Anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima
Battle of Iwo Jima (Operation Detachment) -- 19 February–26 March 1945
Excerpt from In the Shadow of Suribachi
This chapter reflects my dad's memories of the horrors of Iwo Jima combined with stories of other Marines who were kind enough to share their part of history with me. The photos below are from my father's tiny photo album stamped USMC. There are no captions other that what he wrote on the bottom of the first one. This piece is for mature audiences even though many of the men who fought this battle were teenagers. May we never forget what these young Marines did -- and all those who participated.
Chapter 4—The Beach
Two hours later, they started for shore. This time when they approached the Line of Departure, they were given the signal to go in. The waves slammed into the boats as they accelerated towards the island.
“REMEMBER WHAT I SAID, MEN. STAY WITH ME. WHERE I GO, YOU GO,” Kroner shouted, as the roar of the Japanese guns grew louder. “YOU STAY WITH ME, YOU ARE GOING TO BE OKAY. YOU WANDER OFF BY YOURSELF AND YOU’RE GONNA GET YOUR ASSES CREAMED.”
Gasping as the wind blew in his face, Bill gripped his rifle. Stay with Kroner. That’s all he had to remember. Stay with Kroner.
It was approaching 3:00 P.M. as they neared the beach with dozens of other boats.
“Good luck.” Arty mouthed to Bill. Bill nodded, his jaws locked as he gritted his teeth. He looked around for Smitty and Cordell. Smitty was right behind him. Cordell was a few paces back shifting his pack. He gave Bill a thumbs up and grinned. Bill turned forward just as a huge explosion shook the vessel. He fell into the bottom of the boat, cracking his elbow. A shell landed in the water only a few yards away drenching everyone with cold water. Bill struggled to one knee. The craft hit the beach with a thud and he fell back onto the floor again.
“Get up, pal. Get up.” Arty tried to help Bill to his feet. The noise from shells and mortars was deafening. Machine gun rapid fire sounded like a woodpecker pecking at the boat—tap, tap, tap! They recognized small arms fire amidst the din. The front of the boat dropped open forming a ramp onto the beach. The boys spilled out yelling. A bullet whizzed by Bill’s ear and hit the boy next to him in the mouth. Bill turned to see the frozen look of horror on the young Marine’s face as he fell. Bill stepped over the body and ran out onto the beach, his feet sinking into the sand. He looked left and right. Where was Arty? He’d lost Arty.
The beach was littered with equipment and body parts. He froze. A long trail of wet, glistening intestines lay in front of him. He turned to the right, a torso floated in the surf a few feet away. The boys behind him pushed forward. He couldn’t find Arty. A bullet tore through his right sleeve, but didn’t touch him. He saw Kroner several yards ahead of him. He started running, vaguely aware of a high, howling sound that rose over the din of battle. Then he realized it was his own voice and that he was crying.
He could see Kroner but he couldn’t get to him. Kirby sprinted past him like a deer holding his rifle in both hands. Bill felt like he was running in syrup. The black sand was about the size of rock salt and so deep that he sank to his knees in places. His heart pounded with the exertion. He had to get to Kroner. Arty would be with Kroner. He’d be okay if he stayed with Kroner.
Small bits of flesh splattered Bill’s face and then he was hit in the chest so hard that he fell over backwards. He lay there for a moment, dazed. He tried to roll over onto his belly but he couldn’t. The machine gun was strapped to his back as well as ammunition and the fully loaded pack. He was like a beetle, his arms and legs churning in the air, trying to get the leverage to turn over.
Someone fell beside him. It was Barton. He gave Bill a push and suddenly Bill was on his stomach. He opened his eyes and saw what had knocked him down. It was Kroner’s head. It lay a few feet away, the face frozen in an open mouthed scream. Barton saw it at the same time Bill did. His eyes bulged and he shrieked in horror—over and over again. Bill screamed with him. They lay there on the beach together screaming until nothing came out anymore. Barton clambered to his feet and ran off down the beach.
Bill’s left hand was stinging. A small sliver of bone pierced the skin, but there was no blood. He wondered if he was hurt. He touched it with his finger. It wasn’t HIS bone. It must have been Kroner’s. He closed his eyes and pulled it out of his hand. He didn’t know what to do with it, so he put it in his pocket.
He was aware of more explosions. Bullets were everywhere. He was supposed to stay with Kroner. NOW what was he supposed to do? He didn’t see anyone he knew. There were Marines lying on their bellies all around him, their faces pressed into the sand. He couldn’t tell if they were alive or dead. No one was moving. He could hear machine gun fire. Sometimes the bullets slammed into the sand around him. Bigger explosions tossed men and body parts into the air. He was alone on the crowded beach. Exhausted, he slept.
