Iwo: D+16. March 7, 1945.

Fate

The Japanese welcomed Charlie Company with a salvo of mortars at dawn.

c_klopfenstineCaptain Roy F. Klopfenstine brought his relatively rested men up to the front lines in the dark, taking over the battalion front from an exhausted Baker Company. The challenges of the past six days were unlike any he had faced in his life. A former varsity swimmer from Ohio University, Klopfenstine enlisted in May of 1941 and was on the verge of completing Officer Candidate School at the time of Pearl Harbor. He spent the first year of the war with the Military Police at Parris Island and joined the 23rd Marines in the winter of 1942. A skilled administrator, Klopfenstine frequently found himself filling the role of an executive officer as he bounced between companies of the 23rd Marines during training at Camp Pendleton. Just before going overseas, he was tapped to lead the Service and Supply Company, 4th Service Battalion. With each successive invasion, he earned a little bronze star to wear on his campaign ribbon, but he was not a full-fledged combat officer. Joining the First Battalion, 24th Marines in October 1944 would bring him closer to the front line – but only as far as the battalion headquarters company he commanded.

On D+10, his fortunes changed dramatically. He knew Charlie Company was in trouble from the stream of casualties heading to the aid station. Then Captain Fred Stott went down, only to be followed an hour or so later by his successor, Captain Joseph Swoyer. With two officers out of commission and a company in trouble, Major Paul Treitel made the call – and Captain Klopfenstine was a rifle company commander, whether he wanted it or not. He managed to pull Charlie’s irons out of the fire – at least enough to prevent collapse – and spent the next forty-eight hours with them in the Meat Grinder before three days in regimental reserve. The captain probably dreaded the day’s orders as much as any man in his outfit, but he had as little say in the manner as they. Baker Company was used up, Able Company was fighting elsewhere, and it was their turn.

As his men hurried to find cover before the sun rose, Captain Klopfenstine decided to hold a briefing. He summoned his remaining officers – Lieutenants Jack Fansler, David Griffithand Marshall Salvaggio – along with a handful of NCOs leading the platoons and squads who hoped to crack the Japanese defenses in this troublesome sector once and for all. Nervous and hopeful, they gathered around to receive the orders for the day.

The Japanese fired first. All at once and without warning, a volley of heavy mortar shells exploded right on top of Charlie Company. Then another, and another. Captain Klopfenstine’s group was hit almost immediately; an acting platoon leader and three squad leaders were killed outright.[1] The American attack was scheduled to start at 0800; to advance before the appointed time, or to retreat, would be suicidal. There was no place for Charlie Company to go but into the ground.

Iwo_Rocket_Barrage
USMC photo.

Platoon Sergeant Mike Mervosh wound up in a foxhole with Sergeant Alfred R. Oksendahl, one of the battalion’s old salts. A pre-war Marine, “Rollie” was on the ground at the Battle of Midway, and his tales of bombardment by Japanese aircraft drew admiring attention from younger Marines during training in California. Everyone had new war stories by 1945, but no matter how bad things got, Oksendahl always argued that Midway was tougher. Mervosh probably expected a comment along these lines as the two lay prone in their foxhole – and Oksendahl did not disappoint. “Mike,” he said, “you know, I’ve been on Midway…”

Mervosh braced for impact.

“There’s no comparison; this is worse. It’s really getting to me.”

Wow! thought Mervosh, privately impressed by Oksendahl’s admission. Outwardly, he had to maintain his image: although seven years younger, he still outranked Oksendahl. “We’re not all going to die,” he snapped. “Some of us are going to make it.”

