My Time on Iwo Jima
by Arvin S. Gibson, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army
Transportation Corps, Hq. and Hq. Co., AGF, APO 86
Story taken from the book, "In Search of Angels,"
Printed with permission of Horizon Publishers, Bountiful, Utah, 1990
My outfit was Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the Army Transportation Corps. We were responsible for the transhipment of all cargo and personnel to and from the island after the Marines relinquished control (about the middle of March 1945). Our outfit was on the island from February 1945 until February 1946.
I first saw Iwo on March 13, 1945, or D Day plus 22. It was a gray day, typical of this time of the year, and we were anchored a few thousand yards off the east beach. There was dust and smoke over much of the island from shell fire, and from many small fires which seemed to have been set on the beach. Suribachi, the volcanic mountain at the south end, loomed in the distance, and by using binoculars we could see the American flag on its top.
LSTs, LCTs, and LSMs were working the shore, and the smaller LCVPs and DUKWs were going to and from ships and the shore in an almost continual stream. Directly ashore from us, and somewhat to the north, the topography took on a rugged, chewed-up look. It appeared to be of a clay-like consistency as contrasted with the black sandy beach in the south. The terrain had the remains of what must have been scrub trees, and was pock marked with boulders, hills and crevasses.
As I scanned the shore my gaze was riveted to the rugged northern coast. P-51 fighter planes were diving at a particular location and were dropping bombs and shooting with machine guns at the area. After the planes finished their attack a Sherman Tank moved slowly into position, and then began to spew a stream of flame from its extended nozzle. It seared an entire hill in about thirty seconds. It released its fiery death in multiple bursts of a few seconds each. Each burst seemed to be directed at a particular spot on the hill. Then the flame-throwing tank withdrew, and another Sherman moved for-ward and fired its gun as it went past the seared area. Dust and smoke exploded up the crevasse.
The tank and pillbox battle which I and my companions saw unfold was horrifying; but, in a strange way, fascinating. I felt as if I was watching a make-believe movie, and the drama was intense. It seemed inconceivable that men were killing each other in front of my eyes, yet I knew that I was witnessing the agonizing death of human beings. As my buddies and I watched, the battle was over in about twenty minutes, and we said nothing. We just stood in stunned silence until the ship's loud-speaker interrupted our thoughts. We were ordered to report to our quarters.
Lieutenant Brown was waiting for us. He looked unusually serious. He was all business as he spoke to us.
"Reveille tomorrow is at 0500, so I want you to hit the sack early tonight. It may be your last chance for awhile to get a decent night's sleep. Take a shower tomorrow. There isn't any water for bathing on the island. All of you except the unloading detail bring full packs with K rations, gas masks, field helmets, carbines, and ammo. Be sure and fill your canteens. Baxter, where are you?"
"You're in charge of the unloading detail. The rest of us will go over the side on nets into LCVPs. You'll stay behind with your detail and load our duffel bags and foot lockers into the LST that comes alongside. It al-ready has our heavier equipment. After you load the duffel bags and lockers, then you and your men come ashore with the LST. Any questions?"
"Where do we meet the rest of you?"
"Our initial bivouac area is about three hundred yards up on Red Beach 2, just north of Suribachi a few hundred yards. It's in the black sand area and it's miserable to get vehicles through, so put the jeeps in four wheel drive and gun them when you go off the ramp. Take it slower with the trucks. There are bulldozers to pull you out if you get stuck. Try and stay on the steel matting where you can."
"Is the beach secure, Lieutenant?"
Lieutenant Brown laughed for the first time. "Secure is a relative word, Baxter. I talked to Lieutenant Card and Captain Butler on the ship-to-shore radio. They've been here with Sergeant Barrett since D plus eight. They say that the main fighting is on the north half of the island now. The beach only gets small arms fire and shelling occasionally, but you should keep your head down at night and set up perimeter dug-in guards.
"The bad news is . . . you remember the rumor about the schedule, well it's true. The invasion schedule is all loused up. The Marines were supposed to secure the island in about two weeks, and they still have much of the north part of the island to go."
