Iwo: D+18. March 9, 1945.

Disbanded

Sergeant Harlan C. Jeffery got little sleep before dawn on D-plus-18.

Jeffery led an assault and demolition squad armed with flamethrowers and explosives. During the daylight hours, they were the point men assigned to attack any Japanese fortifications that proved too tough for the riflemen. The tradeoff for this hazardous and physically exhausting work was, usually, spending the night in the relative quiet of the battalion’s rear area. Flamethrowers and satchel charges were too dangerous to use after dark. However, after the punishment inflicted on the First Battalion on D-plus-17, the entire demolition platoon was called up as emergency reinforcements for Baker Company. Armed with rifles and carbines, Jeffery and his comrades occupied front-line foxholes overnight.

In the morning, Jeffery pulled out his diary.

There was five of us in one hole. We received quite a bit of mortar fire all during the night. The Nips were just on the other side of the ridge, about thirty yards away from us. About 2:30 in the morning, the Nips started throwing grenades at us. About ten feet in front of us, there was three Marines in a foxhole. The Nips landed two grenades right in there, killing two of them and wounding the other. Right after that, a four-man patrol of Nips came searching directly toward our hole. I don’t believe they knew exactly where our hole was because when they got within about fifteen feet, we let them have it with grenades, rifles, and pistols, and they never knew what hit them.[1]

Iwo_FourDeadJapanese_26-g-69-005-001-ac
US Coast Guard photo.

The Japanese continued firing until dawn, preventing any efforts to reorganize the battalion’s line. Division orders called for a renewed assault at 0700, but it was plain to all that neither the First nor Third Battalions of the 24th Marines would be ready to go at the appointed time. The previous day’s exertions and the exhausting night of combat had sapped their strength and disorganized the companies. In many cases, it wasn’t clear who was in charge at the platoon or squad level – and without that clarity, the attack would be doomed to failure.

The regimental headquarters was aware of the problem and made a drastic decision. The First Battalion would get new leadership and a new structure.


The Consolidation

You couldn’t possibly take the casualties our battalion was suffering without consolidating your troops. We did get some replacements, but it seems to me they were getting hit at a faster clip than the original men.[2]

The future of 1/24 was placed in the hands of three men.

brunelli_galleryLieutenant Colonel Austin R. Brunelli appeared at the battalion CP promptly at 0900. The executive officer of the 24th Marines, Brunelli was well-known to all but the greenest Marines in 1/24. He excelled at battalion-level leadership; at Roi-Namur, he took 3/24 into combat and earned a Legion of Merit along with a Purple Heart. On Saipan, he stepped up to command 1/24 after the death of LtCol. Maynard C. Schultz and took the battalion through the roughest part of the campaign, personally leading reconnaissance parties and rallying troops when they faltered. His reward was a Silver Star Medal and the battalion’s respect.

Now that “Bunny” Brunelli was back in the saddle, Major Paul Treitel, the hard-luck CO, was relieved of command and sent back to the rear. “I can’t remember if Paul Treitel was wounded, or just used up,” commented Major Irving Schechter. “He had been in command for sixteen days, and very few battalion commanders lasted through the whole campaign.” [3] The assistant surgeon, Lt. (j.g.) Richards P. Lyon, was much blunter in his assessment. “Treitel was not wounded, except in the head,” he said. After two weeks of sharing his foxhole with the battalion commander, Lyon was not sorry to see him go.[4] Paul Treitel would continue his career in the Marine Corps; his past successes in battalion command with the 23rd Marines paved the way for the promotion to lieutenant colonel he so badly wanted. Iwo Jima was the end of his combat command.

Brunelli did not arrive alone; he brought Major Milton G. Cokin from regimental headquarters. Cokin was the assistant operations officer, but he earned his spurs and his reputation as the original commander of Baker Company. Major Schechter, the First Battalion’s operations officer (and original skipper of Able Company), was also summoned to the command post to hear Brunelli’s news.

Veteran leadership: Brunelli, Cokin, and Schechter in 1945.