Oksendahl muttered something about “combat crazy” under his breath. Mervosh knew his buddies called him “combat crazy” and hated the term; he preferred “combat orientated.” It was part of being a leader – “you don’t love it, but you’ve to show leadership.” At the first pause in the firing, Oksendahl bailed out of Mervosh’s hole and started digging a new one. Sand flew as he burrowed down into the ground – three feet, four feet, five. That’s a lot of work, Mervosh thought to himself. If I’m going to get it, I’m going to get it. Well, he wants to protect himself. The shells kept flying, and Rollie kept digging.[2]

Iwo_Digging_Foxhole

Charlie Company, disorganized and disoriented by the ferocity of the barrage, made a game attempt to attack at 0800 on the dot. They faced the same tactical situation that thwarted Baker Company the previous day. On the right squatted a large blockhouse with automatic weapons covering all avenues of approach. In the center, the terrain itself was the enemy: crevices and crags so steep and forbidding that navigating them was all but impossible. Only on the left could some progress be made. The Japanese in that area were more aggressive at night – the Second Battalion, 24th Marines could attest to that – and were closer to the breaking point. Charlie Company’s leftmost platoon set their sights on some high ground fifty yards ahead and started grinding forward. Captain Klopfenstine arrived a few minutes later to lead the attack personally.

Mike Mervosh saw the new skipper out in the open and winced as the inevitable mortar shells bowled running Marines over. “We came under a very hard artillery attack, and suddenly the captain was hit by shrapnel,” he recalled. “He turned around, looked me square in the eye, and said, ‘I’m dead!’ I looked at his eyes that very moment and could tell the eyes were telling me ‘you’re in charge now.’” [3] Captain Roy Klopfenstine, the rear-echelon adjutant, died as a front-line company commander at the age of twenty-six. Momentum slowed, then stalled as Charlie Company tried to figure out who was in charge. 1Lt. Marshall Salvaggio was the ranking officer and (according to the battalion’s report of the battle) “was immediately placed in command.” [4] However, “Sal” was on loan from Able Company and had been with Charlie for only three days. 2Lt. David H. Griffith, a Charlie Company platoon leader, may also have stepped into the leadership role. Mike Mervosh would insist for the rest of his life that he was the real company commander – based, evidently, on the unspoken mandate from the dying Captain Klopfenstine.[5] The men attempted to reorganize while Marine artillery and Japanese mortars dueled overhead.

Corporal Thomas M. Harris, one of Charlie Company’s veteran NCOs, did his best to counter some of the Japanese fire. When a neighboring rifle platoon was faltering, Harris commandeered a mortar squad and harangued them into action through “a hail of enemy mortar and small arms fire.” He continued in his efforts until a piece of shrapnel tore into his neck. Harris’ barrage lifted the pressure on the riflemen – and earned him a Silver Star he would not live to wear.[6]


Salient

Orders from Division stipulated to “push forward vigorously regardless of movement of units on flanks.” [7] This meant no waiting for anyone who lagged behind. Perhaps the planners hoped that individual units might score a breakthrough against isolated weak points rather than advancing en masse – and this did happen, in a few places – but it also allowed dangerous gaps to form between Marine units.

Able Company was dealing with flank security issues this morning. Before dawn, those platoons still in reserve came down off Hill 382 and took over for George Company, sending them back for a much-needed rest. 1Lt. Roy I. Wood, Jr., got his men moving at 0800, but the unit on their left – King Company, 3/23 – did not budge. Within fifteen minutes, there was a fifty-yard gap between the two companies. In terrain like Iwo’s, where the smallest crevice could conceal the entrance to a massive tunnel network, fifty yards was akin to fifty miles. Lt. Wood sent his reserve platoon to the left flank and aligned it in echelon to the rear. While most of the mortar fire concentrated on Charlie Company, Able suffered from the smaller “knee mortars” as well as machine-gun and “very accurate rifle fire.” [8]

Iwo_Oberheide_Sniper
Three Marines take on a Japanese sniper. Hal Oberheide identified himself as the man to the right. USMC photo.

