Iwo: D+5. February 24, 1945

The same sun that rose on flag-topped Suribachi shone its wan light on the dust-filled foxholes of an exhausted Fourth Marine Division, where men stretched tired limbs, woke sleeping buddies, checked in with their neighbors, and lit their morning cigarettes. There were reports of sporadic mortar fire, isolated shots, and a handful of Marines swore to seeing shadowy figures skulking around in the darkness. [1] As they ate their cold morning chow, few gave a thought to the barely-visible flag behind them. Their eyes and attention were fixed on the front.

The day’s orders called for King Hour at 0915, with the “limited objective” of seizing Line 0-1A.[2] The attack would be preceded by seventy-five minutes of “a deliberate, destructive bombardment by Naval Units with 8” or heavier caliber… with a maximum VT and VF air strike… and a coordinated Corps-Division Artillery concentration and preparation.”[3]

Extended preparatory fires were badly needed. The Fourth Marine Division was operating at an estimated 60% of its ideal combat efficiency – the Fifth was not much better off – and the terrain ahead was just as unforgiving as it had been on the day before. Tactics were much the same, too – a brutal, frontal assault. Iwo Jima did not have the space for the fancy flanking maneuvers that worked so well in the Marianas, and as the battle inched northward into the tangles of rocks and blasted trees, tank and air support became more difficult to coordinate. It was up to the infantry, and in 1/24’s sector, the next attempt fell to Companies A and B.

The Assault: Able and Baker Companies

Fortunately for 1/24, the division’s main effort was focused on the left end of the line.[4] Histories of the battle record the bloody drama as 2/24 hurled itself against a rise in TA 183 CD, which had to be taken so that the recently-arrived 21st Marines could reach Motoyama Airfield #2. This area, quickly nicknamed “Charlie-Dog Ridge,” changed hands several times in a single day; no sooner had the battalion wiped out the defenders than a tremendous mortar barrage shattered the top of the hill. Bitterly, the battalion withdrew to the bottom of the hill; the Japanese quickly reoccupied the top. Still, the 2/24 managed to gain 200 yards. In the center, 3/24 notched a fifty-yard gain, thus helping to straighten out the regimental front.

Major Paul Treitel’s 1/24 started moving at 1030, with Able and Baker companies in the attack. Able gamely tried to cross the ground that stymied Charlie Company the day before, but the Japanese artillery was more than ready to repeat its deadly performance. Enemy air bursts and knee mortar fire kept the Marines ducking, dodging, and calling for corpsmen throughout the day.

A few marines ducked behind boulders or into shellholes for another, more basic reason. The ordinarily simple process of relieving oneself took on a new and terrifying dimension when every yard of ground was under observation. Exposing themselves in front buddies was no problem – the idea of privacy on Iwo was so laughable that it barely registered for most Marines — but exposure to the enemy was something else. “In battle, eventually you have to stop and go to the bathroom,” remarked PFC John Pope. “Nobody wants to get shot with his pants down! We had some real funny incidents like that, a guy running across the field with his pants around his ankles.”[5] Fortunately, on Iwo, everyone was too busy to eat much. “I don’t remember taking a crap on Iwo,” recalled “Iron Mike” Mervosh. “Maybe we shit in our pants. They gave us this ration C, which was a chocolate bar, if you had dentures you could forget about eating the damn thing; you had to use a Ka-Bar to break it loose. Maybe that’s what you’d call asshole cement. I do remember you pissed in your helmet and threw it over the side of the foxhole. You weren’t going to get up to take a leak.”[6]

Doc DeVore Gordon concurred. “It’s very difficult to appease Mother Nature when you’re in combat like that, you can hardly move out of your hole for being shot at,” he recalled. However, on D+5 Gordon heard a call more urgent than any cry of “corpsman.” He jumped into a nearby shell hole, “pulled my britches down and was doing my best… and along comes a mortar.”[7]

Gordon called the Japanese sighting technique as “one up, one down.” As soon as the first round struck, he knew a second was already in the air–and it struck right next to his shellhole. A third was on the way, “and I knew I had to get out of there VERY fast. So I leaped out of the hole with my britches in the breeze and my butt exposed—and it happened I leaped into my lieutenant’s hole. And he said ‘Doc, this is no time for love, pull your pants up!’ It was really quite funny–except that mortar did land right in the hole where I was.”[8]

Before the day was out, Doc Gordon was struck down by a mortar round he couldn’t dodge. Peppered with shrapnel and partially paralyzed, he was carried away to the hospital ship USS Solace.