"How're the Marines doing?"
"The poor bastards are being chewed to bits. The island is honey-combed with caves and pillboxes, and the Marines have to take them one by one with flame throwers, satchel explosives, bazookas and grenades. Then the riflemen come in. The Third Division was supposed to be held in reserve, but it's already on the line because of casualties in the other two Divisions."
"What about tanks, Lieutenant?" I asked. "Can't they take the pressure off the infantry? We saw two Shermans taking out a pillbox today. One was a flamethrower."
"Captain Butler says they can use tanks, but with difficulty. They can't maneuver in much of the island because of the rough terrain. In fact, they put blades on some of them to clear a path so that they can fight. They tend to bog down in the sand. When they get stuck they're dead meat for the Japs' hidden anti-tank guns. Also, the Japs have mines buried all over the place . . . which reminds me, Baxter. Keep your vehicles in marked areas, or you'll get your ass blown off."
We were quiet while we digested what the Lieutenant told us. He wound it up by saying: "All right, guys. Make sure your weapons are serviceable. We'll issue you grenades at the bivouac area. We don't want you blowing up one of the landing craft, so you won't get them until you're on shore.
Lieutenant Brown grinned and said, "Get some sleep tonight, if you can. And, Baxter, when your crew . . . as soon as your LST hits the beach send a runner to our area; we'll get some men to help with the vehicles and gear. We've got to get the vehicles, cooking gear, rations, tents, radios, lumber, and office equipment ashore by tomorrow night. We've got to be ready to take responsibility for loading and unloading ships as soon as the Marines clear out - if they do."
I slept fitfully, and I was up before the 0500 call. Lowell (Johnny) Johnson and Robert Baxter were also up. We went to the shower and dressed in our fatigues. It would be the last time we took our clothes off for thirty days.
Most of the rest of our outfit was up when we finished dressing, and we headed for chow. The cooks fixed us a good hot breakfast, as if to wish us well. Afterwards we got our gear ready. Then the order came to assemble on deck.
When we got on deck the LCVPs were coming alongside. Fortunately, the sea was calm, so when Lieutenant Brown told us to climb down the rope net there was no real difficulty except for our gear. Everyone got into the boats, and they took off. We strained to see the beach as we approached it.
The beach was busier than it seemed from the ship. There was equipment everywhere, and crews were busy handling it. The coarse sand was hard to walk in, just as they said it would be. I marvelled that the Marines had been able to fight through it. Destroyed amphibian tractors (amtracs), tanks, and landing craft had been pushed aside and littered the beach in mute evidence of the ferocity of the fighting which took place there. Tractors were pulling some of the bigger hulks farther up the beach.
As Lieutenant Brown led us towards our area a large sign was prominently displayed on a high point of the beach. It said: "WHEN IN RENO VISIT HAROLD'S CLUB." We laughed at the sign.
When we got to our area Sergeant Barrett and Captain Butler met us. After joking with them a bit Lieutenant Brown began asking them questions.
"All right, fellows, what do you want us to do? Baxter will be here at about 1200 with the rest of our supplies on an LST."
Captain Butler laughed. "The first thing you may want to do is dig a hole. It isn't so important now, since we don't get fired on very often in the daytime, but at night anything that moves is fair game."
Sergeant Barrett pointed to a large excavated area with a tarpaulin stretched over it. "That's the kind of hole you need. A big shell hole is a good place to start, and empty shell cases make good walls. Keep the tarp even with ground level, and excavate below ground for four or five men. Then at night, pull the flap shut, use your Coleman lanterns for light, and don't open it. Don't worry about the smell, it's better than getting shot. Only go out for sentry or beach cargo duty at night, and be careful when you do that."
"What do you mean be careful?"
"A few days ago, that meant crawling wherever you went. Now, with most of the Japs at the north end of the island, you can walk, but carry a light so our own sentries don't shoot you; move quickly to your designated area, and then stay in a hole. There's always sporadic gunfire - sometimes it isn't so sporadic. Occasionally rockets and mortars hit the beach. Not so much now, though."