The terrain in this part of northern Iwo was so jumbled and confusing that it was easy to get separated and lost even in a small area. Private Harold J. “Hal” Oberheide found himself in a foxhole with three other Marines – all of whom were wondering where the company was. We hadn’t seen anybody for a while… we didn’t really know where we were in juxtaposition to the rest of ’em,” he said. “One of the guys – the squad leader, he was a corporal, and another guy said that they were going to go out and see if they could find somebody.” Hal watched as the two Marines carefully crossed a stretch of open ground, moving from cover to cover and finally disappearing behind a large rock.

Hal didn’t know the third Marine well. The others called him “Chick” – a common nickname for a young or boyish-looking Marine – and he was fidgety, waiting for his buddies to reappear. Hal was content to stay where he was; shells were still landing, not too close but close enough. Finally, Chick blurted, “I’m gonna go see where they’re at,” and scurried off, heading for the rock formation.

To Hal’s surprise, Chick came rushing back on the double – and alone. “His eyes were as big as saucers, all shook up,” Hal later remembered. “He said that he called ’em by name. He said, ‘They’re both dead, just sitting there.’ He lost it – he took off running, just took off his rifle and his gear and went running.”

Hal Oberheide sat in stunned silence for a moment, but his practical side quickly took over. He went over to the rock and found the two dead Marines. Blood was running down their faces and dripping from their noses; he thought perhaps concussion was to blame. Methodically, he collected their rifles and ammunition, then returned to the shell hole. He stripped each rifle, threw the parts away, and loaded himself with as much ammo as he could carry, crisscrossing bandoleers over his chest and stuffing his pockets with grenades. There were too many to carry, and he didn’t want to leave anything for the Japanese, so he pulled pins and pitched the bombs at random until he had a manageable load. He tried running back to the rear, but the extra weight slowed him down, so he gave up and just walked. “I thought, if they’re gonna hit me, they’re gonna hit me.” Hal finally found friendly faces up on a steep ridge and rejoined his company, “kind of beat and a little uptight.” A corpsman was inspecting Chick; the young man was staring as if in a daze.[9]

Able Company’s corpsmen were extremely busy that day, treating a total of twenty-four men. Most of the wounds were caused by shell fire; a few men suffered broken bones, Private Harry R. Parsons, Jr.lost his right eye and PFC Edward J. Solak had a close call with a piece of shrapnel in the groin. Sergeant Fred Eugene Thomas, one of the company’s plank owners, was carried from the field with his third wound; this one would prove fatal. Corporal Lionel V. Bolduc and Private Robert E. Opheim were killed outright.

Problems on the left flank only worsened when K/3/23 finally started to move. After a close-in artillery barrage, King Company discovered a Japanese strong point; they fell back, shifted to the left, and bypassed the entire area. This was standard operating procedure: troublesome positions were surrounded, cut off, and gradually worn down by “mopping up” units. When units operated on a cohesive line, this strategy was sound – however, the order to advance “regardless of movement on the flanks” caused “a dangerous pocket and gap of 100 yards on Able Company’s left.” The Japanese were quick to notice, and groups of them rushed into the breach to sow chaos in the rear.[10] George Company committed their reserve platoon; they contained most of the Japanese, but the strong point created a teardrop-shaped salient between King and Able Companies. From this area, the Japanese could fire on reserves, reinforcements, and the flanks of the Marine line.

Fighting over this pocket proved to be the hottest spot in the 2/24 line; in all other areas, “resistance [was] notably reduced…. The major portion of the enemy’s secondary defensive line in depth north of Hill 382 apparently is neutralized.” Marines in this sector also noticed a change in the behavior of their adversaries. Some were seen deserting their positions and fleeing to the rear, while others “made suicidal charges toward our lines.” [11] It was the first apparent breakdown in the defenders’ discipline after almost two weeks of non-stop combat.