“We fired mortars and artillery almost continuously into the areas where enemy activity was observed,” notes the battalion’s After Action Report. “However, their point blank firing of small arms continued. Our casualties continued to increase while our advances were nil.”[9] The loss of seven veteran NCOs in Able Company alone was brutal testimony to the effectiveness of the Japanese fire. For a second day, the defenders kept the assault companies at bay.

The Caves: Charlie Company and the Assault Platoon

Private Domenick Tutalo was used to volunteering. He’d volunteered for the Marines less than a month after his eighteenth birthday, volunteered to go to a Pacific-bound replacement draft, volunteered for machine gun training with Company C, 24th Marines. However, “I couldn’t tell you why I chose to become a demolition man and flamethrower.”[10]

Harry Koff, demolitions platoon leader.
Harry Koff, demolitions platoon leader.

First Battalion’s assault and demolitions platoon was an unusual unit, born out of experience in the Marianas. There, each rifle platoon trained one of its squads in the art of advanced destruction using satchel charges, bazookas, flamethrowers and blocks of C4 with dangerously temperamental detonators. This duty was taken on in addition to, not in place of, their regular roles as riflemen; it was assumed that demolitions work would be only a secondary specialty. However, these squads were called upon so often that Platoon Sergeant Harry Koff suggested creating a dedicated assault unit. Reports of formidable Japanese defenses at Peleliu reinforced the idea, and so the new unit was given the go-ahead on November 1, 1944.

First Lieutenant Arthur McGilvray, a former Paramarine, was placed in command of the platoon, but the real boss was Harry Koff. “He was tough,” recalled Tutalo. “I liked him later, but at that time I thought he was a son of a gun. He was by the book, a Jewish man, religious. You couldn’t curse or nothing. When he was there, you watched what you said.”[11]

“The training was very rough,” continued Tutalo. “We spent months learning how to blow things up with satchel charges and burn with flamethrowers.”[12] The nineteen-year-old Tutalo stood five-feet-five-inches and tipped the scales at 126 pounds: the M2 flamethrower alone was more than half his body weight. Fortunately, Tutalo was in exceptional shape, both physically and mentally. “At the time, it wasn’t that heavy,” he said. “You’re carrying a tank of napalm but actually, at that time, you don’t think it’s dangerous. Your mind doesn’t think about that.”[13]

iwoflame

Really, it’s better not to think about the danger. It’s better to focus on the routine. Wait for the call from a pinned down platoon. Put down your rifle and draw your weapons—the bazooka, the heavy satchel charges, the cumbersome flamethrower. Let the riflemen point out the objective, let the BARs and machine guns shoot right over your head, let them pin down the Japanese while you crept up as close as you could, cursing the short range of your flamethrower and knowing you had only ten seconds worth of fuel. When the cover fire stops, get in there before the enemy reacts, because they know what’s coming. If it’s a cave, aim for the back to incinerate the enemy, or shoot across the front to draw out the air and asphyxiate them. If it’s a bunker, aim for the firing port. Use short bursts and brace yourself against the recoil. Let your buddy with the satchel charge take over, pray that his aim is true as he hurls eighteen pounds of explosive underhand into an opening, hope that the Japanese are too shocked to throw the charge back, brace for the explosion and the shower of rubble and be ready to hit them with the flame again. Above all, be ready for the sight of your enemies running out on fire from head to toe, and hope that the riflemen are coming up behind you to put them down or toss grenades into the ruined defenses. And then get back under cover, because another emplacement has you in its sights, or the Japanese are calling down mortars where they’ve seen the smoke. If your tank is empty, just drop it and wait. Your assistant will carry it away. You have a few minutes to recuperate before he returns with a full one. And you’ll need those few minutes, because you’ll be doing this again and again and again.