"Then the Marines have really got the Japs on the run, now, Captain?"
"Don't kid yourself. The Japanese have never been on the run since D Day. There are no self-sacrificing Banzai raids here; Kuribayashi won't allow it. They just stay in their holes and fight. The poor Marines have to dig them out, and many more Marines will . . . Marine casualties are still high and will stay that way until the last Japanese soldier is destroyed."
We had K Rations for lunch, and shortly thereafter the runner came telling us that Baxter was on the beach with the LST. I was assigned with several other fellows to help him. Mike Palodocheck was with us. He had been with Sergeant Barrett on the island since D plus eight.
We spent the rest of the afternoon unloading the LST and getting the supplies to our area. When we finished, most of our holes had been dug for sleeping that night, and Johnny invited me to live in one with him. Some of the other fellows had set up a Command Post (CP) on the beach for night cargo work. The CP consisted of a large tent with a battery-operated radio, Coleman lanterns, a GI can for coffee, and with sand piled around the sides for light arms protection.
A slit trench had been dug adjacent to our compound for our toilet. We used it by squatting over it and then relieving ourselves. We carried our own toilet paper wherever we went, when we could get it. We dumped lime in the trench to keep it as sanitary as possible.
A GI (garbage) can had boiling water for hot coffee. There was no water for washing, except the surf, where we could splash some on our hands and brush our teeth. There was no fresh water on the island except that which was distilled from sea water. Shaving was difficult at best, with cold salt water. For the first few days we didn't shave.
We set trip flares around our compound. Sergeant Barrett made assignments for sentry and beach cargo duty. We had cold C rations for dinner, and fell exhausted into our holes.
Small arms fire, which we heard during the day, became more evident at night as other noises ceased. A particularly eerie part of the night was the star parachute flares, fired by destroyers off shore to light the battlefield for the Marines. Every few minutes throughout the night the flares burst far above us, and then drifted slowly down while creating shifting shadows in their blue-white light. They were effective in keeping the Japanese in their holes most of the time.
Early in the morning of our second day on the island, we were awakened by close small arms fire. When we came out of our holes we found a dead Japanese Officer, with his sword, lying on the ground in our compound. He had apparently come from one of the caves on Suribachi in an attempt to find water. He tripped one of our flares and started to run through the compound. Lieutenant Card was awake and saw him running. Not knowing what he was trying to do, but recognizing him as a Japanese soldier, Lieutenant Card drew his .45 automatic and fired until he hit him.... I felt sorry for him. He was a small man with a big mustache, and he seemed so pitiful as he lay in front of me.
Our three DUKW Companies for unloading ships had been temporarily attached to the Marines during the early part of the invasion, but they had just been turned over to us (on D plus 21). We were pleased to hear that the DUKWs had functioned well for the Marines since D Day, and had played a major part in the invasion success since they could get cargo on the island by traveling on land as well as sea. Because of their low draft they had trouble in heavy seas, and we were horrified to learn that eight DUKWs in succession had left the ramp of an LST in heavy seas on D plus one, and had sunk with their crews and some Marines. Twelve men had been lost. Out of 250 DUKWs originally in the three companies, there were less than 200 still operational.
During high surf periods only the larger LSTs and LSMs were useful for bringing cargo ashore. There was talk of the Seabees building us a breakwater for the DUKWs on the other side of the island, but that had to wait for less violent times. In the meantime we were ordered to coordinate with the Navy Beachmasters so that we could assume their duties in the next few days without confusion.
My favorite duty was to radio ships anchored at Iwo and have them move to anchorage spots and then arrange for LSTs, DUKWS, and other transfer ships to quickly unload them for the troops on Iwo. This was my favorite activity because it was my job, and because the results were then so apparent when the supplies came ashore and helped make life better for all the troops--militarily and otherwise.
On March 17, or D plus 26, after my third day on the island, Marine Commander Howlin' Mad Smith declared the island secure. Neither the Army garrison troops nor the Marines felt it was secure yet, but so many had died that there was strong pressure from the U.S. to get the fighting over with; hence the declaration of security, in order to make the public feel the fighting was completed. We felt it was a bad joke on those Marines who continued to die.
