I am not sure that he understood but he didn’t stop me from leaving.
I proceeded to the rear with no further problems. I was shocked on arriving and finding the company assembled by platoons as if they were at stateside morning roll call. The company Lt. was prancing around swearing at everyone all the while still within range of enemy mortars and artillery. He just glared and called me too independent to fall in with the rest of the men when I refused get in line. We had a bitter run-in a few days before. Sgt. Harward and myself had received uncalled for verbal abuse from him. I ignored him and went directly to the sergeant and asked if he would call for volunteers to go bring Charley in. Every one was tired and worn out from all of the days of combat but after he turned and asked for volunteers and the entire platoon stepped forward. This made the Lt. even more upset. He continued to grouse and strut and Sgt Harward said “Lt. maybe you leave your wounded behind but the second platoon doesn’t.”
I held no grudge against the Lt. afterward as he was completely out of his element and was our third Company Commander after the death of one and the wounding of the second. Before taking over he had said, “If this is an order I will take command. If not, I will step aside as I feel that I do not have the proper experience.”
After three volunteers were selected we obtained a stretcher from a nearby aide station. The four of us left in the early afternoon and received no fire going in.
The other men took cover while I approached Charley as we didn’t know if he would shoot us or not. I got within about fifty feet and called out to him. He responded normally so we gathered in the cove and found him still in the crevice and in much pain. We got him on the stretcher and headed back. The area from this point to our company location I estimated to be about six hundred yards and on a twenty to twenty-five degree slope. The area consisted of assorted sizes of broken lava rocks. Some were eight to ten feet high and others were rubble making walking difficult.
As we hurried along he would swing and kick at anyone close as he was out of his mind on the morphine. We would occasionally bump his wounded leg and he would start swearing. Letting him take his pain and frustration out on us seemed a small price to pay in order to speed up his evacuation.
Picking our way along we came to several places that required us to lift the stretcher shoulder high to navigate the bigger rocks. On one such maneuver a Nambu machine gun opened fire on us. By instinct we all dived to the ground leaving Charley stranded flat on his back on top of the rock and kicking with his good leg in an attempt to roll himself off the rock. Not wanting to stand up into the fire, but knowing he was in danger, I grabbed the corner of the stretcher and flipped him over onto the ground dumping Charley in a heap. This brought an understandable loud response from him and we all knew it had to be very painful.
After the firing stopped we got him reloaded and taking a different route we arrived at the company area without drawing further fire. Charley was left on the stretcher in front of the aide station. The other volunteers joined the second platoon and the company moved out. I stayed with Charley for a while longer to visit and say goodbye. His company was certainly going to be missed.
Charley asked me for a strange favor. He wanted me to look for the bottom half of his backpack that had been delivered to the beach. He wanted to make sure that the Parker fountain pen that his wife Janis had sent him and some pictures that he had brought with him did not get lost. Even stranger was that I went looking for it. I didn’t think there was any chance of finding it given the size of that beach and all of that debris. By some miracle I did find it and was able to return it to him.
Later, after we were out of the service and on our first meeting since he was evacuated, he told me about what had happened after I left. He said that the medics examined his leg, re-bandaged it and told him that they didn’t think it was broken. They instructed him that if he wanted to be evacuated to get on one of the litter jeeps parked about 50 yards away. While hobbling over there, the leg broke causing him to fall into the sand. This added to the infection and he suffered with that leg for the rest of his life.
After 21 days of fierce fighting on Iwo Jima, Charley spent some 30 days on a hospital ship off Iwo and was then flown off in a C-47 (R4D Navy version) to Saipan. From there he was flown back to Hawaii and eventually on to Seattle, Washington. That made a total of 51 days in transient. He was later treated at Norman, Oklahoma Naval base and was close to relatives there.
Now I was down to a fire team of one again………..
By now, we had the Japanese bottled up on the Northern tip of the island. With their backs to the sea and no limit to the caves for hiding and they put up a stiff resistance
I was near one of our tanks when it was hit by Japanese
artillery and the crew all scrambled out leaving the disabled tank abandoned. It
was after that one of our men, named Olsen, was seen trying to get in to recover
the Thompson sub-machine gun known to be carried by the tanks.
Some of the guys thought that he was after the Four Roses Whiskey that
was rumored to be in all tanks.
I remember seeing one B-29 land and it skidded across the airfield and plowed into a dirt embankment created for just that purpose. All of the crew was able to walk away. I thought at the time that it was the first one to land on the island but someone later told me it wasn’t.
On March 26th, the Japanese made one desperate and final early morning attack. They were beaten back and defeated. At long last, the island was declared secure and we were shipped back to Hawaii to rest, re-group and train for the invasion of Japan. I had spent a total of 34 days on that nasty island and not once did I spend even one night in a tent or have the luxury of a cot for sleeping. I only wrote one V-mail letter while on the island as any news that I had seemed to be repetitive. V-mail was a special paper that was about like onion skin and very light to save on shipping weight. You could virtually see right through it.
I finally had answered that one nagging question that I had in the LVT on the way onto the island though. It was a satisfactory answer but I was not looking forward to the experience a second time. As Charley would often say afterward "We did the best we could."
After returning to Camp Tarawa, we were billeted in tents again. I remember that black lava sand would drift across the wooden floor and cause quite a mess. The men took up a collection and bought cheese-cloth or fine netting which was then used to keep the sand out.
Some of the guys thought it a big laugh to pull the firing pin out of a grenade, empty the black powder and then walk by and toss them into tents. After the tents were almost destroyed by the escaping Marines, they were finally ordered to knock it off.
On August 6th 1945, my 19th birthday, they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and later bombed Nagasaki. The Japanese were forced to capitulate. That was the end of that. Or so I thought. Our commander volunteered us for occupation duty in Japan.
My sea bags containing an M-1, M-1 Carbine and a bolt-action Japanese rifle were loaded for shipment to me at my new post in Japan. The weapons including my Ka-Bar knife were missing when they arrived.
I was a part of the Japanese Occupation force until April of 1946. What I remember of the Japanese was their constant bowing and scraping and that just seemed to irritate everyone in the occupation forces. However, they never presented any problems for us and my bitterness toward them eventually began to lessen. After all, the majority of them had been non-combatants. There was even one old WWI Marine living in Japan during the whole war with his Japanese wife.
Long after the war, my son Guy and I flew into Aberdeen. After arriving and meeting with Charley, we all decided to go for a bite to eat at a local restaurant. Charley and I proceeded to tell war stories and reminisce about old war buddies and only when we went to pay the check and leave did we realize that you could hear a pin drop. Everyone in the restaurant had been listening to us!
Would you like to read more? Try the following hyperlink for a full accounting of the battle for Iwo Jima.
Closing In: Marines in the Seizure of Iwo Jima