He opened his eyes a few minutes later. He was cold. A flash and a loud noise, then searing heat washed over him. Something lifted him a few inches from the ground and then threw him down again. Grit was in his eyes. He rubbed them. Tried to see. Rubbed them again. The concussion had thrown him a foot or so closer to Kroner’s head. Kroner still wore his helmet strapped tightly under his chin. His black eyes glittered under their bushy brows. Bill could see a silver filling in one of Kroner’s teeth. Funny he’d never noticed it before.
Something flashed beyond Kroner. Bill couldn’t quite make out what it was. It glowed like gold sometimes, other times it seemed black. What WAS it? He inched forward. A bullet plowed into the sand near his foot. He wiggled frantically and moved forward about three feet. Here the sand wasn’t so wet. It was warmer. He squinted. He still couldn’t see what it was. He inched up a little slope, a terrace. Black sand fell down on him as he struggled. What WAS it?
He lay on his stomach and stared at the object. It was an arm, torn from its owner near the shoulder. Dark blood caked the sleeve. The hand lay palm down, the nails had grit under them—and there was a carved black coral ring about the size of a marble on the ring finger.
Bill had no wind. Just like that, the first minute on the beach. No chance. He turned his head and puked sour-tasting water into the sand beside him. His stomach was empty. It was 4:00 P.M. He had eaten nothing for twelve hours.
Someone grabbed his foot. He screamed in terror as he felt himself being dragged backwards, his fingers plowing tracks in the sand. Machine gun fire sprayed around him. He expected its sting at any moment.
“ZIM! It’s ME!” Arty whispered as he pulled Bill into a shallow shell hole. Sand fell in around them and they plastered themselves flat, waiting for the machine gun fire to move on.
“Arty!” Bill cried. “I lost you, pal. Where did you go?”
“I was with Kroner. I was right with him—and Cordell.”
“When I left the b-boat, Cordell was b-behind me. How did he get here?”
“We were all with Kroner, Zim.”
“I don’t know, I don’t know.” Arty’s glasses were coated with sand and blood and bits of flesh.
“You know that b-boy from Florida who used to talk about alligators in his b-back yard?”
“Yeah, Fred. He got it in the b-boat. As soon as that fucking front panel went down, a b-bullet went right in his m-mouth. Damnedest thing I ever saw. Went right in his m-mouth, for crying out loud.” Bill’s voice broke. An explosion killed a man a few feet away. They ducked down and shuddered as the warm spray of blood hit their faces.
“We need to get OUT of here, b-buddy.” Bill’s throat was raw. “They are going to get us here.”
“Where should we go?” Arty took off his glasses, wiped the lenses with his thumb and then put them back on. “There’s no safe place. We can’t go back towards the boats, it’s worse there. I know we are supposed to go forward, but I’m all turned around. Which way IS forward?”
“Did you see what h-happened to Kroner?” Tears ran down Bill’s face. He wiped his nose with the back of his sleeve.
“I think he’s married. I think he’s got a kid.”
“His head h-hit me in the chest, Arty. It knocked me flat on my b-back.”
“SHIT!” Arty ducked as more bullets zinged over his head.
“I think Cordell’s dead too.” Bill pressed his face into the sand, holding his hands over his helmet. “His arm is over there.”
“I was with him, Zim.”
“Talk about luck. We hadn’t b-been on the damned b-beach m-more than a m-minute. I couldn’t have been m-more than ten feet b-behind you all.”
“The same shell that got Kroner got Cordell and two other guys too.” Arty flinched as someone ran past the shell hole. “I don’t know what happened to Kirby or Smitty. I haven’t seen them since we left the boat.”
“I can’t b-believe Cordell’s dead. We had b-breakfast with him this m-morning.” Bill’s teeth chattered. “He couldn’t have taken m-more than ten steps on the b-beach.”
“Doc Kline gave him a shot right away, but he was screaming, Zim. He was squirming around and screaming. We couldn’t get him off the beach because they were still shooting at us. He bled to death right in front of us. Doc had to move on to help some other guy.”
“Where is he?”
“He’s only a few feet from Kroner.”
“M-maybe we ought to get b-both of them b-back to the b-boats. We c-can’t just leave them there.”
Another explosion threw sand over them.
“How we gonna do that? We can’t even move.”
“We should do SOMETHING. We shouldn’t leave them there to b-be b-blown up again and again.” Bill couldn’t think—if things would just settle down for a moment, then he could figure out what they should do.
“All right, men. Let’s move forward.” An officer crawled forward and paused beside them.
“Where are we going, sir?” Arty asked.
“That way.” The officer pointed.
“What about our friends b-back there?”
“They’ll be taken care of, son. Your job is to move forward.” The man lunged, slid backwards, and then lunged again.
Bill and Arty followed.