Trapped

Tutalo’s flamethrower squad, led by veteran Sergeant Harlan C. Jeffery, was usually attached to Charlie Company. It was better to keep working with the same guys; helped to build up trust and shared experience. And they were earning experience in spades. “In our first engagement up on the right flank at Iwo, everybody got killed except the sergeant [Jeffery] and another flamethrower,” Tutalo said of the disaster that befell his squad on D+1.[11] Since then, life had been a constant cycle of waiting for a call, a few moments of terror and flame, then back to waiting. They soon lost count of the number of fortifications they attacked; none knew how many Japanese they had shot, incinerated, blown to bits or buried alive.

Now, Tutalo was headed back to the sector where he’d had his close call. Charlie Company took over for F/2/25 in the hated Boat Basin area. The beachfront defenses had defied the Marines for nearly five full days, and once again the task was to burn and blast each individual position. Only one tank was available to help, and its range was limited: Iwo was terrible ground for tanks. “The terrain got rougher and rougher because of the catacombs and stuff where the water had washed in amongst it over the years,” said machine gunner Glenn Buzzard. “Some places you could step over a crack and you’d see a big gap deep down there.”[14]

“The caves were down below the cliffs,” remembered PFC Arthur LaPorte. “We had to go to aid another company down there, between the cliffs and the water. It was like a horseshoe in there, and the ships couldn’t help us there firing because they were blocked by the terrain. So this company went in and tried to knock out the pillboxes, bunkers and caves, and they got pretty beat up.” Important as it was to watch for snipers, the Marines also had to watch their step – LaPorte almost tripped on a booby trap. “I think it was a gas cylinder that the Japanese had, if they wanted to use gas on us. We marked it so no-one would step on it. I imagine if it busted it would turn into vapors and be poisonous. So we had to worry about things like that.”[15]

Marines explore around the wreckage of the Boat Basin.
Marines explore around the wreckage of the Boat Basin.

A few of the caves were silent, and some Marines ventured inside – theoretically hunting for Japanese stragglers, but really hunting for souvenirs. As always, swords, flags, currency and pistols were top priority, but there were plenty of larger prizes too. PFC LaPorte marveled at a 1930s-era American motorcycle “all shot up” in one such emplacement, but getting it running proved impossible even for the resident motorcycle enthusiast, Corporal Sandy Ball.

Replacements and old hands alike succumbed to the urge. Corporal Robert Johnston of Somerville, Massachusetts was fighting his fourth battle; Assistant Cook Joseph O. Rooney of Watertown was experiencing his first. The pair cautiously approached a cave that bore the scars of hard fighting, picking their way over the debris-strewn floor. Johnston counted eighteen motionless Japanese bodies among the rubble – but only seventeen of them were dead. The last man, an officer, waited until Johnston’s back was turned, then leapt to his feet brandishing a saber. Rooney yelled a warning; Johnston dropped to the deck as the cook blazed away, killing the would-be ambusher. Shaken by this close call, the Boston boys swore off exploring – but not before Johnston relieved the officer of his saber.[16]

Not far away, another young Marine was poking around in a cave, hunting for souvenirs – “a very foolish move,” in the opinion of Art LaPorte. What started as a lark quickly turned tragic as a second Marine approached the cave. “He didn’t know [anyone] was in there, and this guy comes out – his buddy thought he was a Jap, and shot him right between the eyes,” said LaPorte. “So then, of course, he cracked up. And we lost two men [because] of a very foolish deal.”[17]

This horrible accident quashed any desire to enter the caves, and word was passed to send up the demolitions experts. As much as Charlie Company would have loved to see the friendly faces of the combat engineers, those specialists were busy sealing larger caves in the rear. The task of clearing the final resistance in the Boat Basin fell to flamethrower men like Tutalo and Jeffery.

A flamethrower squad moves up to the front.