Shortly after the declaration of security, we moved our compound to its permanent location, below Airfield Number 1, a few hundred yards above the west beach. We couldn't build permanent structures because there was still fighting on the north end of the island. The Sea-bees had levelled an area for us, though, and we made some improved slit trenches with outdoor sit-down facilities. It seemed strange to sit on these outdoor boxes with holes and view the ships off shore.
We were scheduled to move the main ship unloading facilities to the west beach as soon as the Marines left. The Seabees were going to sink some old concrete ships out from the beach to provide a breakwater for our DUKW operations.
After we moved, I explored much of the island with Johnny and Baxter in our jeep. We entered several sealed pillboxes and blockhouses near our new compound. ... Often, the pillboxes had tunnels to other pillboxes - we didn't explore them.
By March 25, or D plus 34, we had gathered materials for building more permanent facilities at our new compound. Most importantly, we wanted to build an outdoor latrine which was something other than a slit trench. We were still living in holes in the ground, and we looked forward to getting out of the holes and into tents, or even wooden shacks that some outfits built on other islands.
Most of us still hadn't taken our clothes off to bathe, and we were accumulating some interesting rashes and odors. In fact we were filthy. When we first got on the island our water ration for drinking and cooking was two quarts per man per day. It was a little more than that now, but not enough for washing clothes or bathing. A few of the braver souls had ventured down to the beach and splashed briefly in the icy surf, but most of us just toughed it out. We had plans to build a shower from airplane belly tanks.
We retired that evening anticipating building the new facilities. Although fighting was still going on at the north end of the island, small arms fire was decreasing in our area at night, and we believed that we could now safely establish above-ground facilities. Besides, the brass had declared the island secure eight days ago, surely we would be okay!
We were awakened in the early dawn of March 26 by screams, shooting, and the sounds of exploding grenades coming from an area not far from us. We grabbed our helmets, carbines and grenades, and watched the opening to our hole. The tarp was securely fastened, but we expected it to rip open momentarily with screaming Japanese charging in. We would have shot anything that moved the flap at the entrance. Fortunately, no one attempted to enter. The battle raged for over three hours, but we were only aware of it for an hour.
When the shooting, explosions and shouting stopped, although we were thoroughly frightened, we were gratified to find ourselves still alive. We cautiously poked our heads out and observed that it was light; several Marines and soldiers were standing around a large pile of enemy dead next to our compound. In all there were 262 dead Japanese.
This was the last major attack by the Japanese on Iwo. They directed the main part of their attack against Air Corps personnel, hoping to kill a large number of pilots. Sentries from the 506th Anti-aircraft Battalion first spotted the Japanese. By the time the battle was over, forty-four airmen and other Army personnel had been killed and eighty-nine others were wounded....
More Americans would have been killed in this last attack except that a Marine shore party, the 5th Pioneer Battalion, happened to be compounded next to the airmen. They knew how to fight, even though they were cargo handling specialists. They were scheduled to leave the island in another day since our outfit had taken over most of their cargo-handling duties.
When the Marines heard the commotion, Lieutenant Harry L. Martin, a reserve Marine officer from Bucyrus, Ohio, organized his men in a defensive scrimmage line. He and his men beat back one attack, and then a second, from screaming Japanese who were firing automatic weapons and throwing grenades as they came. After Martin was sure that his main defensive line was holding, he moved forward to help some other Marines in a foxhole and was wounded twice. Then the thirty-four year old officer overran a machine gun position, killing four Japanese with his pistol before he was killed. He earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. Six other Marines were killed and thirty-one were wounded.
Needless to say, after this incident we decided to postpone building our above-ground facilities for a period of time. Most of the airmen who were killed were quartered in above-ground tents.... We also again instituted the practice of using trip flares around our compound.