Brunelli was brief. The battalion was being re-formed into two companies, commanded by Major Schechter and Major Cokin. The current commanders of Able and Baker Companies, 1Lt. Roy I. Wood, Jr.and Captain William A. Eddy, Jr., would serve as executive officers. This was a smart move; Wood and Eddy had previously served as execs to Schechter and Cokin and had a solid pre-established relationship. Charlie Company and the assault platoon were dissolved, and the men assigned to the two composite companies. With “all other available men” similarly assigned, Schechter would have a total of 135 men under his command; Cokin took charge of 115.[5] “Even these new companies were woefully understrength,” commented Schechter. “I suppose [mine] was called ‘A,’ but what difference did that make?” [6]

“We came back from the front lines this morning and ate some chow,” wrote Sergeant Jeffery. “We no sooner got thru eating, and they told us we was going to be permanently attached to B Co. So we went back up front and joined the company.” [7]

Iwo_WaitingToMove
Marines wait for orders to move out. Note the heavy machine guns stowed on hand carts – these will be brought up for night defense. USMC photo.

It took the balance of the morning to reorganize the battalion, but when they stepped off at 1300 hours, the change in leadership was noticeable. The trio of Brunelli, Schechter, and Cokin operated as a team, and they were reunited with their old units and men. Even the replacements recognized a difference. “He was out in front directing traffic,” said Private Harold J. Oberheide of Major Schechter, “pointing here, pointing there, motioning for this guy to go. He had his helmet under his arm and his swagger stick.” [8] (Refusal to wear a helmet was a Schechter trademark.) Any doubts that “Buck” had lost his edge while serving on the battalion staff were dispelled when a Japanese soldier popped out of a spider trap and took aim at a young Marine. “I fired my carbine without even taking proper aim, and thank goodness I caught the Jap in the back,” said Schechter. “It all happened so fast that I didn’t realize what went on until it was all over. I’ll never forget it. I think that young Marine made it through the campaign, and that still gives me a good feeling.” [9]


Advances

The attack started slowly but gathered momentum throughout the afternoon. Both companies advanced “cave by cave, and by fire and movement,” with Major Cokin’s men notching 250 yards and Major Schechter’s between 150 and 200 yards.[10] Japanese resistance was starting to crumble in places as they were gradually compressed into a smaller and smaller area. Marines noticed more instances of Japanese troops moving between positions or out in the open, which Intelligence took to mean “an insufficient number of prepared positions to maintain a defense.” [11] It was clear, too, that the overnight attacks had taken a significant toll on the Japanese. An estimated 1200 men, armed with demolition charges, attempted the breakthrough; between 800 and 900 died in the attempt.[12] Those who remained were well-armed, well-supplied, and motivated to fight on.

PFC John C. Pope remembered seeing a wounded buddy in a shell hole with a corpsman. Pope didn’t recognize the sailor – “he had just recently been assigned, and he hardly knew any of us” – but the sailor worked as quickly and professionally as if the wounded man was one of his closest friends. He was Pharmacist’s Mate Third Class Ralph W. Thomas, and although only twenty years old, he was one of the most experienced corpsmen in the battalion. Early in his career, while assigned to the USS John Penn, Thomas participated in the invasion of North Africa and was one of few men in the battalion entitled to wear the brownish-green campaign ribbon on his dress uniform. Assigned to the First Battalion at New River in March of 1943, he went on to serve in the Marshalls and the Marianas. Iwo Jima, he said, was “the damnedest party I was ever on” and he was tired of treating shrapnel wounds.[13]

As he worked on this latest casualty, a Japanese grenade sailed into the shell. Reacting instinctively, Thomas kicked the missile down into the dirt and planted both feet over it, taking the full force of the explosion. “The thought to save himself apparently did not even occur to him,” marveled Pope.[14] Although suffering “painful and crippling wounds,” Corpsman Thomas saved his patient. He would later receive the Navy Cross for his actions, becoming the only 1/24 corpsman so decorated in the entire war.

c_kolarCorporal Al B. Kolar – formerly of Charlie Company, now attached to one of the composite companies – led a squad through sandstone rocks and tunnels until he encountered a Japanese fortification. Rather than attacking head-on, the platoon leader wanted a double envelopment, so Kolar took his men around to the right while another squad circled from the left. He lost sight of his buddies in the rough terrain, but the Japanese could see him. A rifleman drilled Kolar through the right leg just above the ankle, then hit him again in the left leg as he fell backward over a log. Kolar caught a glimpse of three Japanese soldiers but was stuck with the top half his body bent over the tree trunk and his wounded legs exposed to the enemy. His rifle was lost in the fall, and his pistol belt twisted around a branch so he could not reach the weapon. Kolar was perfect bait, and the Japanese waited to see what his buddies would do.

