Although today marks the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the assault on Iwo Jima, the actual flag raising on Mt Suribachi took place February 23, 1945.
A quirk of history. A matter of orders. Of being in the wrong place, or perhaps the right place, at just exactly the right time. The result? Six decades later, give or take a few months, TWC sat sharing a good bottle of red wine and a liesurely lunch with a friend named Ron. This is his story:
My dad was a Marine amphibious tank commander and Iwo Jima was the third island he invaded. The captain that died instead of Dad was killed on Saipan or Tinian, whichever came first, the very first time the amphibious tanks were used.
Dad was the squad leader whose job it was to guide the tanks onto the beach from his lookout position on the turret top. The captain had been the training officer at Camp Pendleton, and as this was the first time the tanks were used in combat, he wanted to take the lead. Dad protested to no avail, thank God for my sake. The captain was well liked, and his loss was taken hard by everyone.
Normally the tanks were the first ones on the beach, but because of the volcanic sand on Iwo, they couldn't get out of the water because they were unable to climb over a ledge of volcanic sand. They were then sent out just off the coast and lobbed shells into caves that were visible in the cliffs below where the famous flag raising took place. That was probably very lucky for him (and me), as the tanks were not very well armored and there were numerous casualties in the previous landings.
That was the third and last beach invasion for Dad; he then went off and played baseball for the Pacific Division Marine team after they discovered he had played pro ball before the war.
Reading your account I feel very fortunate to be here today. Thanks.
And so Ron's destiny, his place in the great American post-war baby boom, is intimately tied to the battle-borne decision of a Marine Corps Captain and an unexpected ridge of volcanic sand.
The account Ron refers to follows and was originally written for Veterans Day 2004.
When I saw them thirty-some years ago, the contemporaneous films of the initial landing on Iwo Jima had darkened rather than faded with age. That surprised me as I expected them to be faded and cracked. The sands of Iwo Jima were red for a reason and they were littered with lifeless and dying bodies of Marines.
In the thirty-eight days it took to subdue the island 6,821 Americans died and 19,217 more were maimed for life or grievously wounded. The lion’s share of those deaths occurred in the first three days of the operation.
For those not doing the math in your head, that’s about 14% of the total deaths in the rice paddies of Viet Nam during that decade-long war and almost seven times the fatalities in Iraq to date.
There are very few of us that haven’t heard something about Iwo Jima, but not many realize that its strategic importance was the simple fact that our long range bombers could reach Tokyo from Iwo Jima’s airstrip.
The Marine Corps Memorial is based on Rosenthal’s photo of that second flag raising.