A project which most outfits had a strong interest in was a large well-water pipeline which was being looped around the island. Distilled water was still required for drinking and cooking, but the well water could be used for showers and for washing clothes. Whenever the main pipe passed an outfit the Seabees put on a stub with a valve. Then it was the responsibility of the outfit to plumb from that point to the ultimate use point.
When Johnny heard of the well-water-loop he was thrilled. He pointed out that we were next to a sulfur pit which boiled all the time. It released a nasty rotten egg smell, but it also was hot. Rademacher found a large metal tank somewhere, and Baxter hauled it to our area. We dug a deep hole in the sulfur pit and buried the tank in it. When the Seabees brought their line near our complex, Johnny hooked onto it and he plumbed to the buried tank. He ran a bypass line around the tank, and plumbed both of them to our shower. We were one of the few outfits on the island to have adjustable hot water showers. We became known for our natural hot water showers.
When we got our first shower most of the fellows cleaned up, and although we were not fastidious, we were at least liveable. An exception was Slim Hellums. Slim was from the rural part of Mississippi, and he rarely showered. He kept his clothes in a pile near his cot, and when he wanted to change a piece he just exchanged what he was wearing for something like it in the pile.
Slim's only real interest was cards. He was an inveterate gambler. To be sure that he kept some of his winnings, he often gave me one or two hundred dollars to save for him so that he could send it home when he wasn't working or gambling. He was a likeable sort and most of us enjoyed his good humor, but we began to have a real problem with his lack of bathing. We talked to him about it and he smiled and said he would take a shower, but nothing ever happened.
One evening a group of fellows were sitting around one end of our tent getting ready for a serious game of poker. Baxter asked, "Who's playing tonight?"
"Probably the same bunch," Manning said. "We've got to get some new money in the game, did anybody invite someone from a different outfit?
"I did," Tank replied. "His name is Pete, and he's one of the Seabees. He looks like a good one."
"That's great," Slim said, as he deftly shuffled the cards and fanned them. "When will he be here?"
"He should be here any minute, I told him to come right after chow," Tank said.
Pete came in the tent shortly thereafter. He was a large ruddy-faced man about thirty years old. He smiled and asked, "Is this the game where I can make up for some of my other losses?"
"Shuure it is," Tank said. "C'mon in Pete. Meet the guys - this is Baxter, Manning . . . and the shark with the deck is Slim."
They all settled down and began to play. I watched with interest from my cot to see if Pete was up to the calibre of Slim and Baxter. After a couple of hands I noticed that Pete had a strange look on his face. He kept looking around, and he seemed to be sniffing.
"What's that funny smell?" Pete asked.
No one said anything. We all knew it was Slim, but we had gotten used to the odor.
Pete raised his head and sniffed vigorously.
"Can't you guys smell anything?"
"I don't smell nothin'," Slim offered.
"Maybe it's Baxter's pipe," Tank said.
"No, I know a pipe smell. This smells like . . . have you ever smelled a hog wallow after it's gone sour?"
"Let's play cards," Slim said.
"I don't know how you guys stand it, there's something rotten in this tent."
The game continued but without the normal enthusiasm, and Pete left early. Immediately after Pete left everyone converged on Slim, including those of us who weren't involved in the game. We carried him to the shower, turned it on, and scrubbed him with his clothes on. Then we stripped him and continued scrubbing until he was a bright pink. After that it only took a warning from us and Slim went to the shower. He never lost his good humor throughout the incident, nor in the interminable kidding which followed.
"Hey, Gibson, do you want to go with me and check the supply dump on the east beach? There's been too much pilfering, and Lieutenant Brown wants us to check it out."
"Okay, Joe. There's nothing here that can't wait. Besides, we got a radio report that the 147th has some Japanese trapped on an old ship hulk. Maybe we can see what's going on."
I got in the jeep with Joe Manning, and we took off. The island was so secure now, that we felt perfectly at ease as we drove on the Seabee constructed road. I was enjoying the break from my normal office duties.
We arrived at our supply dump and talked to the two sentries. They showed us how material was scattered over a wide area, which they couldn't patrol all the time. They suggested some barbed wire rolls or a fence around the whole area. We agreed to take their suggestion back to Lieutenant Brown. Then we headed for the north end of the beach.