The corporal was an intensely dangerous situation. The Japanese soldiers were excellent shots; anyone who dared to go after Kolar ran the risk of being shot in turn. Selfless bravery would only complicate the problem. A corpsman called out; Kolar yelled that he was feeling cold, and his legs were going numb. A bottle sailed through the air and landed with a clink. Kolar grabbed for it eagerly and downed a medicinal dose of 100-proof LeJon brandy. Every few minutes, he would yell about feeling cold, and the corpsman would toss another bottle. The Japanese caught on and started shooting at the corpsman, which spoiled his aim. Most of the bottles hit the ground out of reach.

Platoon Sergeant Mike Mervosh got wind of the situation and came to the rescue. When Kolar heard the distinctive barking voice of his old buddy, he quickly communicated where the Japanese were hiding. Mervosh called a mortar squad to send up a few rounds of high explosive and then lay a smokescreen over the area. It took the veteran mortarmen only three shots to demolish the cave. As the shells exploded, Kolar managed to wriggle back over the log and extricate his pistol, fully prepared to join the attack despite the bullet wounds in his legs. Instead, he heard Mervosh bellowing “We got ’em!” and saw his squad appear through the smoke. “How happy he was to see his Marine buddies coming to get him,” remembered Mervosh.[15]

Corporal Alva Perry was caught in a duel with another Japanese sniper. “This guy was good,” he remembered. “His shots were hitting so close to us we were afraid to move. He was a better shot than we were.” This was a tough admission for a veteran like Perry, whose prowess with the BAR was well-known to Able Company. Fortunately, he had some backup – his best buddy, PFC Edward H. Bookwalter.

bookwalter_e_yearbook
Edward Bookwalter as a senior at Stadium High School, 1938.

Eddie Bookwalter hailed from Tacoma, Washington. A star swimmer for the Stadium High School Bengals, he once set a state record for the 200-yard relay and hoped to earn a spot on the Olympic team.[16] This never came to pass; instead, Eddie went to work as a copper smelter. The work was far from glamorous, but it was steady and allowed Eddie to marry and start a family of his own. After the Olympics, his greatest dream was to own a fishing trawler with his brother Wally. They would set their own rules and work for themselves.

In late 1943, Eddie received his draft notice and joined the Marine Corps. His athletic background served him well – he was a wrestler as well as a swimmer – and he was a natural on the rifle range. Immediately after boot camp, he was promoted to Private First Class and assigned to Camp Pendleton as a rifle instructor. By September of 1944, he was on his way to Hawaii as a replacement and met Al Perry at Camp Maui.

They were an odd couple. Al was nineteen, slightly built, and gritty after serving in three campaigns; he had notches in his BAR stock for every confirmed kill. Eddie was twenty-seven but, as a family man, seemed older.[17] He had all the exuberance of a green Marine and declared he would wrestle a Japanese soldier to death. They had almost nothing in common save their assignment to the Third Platoon of A/1/24, yet they hit it off almost immediately. Soon, Eddie’s wife Mary was writing letters to Al and sending photos of their home in Washington. Eddie even invited Al to join the trawler venture as a partner. Eddie, Wally, and Al. “Boy, that sounded good to me,” said Al Perry. He allowed himself to think ahead, to the end of the war and beyond. “Eddie was the closest friend I had. I thought the world of Eddie.” [18]

biwojima
Eddie Bookwalter (shirtless with tattoos) with his buddies at Camp Maui. Photo from Al Perry.