If the Japanese in the 2/24 sector were beginning to falter, the men facing Charlie Company showed no such inclination. “The left flank of ‘C’ Company continues to inch its way forward through crevices and gullies, blowing up caves and working under constant small arms fire,” noted the battalion After Action Report. “The right flank was unable to advance as several attempts to blow up a blockhouse to the front were beaten back by enemy fire.” [12] The flat, unemotional language of the report fails to capture the hell Charlie Company endured in attempt after failed attempt to gain any headway at all on the seventh of March. Numbed, terrified, physically and emotionally exhausted, they gave lives and limbs for a few feet of rocky ground. Usually, the number of wounded was far greater than the number of dead; for Charlie Company on this particular day, the ratio was almost one-to-one.

Iwo_Hunting
USMC photo.
Iwo_ShrapWoundsMultiple
“Shrapnel wounds, multiple.” This Marine was killed by an exploding shell. USMC photograph by Sgt. Mulstay

The dead included Sergeant John Davis Sweet, a wounded veteran of Guadalcanal who made headlines as the war’s first Marine volunteer from Minneapolis, and Sergeant Elmer A. Neff, who earned similar accolades from his hometown of Ashville, Ohio. A photograph of Corporal Eli Plotnick carving the 4th Marine Division insignia on a rock was on its way for publication; it would run in the New York Daily News a month later, pre-dating the announcement of his death on Iwo. Private Casimir J. Pucinik was a Brooklyn-born BARman who wound up serving with a machine-gun squad. Wounded once on Iwo Jima, he returned to duty the day before a mortar shell took his life, and both telegrams were delivered to his mother at the American Consulate in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Private Dominic W. Lomoro was born in Bari, Italy, Private Stanislaw Szopa, in Lutoza, Poland. Their young lives ended among the rocks of Iwo Jima.

And there was Rollie Oksendahl. He scraped away at his foxhole until he could stand up and peer over to fire. Mike Mervosh glanced over at Oksendahl and – “whammy. Right on top of his head, right in that hole. What was left of him I could pick up in a shovel. All I could find – well, there was a lot of flesh and everything – I didn’t want to have no-one reported as MIA, so I kept his dog tags. I said, well… there you go.” [13]

Premonitions

On Iwo Jima, it seemed that if a man was fated to get hit, he would get hit, and there was little one could do.

As night fell and the battalion settled, once again, into defensive positions only a few yards or a few feet forward from their previous line, PFC John C. Pope received an unexpected visitor. Sergeant Louis Consentino, one of the battalion’s 81mm mortar observers, appeared with the news that Pope was summoned to the mortar CP. Pope was busy; his heavy machine gun was arriving on a Jeep and he needed to help set up the position for the night, and the mortars were several hundred yards to the rear. “Hell no, I’m not about to make that trip,” he snapped at Consentino. “It’s crawling with Japs, and not all of them are dead.” Consentino did not argue – he was a seasoned veteran, too – and went back to his post while Pope went about his business.

A few minutes later, Consentino reappeared. “He said that I was ordered to report to the mortar platoon immediately,” recalled Pope. “Obviously my angry response to the original order had been relayed back. I knew what my job was, and it was not back there, but this time it came as a direct order. I had no choice.” Cursing, Pope took hold of the telephone line that led from Consentino’s post to the mortar position.

Needless to say, I had a very nervous trigger finger and was prepared to kill anything that moved. A lone Marine, even behind our lines, was in serious danger from lurking Japs. To be wounded when surrounded by friends is bad, but to be wounded when alone and taken alive by the enemy was the thing we all feared most. I had to make that trip alone. I was pretty scared. Luckily the only thing I saw moving was a little bird, and he had only one leg. No doubt the other one had been blown off by a shell fragment or a bullet. I remember telling him, “I’m sorry.”

Rainey_Pope
Jim Rainey and John Pope

When he reached the mortar position, Pope was met by the sergeant who had summoned him. The NCO’s tone was placating, almost apologetic; he handed Pope a canteen cup of hot stew as a peace offering. “I know you’re pissed off but listen to me. I’m having trouble with Rainey. He insists you stay back here tonight. He will not explain why, but he’s too good a gunner for me to lose on account of a temper tantrum.”