Harlan Jeffery had multiple scores to settle with the Japanese. He still hadn’t forgiven them for the shot in his shoulder, a souvenir of Saipan. Rather saltily, he wore his “air-conditioned” helmet with bullet holes fore and aft, courtesy of his close call in the draw on D+1. Returning to the Boat Basin brought back bad memories, and when a Japanese pillbox opened up on Charlie Company, Jeffery lost his temper. He rallied the survivors of his squad to burn out the Japanese pillbox—and then another, and another. The rampage ended when the third position was a smoking ruin, and Jeffery watched in satisfaction as the company’s advance resumed. He would later receive the Silver Star for his actions on D+5.[18]

Private Tutalo was part of this assault. As he shot napalm at living human beings, the young Marine tried hard to shut his mind to what he was seeing, hearing, and doing. “Sometimes a lot of things went blank. It’s hard to talk about battles.”[19]

“To stay alive, we finally resorted to flame throwers,” reported Corporal Johnston. “We would blow flames into one end of a tunnel, and the enemy would run out of the other side of the tunnel. Then the fighting would happen with our soldiers stationed at the other end…. Sometimes we could not get the Japanese out of the tunnels and just had to close up the caves with putty explosives. It was so hard.”[20]

One cave went up in spectacular fashion. “Apparently it was storage for airplane fuel,” recalled Art LaPorte. “The flames went in the cliff about a hundred feet. We ran like rabbits from there! One guy threw down gear and rifle and took off for the beach.” The flames quickly died subsided; the embarrassed Marine collected up his gear, ears burning from his buddies’ laughter. Less amused was his squad leader, a leather-lunged sergeant who “really chewed him out for throwing his rifle down.”[21]

When the assault squads were busy, rifle platoons had to take their share of the demolitions work. In Third Platoon’s sector, Second Lieutenant Jack Manning “could see enemy soldiers running in this huge cave entrance. It was big enough to drive a truck in. We decided to blow the entrance up and seal whatever was in there for good.”

As Manning’s men threw white phosphorous grenades for cover, the lieutenant grabbed a heavy satchel charge.

I threw that charge as far in as I could and we ran for cover. There was a tremendous blast, but when the dust settled, we had barely made a dent. The cave was still wide open. I hooked up three satchel charges together and we made another run at the cave. There was a tremendous explosion the second time and the entire inside of the cave fell in [and] doomed anyone inside.[22]

Mindful of earlier incidents, Manning and his men had no desire to poke around the scene of their triumph. Ten years later, one of the lieutenant’s friends returned to the island and investigated the cave. “The cave had been a Japanese hospital and inside they found over a hundred iron hospital beds with a skeleton on each bed,” related Manning. “[They] had the cave permanently sealed and to this day it has been undisturbed.”[23]

Jack Manning believed this was the cave his men destroyed.
Jack Manning believed this was the cave his men destroyed.

As on previous days, the order to consolidate positions came down at 1700. Since jumping off that morning, First Battalion edged forward only 100 yards, but their regiment had finally straightened out its front. For the first time, all three 1/24 rifle companies were on line together, with Company A on the left, Company B in the center, and Company C maintaining the American right flank against the water.

A platoon from Company A, Second Armored Amphibian Battalion, clanked into position behind Charlie Company for the night. The amphibious tanks, called LVTAs, were a familiar and welcome sight to 1/24. Starting on D+2, the curious-looking machines rumbled behind the lines or bobbed in the surf offshore, covering areas unreachable by naval guns and inaccessible to tanks. When confronted by an impassable strongpoint earlier in the day, one of their number lumbered into the water and simply swam around behind the obstacle, destroying two Japanese machine gun posts before calling in an air strike on the entire position.

An LVTA ashore at Iwo Jima.
An LVTA ashore at Iwo Jima.

Although vehicles were usually considered liabilities for the attention they drew–and some infiltrators did target the LVTAs that night–their presence acted as a comfort and a deterrent. Still, eleven infiltrators were killed on “the quietest [night] the companies had experienced thus far.”[24]