Now Eddie and Al, both combat veterans, were using every trick they knew to get after this one Japanese sniper, but to no avail. They resigned themselves to trading shots, figuring they would need to wait for dark to make their escape. Then they heard a familiar rumble and felt the ground vibrating beneath them. An American tank rolled up, halted right beside their shell hole, and an inquisitive face poked out of the viewport.

Why are you down there in that hole shooting?

Well, there’s a sniper up there we can’t hit. If you can get him, take him out so we can get up.

Didn’t you fellows hear? General Hart said the island is secure.

The hell with that, you take that Jap out, and then we’ll come and celebrate with you.

The viewport clanged shut, and the turret gyros whirred as the tank swiveled its gun, searching for the target. Three rounds of 75mm high explosive blasted out, one after the other, detonating with a crash in the sniper’s general area. “We got him,” called the tanker. “We saw his body fly up in the air.”

Eddie and Al waited for a moment. No shots.

They raised their heads. No shots.

They stood. Everything was quiet. The tanker grinned.

Seized by a giddy rush of excitement, Eddie and Al grabbed each other by the waist and started dancing up and down. Maybe the tanker was right. Maybe the island was secure; they could go back to the rear, go back to Maui, and get a one step closer to the fishing boat and home.

I didn’t hear the shot that hit Eddie in the jugular but felt him go limp.

I felt his warm blood on my body.

 I lost my best friend.[19]

a_bookwalter
Eddie Bookwalter, 1944.

Iwo Jima was far from secure. Two more weeks would pass before the final organized Japanese resistance ended; small groups and individuals would hold out much longer. More men were wounded, more men died. And, at least as far as Harlan Jefferey could tell, the day ended much as it began.

We set trip flares up for security. As soon as we set the last one up, we went back to the hole. It was about 1900 then, dark as hell. About fifteen minutes after we got in our hole, three Nips came walking down the road just like they owned it. I could see them coming plain as day because their helmets shine at night. Well, I waited until they got right in front of my hole, and then I let them have it with grenades.

I hit one, and it knocked his arm off, so I finished him off with my pistol. The other two Nips started to run back up the road, but the rest of the boys got them.[20]

Iwo_Buried_Hand_80-G-412532
A Japanese soldier’s final resting place on Iwo Jima. US Navy photo.

The Fallen

a_diehl a_bookwalter hooks_cd a_lamphere_thumbnail miller_jj
Sergeant
Luther H. Diehl
Age 22
Duty NCO, A Co.
Shrapnel, head
PFC
Edward H. Bookwalter

Age 27
Basic, A Co.
Shrapnel, neck
Private
Charles D. Hooks
Age 22
Machine gunner, A Co.
Shrapnel, neck
Private
Norman F. Lamphere
Age 18
Messenger, A Co.
Cause unknown
Corporal
John J. Miller
Age 19
Rifleman, B Co.
Shrapnel, head
lambird_h b_jlmartin ega-xz_nophoto
PFC
Harold Lambird
Age 23
Machine gunner, B Co.
Wounds received on 6 March
  Private
Joseph L. Martin, Jr.
Age 19
BARman, B Co.
Shrapnel, head
  Private
Hillyer W. Welborn
Age 26
Rifleman, B Co.
Shrapnel, back
WOUNDED
COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Headquarters PhM3c Ralph W. Thomas
HA1c Robert D. Misamore
Corpsman
Corpsman
Grenade shrapnel, feet
Unknown (slight)
Evacuated
Not evacuated
Able Cpl. James J. Chvatal, Jr.
Cpl. Peter Pecori
Cpl. Ralph S. Philomeno
PFC Franklin W. Gillett
PFC Ralph L. Hatley
PFC Leonard Ohlrich
PFC Raymond G. Proulx
PFC Herman Schwabl, Jr.