"There it is, Arvin. They've got a mortar set up. It looks like they're banging the back end of the ship."
"I see, Joe, but what're those guys doing on the hill?"
"They're like us. They've come to see the show."
We stopped the jeep and climbed on the hill to watch. The unit of 147th Infantry was a couple of hundred yards from a large ship hulk, and they continued to drop mortar shells on the back of the ship for about an hour. The ship was being torn to pieces. Finally, we saw a waving white flag on a pole. The Army unit stopped firing the mortar, and after awhile a group of five or six be-draggled-looking Japanese limped out of the hulk. They were helping two or three of their group, who appeared to be injured. The soldiers loaded the Japanese on a truck and drove away.
This was typical of the way the Army conducted their mop-up operations. It took them most of the morning to capture the Japanese. Other soldiers, who had watched it longer than us, told us that the 147th group began by firing rifles and machine guns into the hulk until the Japanese responded. Then the 147th brought more infantry, set up the mortar, and kept lobbing shells all over the ship until the Japanese surrendered. It took time, but no soldiers were injured.
We speculated that the Marines would have sent six or seven men into the hulk with small arms, grenades and a flame thrower, and would have completed the job in less than an hour. They probably would have lost some of their own men in the process though. Each technique seemed to have merit for a given need. The Marines didn't have the luxury of time when they took Iwo. On the other hand, there was no need to risk further lives unnecessarily during the mop-up operation.
Aside from a severe storm in mid-May, things were going fairly well, we thought. The number of Japanese still being killed or captured by the 147th Infantry had fallen off substantially. P-51 and B-29 raids were growing with each day. And, we got our first FRESH FOOD since landing on the island. We had been getting fresh bread since mid-April, but we hadn't had fresh meat or fresh fruit. We unloaded the refrigerator ship USS AGWI Prince on May 2 with 52,800 pounds of fresh meat and five-hundred cases of fresh fruit. Morale took a decided step upwards with the improved meals.
The next unsettling event was an interesting one. We had just recovered from the storm, and on the afternoon of May 21st Rademacher came to the Quonset hut, where a number of us were gathered, with exciting news.
"I was down by Suribachi, and the Seabees have set up a giant movie screen. They're going to have a movie tonight, and anyone can go who wants to."
We looked at Lieutenant Brown. "What about it, Lieutenant Brown, can we take the truck so most of us can go?"
He grinned, "I don't see why not. Take your helmets and some carbines, just in case."
We piled in the truck at about 1800 so we could get there early and get a good seat. We took our helmets, a few carbines and our ponchos, since it often rained in the evening. We had everything we needed to stay through the movie, no matter what. Nothing was going to interrupt our first chance at a movie since landing on Iwo. We hoped it was a cowboy show, maybe something with John Wayne.
The screen was a large canvas stretched over a metal frame located at the bottom of a hill. Hundreds of troops were already seated on the hill. We found a good place about half way up, and waited for it to get dark. Finally the movie began. It was a good one with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.
The movie had been running about an hour, and we were deep into it when the air-raid sirens began to blow. The movie screen went dark, and the announcer said, "Air-raid alarm; movie is terminated for tonight. Troops find shelter, and return to your own area."
We frequently had practice air-raid alarms, and Rademacher was furious. "Of all the stupid times to have a practice. I'll bet the dumb brass knew about the movie and dreamed up this air-raid alarm just to make us squirm. Any time a GI has anything good happen they . . ."
"Aw, quit your gripin' Rademacher, it doesn't help anything," Baker chastised him in a resigned way. "Come on, let's go back to our area."
We trudged down the hill with the other troops. We got in our truck and started back. The sirens kept sounding, which was a little unusual for a practice alert, but we didn't think anything of it. As we drove along several search-lights went on and began probing the sky.
"Looks like they're going to put on a show for us tonight," Tank observed.
We kept driving, but began to watch the sky as several anti-aircraft outfits began shooting. The tracers were always fun to watch as they arched up into the night, as if in imitation of some berserk meteorite.