The Fallen

a_groote a_jbhaynes xz_nopic c_tryan

PFC
Edwin H. Groote
Age 22
Flamethrower, HQ Co.
Gunshot wounds

PFC
Johnny B. Haynes
Age 20
Rifleman, A Co.
Cause unknown
Cpl.
Carl L. McNeally
Age 23
BARman, C Co.
Cause unknown
PFC
Thomas F. Ryan, Jr.
Age 18
BARman, C Co.
Gunshot, head
WOUNDED
COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Headquarters Sgt. Joseph H. Leitch
PFC Sol Nichinson
Pvt. Thomas M. Hartigan
PhM3c DeVore B. Gordon
Demolitions
Demolitions
Demolitions
Corpsman
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Shrapnel
USS Ozark
Not Evacuated
USS Ozark
USS Solace
Able PlSgt. Sink Sizemore, Jr.
Sgt. Edward L. Stewart
Cpl. Charles M. Fischer
Cpl. Douglas B. Footit
Cpl. Robert E. Gamboa
Cpl. Ronald R. Palmer
Cpl. William A. Peck
Cpl. Leonard Yush
Pvt. Robert L. Brown, Sr.
Pvt. Fred T. Rasberry
Pvt. John J. Tierney
Platoon Sergeant
Rifle Squad Leader
Fire Team Leader
Fire Team Leader
Fire Team Leader
BARman
MG Squad Leader
Rifleman
Machine Gunner
BARman
Rifleman
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Not Evacuated
USS Berrien
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
USS Bolivar
USS Berrien
USS Berrien
USS Bolivar
LSTH-930
USS Solace
Baker PFC Donald B. Strunk Machine Gunner Fragments, buttocks & legs USS Hendry
Charlie Cpl. Kenneth E. Imhof
PFC Robert W. Graham
PFC Joseph M. Willey
Pvt. Andrew Zenn
Fire Team Leader
Machine Gunner
BARman
Rifleman
Unknown
Combat Fatigue
Gunshot, right arm
Unknown
LSV-2
USS Hendry
USS Hendry
Unknown
NON-COMBAT EVACUATION
COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Headquarters PFC Eugene Bartolacci Field Lineman Sick USS Hendry

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FOOTNOTES 

[1] Major General Clifton B. Cates, Fourth Marine Division Operations Report, IWO JIMA, 19 Feb to 16 Mar 1945 (18 May, 1945), 16. Hereafter “Division Report.”
[2] This interim objective line apparently did not exist before D+5, and was a tacit admission that the O-2 line was not going to be reached anytime soon.
[3] Division Report, 16. “VT” is operational shorthand for torpedo bombers, “VF” means fighters.
[4] This was for two reasons. To the left, the 21st Marines (Third Division) were tasked with taking Motoyama #2, requiring flank support from the 24th. And, the 24th had to straighten its own line in order to advance on O-1A with anything approaching unit cohesion.
[5] John Charles Pope Collection (AFC/2001/001/96665), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Oral history interview.
[6] Larry Smith, The Few And The Proud: Marine Corps Drill Instructors In Their Own Words (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), 30.
[7] DeVore Basil Gordon Collection (AFC/2001/001/11128), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Oral history interview.
[8] Ibid.
[9] 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 (2o April, 1945), 124. Hereafter “Final Report.”
[10] Domenick Tutalo in Larry Smith, Iwo Jima (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2008), 105.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] “PFC Domenick Tutalo” in Gail Chatfield, By Dammit, We’re Marines! (San Diego: Methvin, 2008), 82.
[14] Tutalo in Smith, Iwo Jima, 106-107.
[15] Art LaPorte, oral history interview conducted by Matthew Rozell, The Hudson Falls High School World War II Living History Project, October 1998.
[16] Robert Johnston, oral history interview conducted by the author, 6 August 2015. The saber still hangs on a wall in Johnston’s Boston home.
[17] LaPorte interview.
[18] Chris Burrell, “Randolph native recalls fight for Iwo Jima as Marine,” The Enterprise 18 Feb. 2011. His Silver Star citation seems to conflate two separate actions, as there is no record of Jeffery being wounded on D+5. The “air conditioned” helmet – painted with “Feb 20 Iwo Jima” – remained one of Harlan Jeffery’s most prized possessions for the rest of his life.
[19] Tutalo in Chatfield, 82.
[20] Robert Johnston, oral history interview, “Memories of Robert Johnston,” interviewer and date unknown, transcribed by Dick Krug. Available online.
[21] LaPorte interview.
[22] Jim Kyle, “Iwo Jima: ‘Every yard paid for in blood of Marines,'” The Baytown Sun, Baytown, Texas (22 February 1987), 8-A. Lieutenant Manning would receive the Bronze Star for this feat.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Final Report.

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