PFC James T. Rainey was Pope’s oldest friend in the unit. The two Georgians were high school buddies, solidified their bond in training, and looked out for each other every chance they could. During the campaigns of the previous summer, Rainey was knocked unconscious by a misfired mortar round; he was evacuated but came back because, as he told Pope, “I was not going home without you, buddy.”

Outwardly, Rainey was fine, but Pope knew something had changed. Shortly after the incident, Rainey claimed he could see “some kind of light” hovering over another Marine, and said that man would soon be dead. Pope blew up. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You can name any one of us and make that prediction, and chances are you’ll be right. We see people killed most every day. If you get any more ideas like that, don’t tell me, ’cause I don’t want to hear that kind of stuff.” Rainey said no more about the phenomenon, but it stuck in Pope’s mind.

As Pope made his way to Rainey’s gun, he could feel his temper rising, and he was ready to “raise hell.” However, he took one look at Rainey’s face and swallowed his words. “He looked at me like he was mad at me and snarled something about ‘you stay here tonight.’ Then he turned his back and walked off.”

Pope made a final appeal to the mortar sergeant – his gun crew was shorthanded, and he knew the front lines could not spare a rifleman to fill in. A young mortarman overheard and interrupted, asking permission to take Pope’s place. He wanted a good story to tell the folks at home after the war. The sergeant acquiesced, and the mortarman happily grabbed the phone line and disappeared into the darkness. Pope settled down for the night, slurping his C-ration stew while steaming over Rainey’s behavior. They would settle things at first light.[14]


The Fallen

a_bolduc2 henderson_cf_alt ega-xz_nophoto schmidt_rf b_mills
Cpl.
Lionel V. Bolduc
Age 19
Fire team leader, A Co.
Gunshot, head
Cpl.
Cecil F. Hendershot

Age 23
Fire team leader, A Co.
Wounds received on 6 March
Private
Robert E.
Opheim
Age 25
Antitank gunner, A Co.
Shrapnel, head
Corporal
Richard F. Schmidt, Jr.
Age 22
Fire team leader, B Co.
Wounds received on 4 March
Private
Marsh E. Mills, Jr.
Age 25
Antitank gunner, B Co.
Wounds received on 4 March
c_klopfenstine ega-xz_nophoto c_oksendahl sweet_jd c_cooksey
Captain
Roy F. Klopfenstine
Age 26
Commanding, C Co.
Gunshot, back
Sergeant
Elmer A. Neff

Age 21
Squad leader, C Co.
Shrapnel, heart
Sergeant
Alfred R. Oksendahl
Age 30
Duty NCO, C Co.
Shrapnel, head & neck
Sergeant
John D. Sweet
Age 29
Squad leader, C Co.
Cause unknown
Corporal
Fred D. Cooksey
Age 22
Machine gunner, C Co.
Shrapnel, head
c_dombrowski c_hermansen c_plotnick roark_rl c_hawkins
Corporal
Edward J. Dombrowski
Age 25
Fire team leader, C Co.
Shrapnel, heart
Corporal
Francis J. Hermansen

