A Veterans tribute with just a pack of cards and a beautiful ending.
THESE BROTHERS WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN!
During WW II, between August 1944 and mid-February 1945, the U.S. Navy and Seventh Air Force ravaged the volcanic island Iwo Jima, 775 miles from Japan, with 6,800 tons of high-explosive bombs and more than 22,000 5- and 16-inch shells. It was the most massive pre-assault bombardment in history, and everyone in the American invasion force assumed that the U.S. Marines would hit the beach on Feb. 19 and walk unopposed to the summit of Mt. Suribachi, an extinct volcano rising 550 feet from the island floor.
Instead, Iwo Jima became the bloodiest slaughter in Marine Corps history, claiming 7,000 lives. In return, the Americans killed all but 216 of the island’s 21,000 Japanese defenders. But the Americans had no choice — they had to take Iwo Jima. American strategists knew that capturing the island would shorten the war and in the end save lives. For two full days the Americans lay motionless on their narrow beachhead. On the third day the Americans smashed their way toward Mt. Suribachi inch by inch. Hundreds of pillboxes, minefields, and snipers’ nests stood in their way, and the battle broke down into countless savage little brawls.
On Feb. 23, 1945, 40 Marines burned and blasted their way up Mt. Suribachi and planted an American flag on its summit. Associated Press cameraman Joe Rosenthal’s dramatic photograph of the event became the most famous image of the Pacific war, but not before three of the six Marines pictured had been killed.
The six photographed historic flag raisers were Ira Hayes, Mike Strank, Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley, Rene Gagnon and John Bradley. The famous Rosenthal photograph inspired a postage stamp in 1945 depicting the flag-raising. It also inspired the tallest cast bronze statue in the world, which was assembled in Arlington National Cemetery in fall of 1954. The monument was cast at the Bedi-Rassy Art Foundry in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. It stands in honor of all U.S. Marines (since 1775) who have given their lives for their country.
Fighting continued on the island until March 26. Badly damaged B-19s began landing on Iwo Jima as early as March 4, and by war’s end more than 2,200 American bombers carrying 24,761 men made emergency landings there.
The motion picture The Sands of Iwo Jima, released in 1949, is a perennial favorite of WW II enthusiasts. John Wayne earned an Oscar nomination for his performance as a tough-as-nails Marine sergeant. In 2006, Clint Eastwood’s Flags of our Fathers told the story of the Marines who rose the flag on Iwo Jima that day.
This article was written by Vernon Parker (1923-2004)
Three days after that (the flag raising), the war was over for Easy Company.
Easy’s original total force on Iwo Jima was 310 young men, including replacements. On March 26, Captain Severance led his 50 survivors on a tour of the newly dedicated 5th Division cemetery. And then they traveled by a small boat to the transport, the Winged Arrow, for the trip back home. They had to climb a cargo net to get aboard. Many were so weak that they had to be pulled over the rail by sailors.
When I asked Severance, many years later, exactly how it finally ended, he thought for a moment and then replied: “We had all the real estate.”
Severance was the only one of six Easy Company ofhcers to walk off the island. Of his 3rd Platoon, the one that first scaled Suribachi, only Harold Keller, Jim Michaels, Phil Ward, and Grady Dyce came through the battle untouched. Easy Company had suffered eighty-four percent casualties.
Of the eighteen triumphant boys in ]oe Rosenthal’s “gung-ho” (1st) flag raising photograph, fourteen were casualties.
The hard statistics show the sacrifice made by Colonel Johnson’s 2nd Battalion: 1,400 boys landed on D-Day; 288 replacements were provided as the battle went on, a total of 1,688. Of these, 1,511 had been killed or wounded. Only 177 walked off the island. And of the final 177, 91 had been wounded at least once and returned to battle.
It had taken twenty-two crowded transports to bring the 5th Division to the island. The survivors fit comfortably onto eight departing ships. The American boys had killed about 21,000 Japanese, but suffered more than 26,000 casualties doing so. This would be the only battle in the Pacific where the invaders suffered higher casualties than the defenders. The Marines fought in World War II for forty-three months. Yet in one month on Iwo ]ima, one third of their total deaths occurred. They left behind the Pacific’s largest cemeteries: nearly 6,800 graves in all; mounds with their crosses and stars. Thousands of families would not have the solace of a body to bid farewell: just the abstract information that the Marine had “died in the performance of his duty” and was buried in a plot, aligned in a row with numbers on his grave. Mike lay in Plot 3, Row 5, Grave 694; Harlon in Plot 4, Row 6, Grave 912; Franklin in Plot 8, Row 7, Grave 2189.
When I think of Mike, Harlon, and Franklin there, I think of the message someone had chiseled outside the cemetery:
When you go home
Tell them for us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today
Life: A Dual Value.
One often hears the statement “self preservation is the first law of nature.” Is that really true? Here is a surprising Robert L. Humphrey story from the battle of Iwo Jima that sheds light on this question. Humphrey was a rifle platoon commander on Iwo. As you read, ask yourself, if you were the young platoon leader, whether you would think that life was a selfish value.
The Iwo Jima Story.
On the sixth day of the battle for Iwo Jima, I took command of the only six (teenage) American Marines who were still left in a front-line rifle platoon that had more than 40 original members [Company F/,2d Battalion/, 28th Marines].
I took over my platoon in a protected area. Men were walking around. They were an experienced, confident group who had been involved in the fighting at the top of Mount Suribachi.
One young man was especially noticeable, carrying an unusual Thompson submachine gun. He oozed self-confidence and independence.
After chow that first evening, as he perfected his foxhole, he started declaring to himself in a loud voice: “I don’t volunteer for nothin’ else! Screw the Marine Corps! Screw Mount Suribachi! Screw everything except ol’ number one! That’s all that counts: gettin’ off this island alive! I don’t volunteer for nothin’!”
He shouted it so repeatedly that a couple of the other men picked it up. “Yeah! Right! We don’t volunteer for nothing!” Suddenly it dawned on me that they were obliquely speaking to me, their new platoon leader. I felt the chill of having my leadership threatened.
The next morning, as we prepared to edge out of our positions, a message came down from higher headquarters. As luck would have it, I was being ordered to send a volunteer out onto a hill in front of us on a sure-death reconnaissance mission. Hesitant to ask for volunteers after what I had heard the night before, I announced that I, myself would go. I made the excuse that, since I was new, I wanted to see the terrain. No sooner had I spoken, than the same Marine who had made the declarations the previous night said, “No, I’ll go, Lieutenant.”
“What!” I exclaimed, “You were the one last night saying that you never volunteer for anything!”
Almost sheepishly trying to cover his willingness to take my place, he answered, “Well, I just can’t trust any of you other jarheads on such a mission.” Stunned, I realized that this Marine was saying, “My turn to die, Lieutenant—not yours.”
from Humphrey, Robert L., Values for a New Millennium, Life Values Press, Maynardville, TN, 1992, p. 145-146