Soon, many hundreds of anti-aircraft guns were shooting skyward. Even machine guns were adding their bark to the cacophony of sound which was, by now, erupting around us. Tracers were everywhere, and they appeared to be shooting at us, although we knew they weren't. Nevertheless, Johnny yelled at Rademacher: "Stop the truck, Ed, so we can get in a ditch. It's a real air raid!"
"You're nuts, Johnny, the Japanese aren't that stupid," Ed shouted back, but he stopped the truck, just in case.
We jumped out and lay in a ditch watching the show. There were explosions and noise all over the island, and it was impossible to tell what was going on. After awhile, the searchlights locked onto a bright spot high in the sky that was descending. Many tracers were targeted on the spot.
"They've hit an enemy plane," Baker shouted.
"That's just a flare for them to practice on. There aren't any Japanese planes anywhere near here," Rademacher responded.
After about a half hour, the shooting stopped and the all clear sounded. We got in our truck and returned to our area. When we got there, we discovered that it had, in fact, been an air raid, and Charles L. Russell, of our Company, had been killed by a bomb while running for cover. Two others were killed and eleven were wounded in the raid. Two Japanese planes were shot down by fire from anti-aircraft batteries.
The next day there was a flurry of air-raid shelter construction all over the island. We built a large under-ground room with steel matting on its top, and sand bags. We put slits in the side, so we could look out.
Thus began a series of air raids or alerts for the next few weeks. They came at periodic intervals. There was a raid on June 1, another on June 21, and one on June 24 with alerts in between.6 Damage wasn't severe, but the raids were unnerving while they lasted.
On August 6, 1945 the "Enola Gay" took off from Saipan to drop the world's first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The destruction unleashed by that bomb, and the subsequent one dropped on Nagasaki terminated the Japanese will to resist. My initial reaction to descriptions of the destructive power of the atomic bomb was disbelief. Later, I was overwhelmed with feelings of relief that the war was over. These feelings were shared by my companions as we speculated concerning our probable departure time for the United States.
When the initial euphoria from the end of the war wore off, it became apparent that our organization would be one of the last to leave. It was necessary for us to make arrangements for the other troops and supplies to be shipped out since that was our function. We despaired at this necessity but set about doing it to the best of our ability. Finally, in February, 1946, many of us were loaded aboard an LST for transport to Guam where we boarded a large troop ship bound for California. I had achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant in the Army, and I was proud of my duty on Iwo, but now I was going home.
I have often been asked how I felt about the horror which I witnessed during the war. I, and most of my companions, felt that the war which we were engaged in was for a righteous cause and was necessary. We were terrified by many of the experiences we had, and we were overjoyed when the war ended. We were especially grateful that we were among those who had survived. In that regard, we shared a special feeling for the Marines who had fought and died in the fierce struggle during the early part of our stay on Iwo.
The Marines I saw were ordinary Americans with a common devotion to a cause. What seemed to bind them together was concern for their buddies and knowledge that the cause they were fighting for was just. They wanted to live, and they had hopes and fears, just as the rest of us did. If asked why they were fighting they may not have been able to express their feelings in a single coherent statement, but they believed in the Corps, in loyalty and commitment, and in the traditions of freedom expressed by Patrick Henry's cry to "give me liberty or give me death!"
The Marines knew that they were fighting for freedom, and they had enormous respect for basic American values as they understood them. I never met a Marine, Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Seabee on Iwo who wasn't moved by seeing the American flag, or by hearing the National Anthem. And, they loved their buddies who shared these feelings. When the flag went up on Suribachi on D day plus four, every man who could see it on ship or on shore cheered mentally or vocally. Many unashamedly shed tears.