Age 20
BARman, C Co.
Shrapnel, heart
Corporal
Eli Plotnick

Age 21
Fire team leader, C Co.
Gunshot, chest
PFC
Richard L. Roark
Age 19
BARman, C Co.
Cause unknown
Private
Donald G. Hawkins
Age 21
Antitank gunner, C Co.
Shrapnel, chest
ega-xz_nophoto ega-xz_nophoto ega-xz_nophoto
Private
Dominic Lomoro
Age 21
Antitank gunner, C Co.
Gunshot, chest
Private
Casimir J. Pucinik
Age 26
Machine gunner, C Co.
Shrapnel wounds
  Private
Stanislaw A. Szopa
Age 18
Rifleman, C Co.
Shrapnel, head
WOUNDED
COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Headquarters PhM1c Samuel Blumstein
PhM2c John S. Schmid
Corpsman
Corpsman
Shrapnel, right hand
Unknown
To Guam, via air
USS Samaritan
Able PlSgt. Charles B. Rogers
Sgt. Donald R. Hart
Sgt. Fred E. Thomas*
Cpl. Marion E. Lyon
Cpl. Paul L. Miller
PFC Joseph A. Fortin
PFC Junior E. Jones
PFC Donald Kardok
PFC L. J. Thomas
PFC George W. Secor
PFC Edward J. Solak
Pvt. Charles W. Alexander
Pvt. Charles E. Brown
Pvt. George H. Cornell
Pvt. William C. Degen
Pvt. Raleigh C. Gibson
Pvt. Manuel Gomez
Pvt. Russell E. Johnstone
Pvt. John Lukac
Pvt. Harry R. Parsons, Jr.
Pvt. Steve Previs
Pvt. Lawrence A. Trapp
Platoon Sergeant
Rifle Squad Leader
Rifle Squad Leader
Fire Team Leader
MG Squad Leader
Rifleman
Rifleman
Basic
Machine Gunner
Rifleman
BARman
Antitank Gunner
Machine Gunner
Machine Gunner
Antitank Gunner
Antitank Gunner
BARman
Rifleman
Antitank Gunner
Antitank Gunner
BARman
Basic
Shrapnel, back
Gunshot, left thumb
Unknown
Shrapnel, left shoulder
Shrapnel, right leg
Shrapnel, right arm
Shrapnel, left hand & leg
Shrapnel, right eye & arms
Shrapnel, back, leg & arm
Shrapnel, multiple, back
Shrapnel, groin
Fracture, right arm
Gunshot, chest
Fracture, left wrist
Shrapnel, both legs
Shrapnel, chest
Gunshot, right shoulder
Shrapnel, neck
Unknown (slight)
Shrapnel, right arm & eye
Gunshot, back
Blast concussion
USS Samaritan
To Guam via air
Evacuated
USS Samaritan
USS Samaritan
USS Samaritan
USS Samaritan
USS Samaritan
USS Samaritan
USS Samaritan
USS Samaritan
To Guam via air
USS Solace
To Guam via air
USS Samaritan
USS Samaritan
USS Samaritan
USS Samaritan
Evacuated
USS Samaritan
USS Samaritan
USS Samaritan
Charlie PlSgt. Wilson L. Cook
Sgt. Jack H. Reed
Cpl. John W. Dwinell
Cpl. Thomas M. Harris*
Cpl. Richard F. Heim
Cpl. Ted A. Mayors
Cpl. Robert W. Reeves
Cpl. James C. Russell
PFC Paul R. Flye
PFC Donald L. Marston
PFC William J. Stebbins
PFC Charles J. Swanson
Pvt. Edward D. Coleson
Pvt. Henry H. Henrichs
Pvt. LeRoy E. Starkey
Pvt. Allen J. Taylor
Platoon Sgt. Mortars
Rifle Squad Leader
BARman
Mortar Squad Leader
Fire Team Leader
Fire Team Leader
Rifleman
Fire Team Leader
Rifleman
Machine Gunner
Rifleman
Rifleman
Rifleman
Antitank Gunner
Basic
Basic
Unknown (slight)
Unknown (slight)
Gunshot, head
Shrapnel, neck
Unknown (slight)
Shrapnel, head
Unknown (slight)
Gunshot, right eye
Unknown (slight)
Shrapnel, neck
Shrapnel, buttocks
Gunshot, scalp
Shrapnel, left arm
Gunshot, left arm
Unknown (slight)
Blast concussion
Not Evacuated
Evacuated
USS Samaritan
Evacuated
Evacuated
To Guam via air
Evacuated
USS Samaritan
Evacuated
To Guam via air
USS Samaritan
USS Samaritan
USS Samaritan
USS Samaritan
Evacuated
USS Samaritan

* Sergeant Thomas and Corporal Harris died of their wounds on 8 March 1945.