PFC Jack Sides
Pvt. John Hicks, Jr.
Fire Team Leader
MG Squad Leader
Antitank Gunner
BARman
Machine Gunner
Basic
Mortarman
Basic
Mortarman
Machine Gunner
Unknown (slight)
Shrapnel, chest & face
Shrapnel, right hand
Multiple shrapnel wounds
Unknown (slight)
Shrapnel, buttocks
Unknown (slight)
Shrapnel, back
Gunshot, abdomen
Unknown (slight)
Evacuated
Evacuated
Not evacuated
USS Solace
Evacuated
Evacuated
Evacuated
Not evacuated
Evacuated
Evacuated
Baker 2Lt. Robert C. Euler
Cpl. Robert J. McCarthy
FM1c Joseph W. McTague
Pvt. John Garaventa, Jr.
Platoon Leader
Basic
Field Music
Rifleman
Gunshot, right shoulder
Unknown (slight)
Gunshot, arm
Puncture, right ankle
Evacuated
Evacuated
Evacuated
Evacuated
Charlie
attached to composite companies
Cpl. Harvey G. Houck
Cpl. Al B. Kolar
PFC Guy K. Hoefle
Pvt. Edmund V. Kalb, Sr.
Pvt. Benjamin R. Stansky
Pvt. Paul Weatherford
Pvt. Edward J. West

Pvt. E. S. Wojchechowski
Mortar Squad Leader
Rifle Squad Leader
Messenger
Basic
Basic
Rifleman
Mortarman
BARman
Unknown (slight)
Gunshot, both legs
Punctured ear drum
Shrapnel, right knee
Unknown (slight)
Unknown (slight)
Shrapnel, buttocks
Sprain, right ankle
Evacuated
To Guam via air
USS Solace
Evacuated
Evacuated
Not evacuated
Not evacuated
USS Solace
NON-COMBAT EVACUATION
COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Able PlSgt. Sink Sizemore, Jr. Platoon Sergeant Sick Evacuated
Baker Sgt. Robert G. Birdsall
MG Section Sergeant Sick Evacuated

 

JOINED / ATTACHED / TRANSFERRED
Action Name From To Duty
Joined LtCol. Austin R. Brunelli
Maj. Milton G. Cokin
HQ/24th Marines
HQ/24th Marines
HQ/1/24
B/1/24
Battalion CO
Company CO
Returned Sgt. Aniello A. Puliafico
Cpl. Harry R. Schueneman
PFC Louis E. Ratley
Hospital
Hospital
Hospital
B/1/24
B/1/24
B/1/24
Squad leader
Fire team leader
BARman
Transferred Maj. Irving Schechter
Maj. Paul Treitel
HQ/1/24
HQ/1/24
A/1/24
HQ/24th Marines
Company CO
Staff

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Footnotes

[1] Harlan Chester Jeffery, unpublished diary entry dated 9 March 1945, collection of Domenick P. Tutalo. Jeffery might be describing the incident that wounded Private James A. Moore.
[2] Irving Schechter, “The Lawyer Who Went to War,” Semper Fi, Mac, ed. Henry Berry (New York: Harper, 1982).
[3] Ibid.
[4] Richards P. Lyon, email to the author, 14 December 2013.
[5] 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), 133.
[6] Schechter, “The Lawyer Who Went to War.”
[7] Harlan Jeffery diary.
[8] 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.
[9] Schechter, “The Lawyer Who Went to War.”
[10] “Final Report,” 133.
[11] Headquarters, Expeditionary Troops, Task Force 56, “G-2 Report No. 19,” 9 March 1945, 1.
[12] Ibid.
[13] “Iwo Battle Savage,” The Laredo Times, 11 March 1945.
[14] John C. Pope, Angel On My Shoulder, Kindle edition.
[15] Gregg Stoner, Hardcore Iron Mike, Conqueror of Iwo Jima (Bloomington, iUniverse, 2015), 232-233.
[16] Eddie’s younger brother, Wallace Bookwalter, was on the same high school relay team.
[17] In his memoir, Perry pegs Bookwalter’s age at “about 35.”
[18] Alva Perry, “The Men Of ‘A’ Company,” 2011.
[19] Ibid. When Al wrote to Mary Bookwalter informing her of Eddie’s death, she asked that he keep Eddie’s watch as a memento. Al wore the watch for years before “it was stolen at the Detroit YMCA.”
[20] Harlan Jeffery diary.