It has been said that uncommon valor was a common virtue on Iwo Jima, and that is true. I don't believe, however, that the Marines were motivated by a desire to be brave. Most would have admitted that they were scared to death. They wanted to uphold the traditions of the Corps, and they were patriotic, but their primary motivations lay elsewhere. Many Marines were boisterous and rowdy, their language could be foul, and a few unfortunate ones were cruel, but when it came to those virtues which cast humans in an Angelic light the majority of the Marines on Iwo epitomized the best of those virtues. Jesus of Nazareth said "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
As I watched the Marines fight and die on Iwo I came to the conclusion that they did it because they were there and had to, but also for the purist of reasons - to serve their buddies and their units. They repeatedly laid down their life for their friends. Five of them received the Medal of Honor, four posthumously, for jumping on a live hand grenade to shield their buddies. So many others daily risked their lives for their friends that they cannot be counted. Those that didn't were the exception.
Bravery and self sacrifice on Iwo were not the exclusive province of U.S. troops.7 The very violence and continued fighting throughout the ordeal testified to the valor of the Japanese troops who defended it to their death. They fought under conditions indescribably bad; towards the end they had no food, little or no water, and no medical help, yet they never gave up.
As I watched the Japanese get sealed in their caves, or get killed in hopeless charges, I was awed by their dedication. The few stragglers who were captured by the Marines or the Army were pitiful curiosities, who, by their very few numbers, illustrated the devotion of the majority of their colleagues. Iwo Jima, today, is considered a sacred place by the Japanese, and many visit it to pay tribute to those who died so valiantly long ago.
With perhaps a forgivable bias, however, I cannot think of Iwo without seeing again those dirty, exhausted, frightened, magnificent Marines who gave so unselfishly of themselves. The vision of their self sacrifice is seared forever in my memory. Major General Julian Smith, writing to his wife after Tarawa said, "I never again can see a United States Marine without experiencing a feeling of reverence." I share that feeling. Forty-five years have passed since my tour on Iwo, and I still cannot pass a Marine on the street, or meet an ex-Marine without wanting to shake his hand and embrace him.
I returned from Iwo in February, 1946. As we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, and the lights of that graceful form took shape, memories from earlier years came flooding back. When the ship passed under that grand structure, it seemed to symbolize all that was good about home and America. I thrilled at the sight and was unable to speak. I wept openly; so did most of my companions.
Although religion was dormant in my life, and had been for some years, the emotions I felt as I sailed into San Franciso Bay were as close to a religious experience as any I had had since I was a child. I, and all of those returning veterans standing near me on the deck were weeping. The rapture of the moment almost overwhelmed me and I wondered about the future - how I wondered.
I was discharged as a Staff Sergeant from Camp Beale, California on 22 March 1946.
The remainder of the book "In Search of Angels" is an autobiography. My suspicion is that most people would not be interested in it. However, if someone has an irresitable urge to know about my life they may purchase the book by contacting Horizon Publishers at 50 S 500 W, Bountiful, Utah 84010, or by calling them at (801) 295-9451.
----- Arvin S. Gibson
Iwo Jima, Arvin Gibson in Jeep, Iwo Jima, Photograph
Easter services, Iwo Jima, Photograph
Iwo Jima, Arvin Gibson and friends, Iwo Jima, Photograph
Iwo Jima, Early Quarters on Beach, Iwo Jima, Photograph
Iwo Jima, Destroyed Japanese Tank, Iwo Jima, Photograph
Iwo Jima, Beachhead Cargo, Iwo Jima, Photograph
Iwo Jima, B29, Iwo Jima, Photograph
Iwo Jima, Arvin Gibson and more Friends, Iwo Jima, Photograph
Iwo Jima, Airplane Junkyard, Iwo Jima, Photograph
Fourth Marine Division Cemetry services, Iwo Jima, Photograph
Baxter and Slim, Oahu, Iwo Jima, Photograph
Iwo Jima, USS Sheepscot, Iwo Jima, Photograph
Iwo Jima, Marines go up Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Photograph
Iwo Jima, Arvin and Gibson, Iwo Jima, Photograph
Iwo Jima, First Suribachi Flag, Iwo Jima, Photograph
Iwo Jima from the Air, Iwo Jima, Photograph
Iwo Jima, Invasion East Beach, Iwo Jima, Photograph
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