NON-COMBAT EVACUATION
COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Able PFC Lonnie D. Musgrove BARman Sick Evacuated
JOINED / ATTACHED / TRANSFERRED
Action Name From To Duty
Returned Cpl. David V. Colbert, II
Cpl. Howard W. Johnson
Cpl. Jerome M. Verschaeve
PFC Stanley E. Cupps
PFC Robert O. Dean
Hospital
Hospital
Hospital
Hospital
Hospital
B/1/24
B/1/24
B/1/24
B/1/24
B/1/24
Fire team leader
Fire team leader
Fire team leader
Demolitions
BARman

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Footnotes

[1] Major Charles L. Banks, “Final Report on IWO JIMA Operation, Battalion Landing Team 1/24,” in Annex George to Fourth Marine Division Report on Iwo Jima: RCT 24 Report (20 April 1945), 130. Unfortunately, the AAR does not name these casualties, but a look at the casualty list for the day shows an unusually high number of NCO deaths.
[2] Mike Mervosh, oral history interview conducted by The National World War II Museum, “Oral History Part 2,” March 19, 2008;  “Sgt. Maj. Mike Mervosh, USMC (Ret.)” in Gail Chatfield, By Dammit, We’re Marines! (San Diego: Methvin, 2008), 72.
[3] Gregg Stoner, Hardcore Iron Mike, Conqueror of Iwo Jima (Bloomington, iUniverse, 2015), 59-60.
[4] “Final Report,” 131.
[5] At the time of Captain Klopfenstine’s death, three officers remained in Charlie Company, and at least two senior NCOs (Gunnery Sergeant Harry H. Perry and Platoon Sergeant Charles Czerweic) outranked Mike Mervosh. There is nothing in any official record to suggest that Mervosh was ever formally placed in command of Charlie Company during the battle of Iwo Jima; the company was temporarily disbanded two days after this event. However, Mervosh remained adamant about his role until the day he died, and other Charlie Company veterans regarded him as such.

In the author’s opinion, Mervosh genuinely believed he was in command and acted on that responsibility. Given the nature of combat at this point in the campaign, the consistency of casualties among commanders, and the fact that Charlie Company was a shadow of itself by the end, it’s almost certain that “Iron Mike” placed himself in charge of any Marines who happened to be nearby. He also had a great deal more combat experience than any of the remaining officers, and it could also be argued that while they outranked him, Mervosh was calling the shots.

The distinction is made here not to cast aspersions on Mike Mervosh’s recollections, but rather to illustrate the difficulty of reconciling primary sources with veteran’s memories.
[6] Thomas Melvin Harris, Silver Star Medal citation.
[7] Colonel Walter I. Jordan, Annex George to Fourth Marine Division Report on Iwo Jima: RCT 24 Report (20 April 1945), 11.
[8] LtCol. Richard Rothwell, “Final Report on IWO JIMA Operation, Battalion Landing Team 2/24,” in Annex George to Fourth Marine Division Report on Iwo Jima: RCT 24 Report (20 April 1945), 196.
[9] Harold J. Oberheide, interview conducted by Gary Rhay (Harold Junior Oberheide Collection, AFC/2001/001/34224), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. This event may have occurred earlier in the battle; Oberheide mentions it being “the fourth day out” and receiving a small bottle of Scotch for his 21st birthday (which happened to be 26 February 1945). However, he also tells the story in the context of serving with a group of veteran Marines, in a squad that was heavily reduced by casualties, which would suggest instead that the incident with “Chick” took place in early March. Based on unit casualty reports, the two KIAs may have been Corporal Lionel V. Bolduc and Private Robert E. Opheim, both of whom died from head wounds on 7 March. “Chick” might have been eighteen-year-old Private John Lukac, who was evacuated for unknown reasons on 7 March and returned to duty three days later.
[10] Rothwell, “Landing Team 2/24,” 196.
[11] Ibid., 197.
[12] “Final Report,” 131.
[13] Mervosh, 2008 interview.
[14] John C. Pope, Angel On My Shoulder, Kindle edition.