Iwo: D+7. February 26, 1945

“Three Unbelievable Days And Nights”

First Battalion In Reserve
D+7 – D+9
 

Part I: Rest and Rehabilitation

It wasn’t easy to impress Captain Fred Stott.

stott_NCHe was a man of the world. Educated at the prestigious Philips Academy and Amherst College, he knew enough history, biology, and civics to spend two years teaching before joining the service. Since earning his commission at Quantico’s Officer Candidate School, he’d added an impressive list of credentials to his record: machine gun platoon leader, an infantry-tank liaison, a rifle company executive officer, and now a company commander. He’d witnessed countless acts of bravery and earned the Navy Cross, and he’d experienced countless tragedies, losing more friends than he cared to count. He could rub shoulders with battalion commanders, or run up against them when his “Fireball” personality got the better of his tact.[1] A gifted writer, he consistently took mental notes of what he heard, saw, and experienced, in preparation for future publications.[2] He seemed to have an opinion, an explanation, or a rationalization for everything he saw – and he had seen a lot in the last two years.

Yet one brief period seemed to catch him off guard. The experience of going into reserve on Iwo Jima was, he found, simply beyond belief.

For three unbelievable days and nights, we rested in reserve. It was unbelievable because all former reserve experience on Saipan and Tinian was temporary, and we would be fortunate to remain so situated for one full day.[3]

To be in reserve was unbelievable because the preceding week had been unbelievable as well. The First Battalion, 24th Marines fought more protracted battles in more grueling climates, but a single week on Iwo dealt them casualties that were, in Corporal Alva Perry’s words, “awesome.” Almost 900 of them had landed on 19 February; today, they could count 629 men ready for duty, and of these, 31 had already been wounded, treated, and returned to duty.[4] Never had the battalion taken so many losses in so short a time. The experience was an unprecedented physical and mental trauma for which there was no quick cure.

At 0900 on 26 February, 1/24 left the blockhouses and moved to an assembly area in TA 165 E. The men knew that this respite might end at any time – it would prove to be the last they received for the duration of the battle – and they made the most of their reprieve while it lasted.

The recently vacated, pre-dug foxholes were pleasant. We were plentifully supplied with water for washing, drinking, and even shaving, and with quantities of appetizing “10 in 1” rations. We lazed around, ate, slept, ducked an occasional sniper bullet….[5]

"A quiet moment, Iwo Jima."
Exhausted Marines from 1/24 enjoy “a quiet moment” on Iwo. The man at front right is sound asleep. Photo courtesy of John C. Pope.

They dropped their gear in foxholes, shedding combat packs and webbing with sighs of relief. Habit and necessity convinced them to carry their weapons at all times; helmets were worn, aching feet remained in reeking boondockers. They cleaned weapons, then themselves, always in that order; some didn’t bother with personal care, rationalizing that they all smelled the same, anyway. A few passed out and slept, dead to the world. And the rest realized just how hungry they were.

 

Mealtime took a backseat at the front. The sights and sounds of battle robbed many of their appetites; the logistics of relieving oneself under fire led others to go hungry by choice. Then there was the monotony of the K- and C-ration menu. Cold stew, cold hash, stale biscuits, and powdered drink mix were unappetizing at the best of times, and the supplementary “dessert” – the D-ration fortified chocolate bar, known colloquially as “asshole cement” – was little better. Precious little hot food reached the foxholes; field kitchens took time to set up (and weren’t altogether safe; seven of the battalion’s cooks had already been wounded on Iwo), and while supply and mess sergeants tried their best, many of their men went hungry. “Some of the papers back home wrote about coffee and donuts sent in from the ships offshore to be served to the men at the front,” recalled John Pope. “We appreciate the thought, but how many of those donuts do you think made it up to where we were? I sure did not see one, nor did anyone else in the area where I was.” [6]

A Fourth Marine Division unit makes donuts in a makeshift kitchen on Iwo Jima. Date unknown.
Marines make donuts in a makeshift kitchen on Iwo Jima. Date unknown.

PFC Marvin Opatz recalled playing a game with his buddies in Baker Company’s mortar section: “What would you give for a glass of water with ice cubes in it? Which finger would you give up for it? What would you give for two fried eggs, sunny side up?” [7]

With the gustatory bar set to this uninspired height, any change in diet was a welcome one – so First Battalion’s chowhounds perked up when they saw the bulky, heavy cardboard boxes labeled “RATION 10 IN 1.” Initially created for tankers and mechanized infantry (the fifty-pound boxes required vehicles to transport any great distance), the “10-in-1” could feed ten men for one day, or one man for ten days. Connoisseurs of K-rations were impressed with the planned menus for breakfast, dinner, and supper – and by the variety of tinned goodies they dug from the boxes.

Boxes of 10-in-1 rations. For more detailed information, visit www.usarmymodels.com

The 10-in-1 was an immediate hit with the combat troops. “A 10-in-1 is enough to feed a whole squad,” explained Al Perry. “It was loaded with good things. My favorite was a large can of uncooked bacon.” He joined the handful of foxhole chefs learning to prepare their own meals.

Foxhole Bacon a la Perry

• Open can of bacon with a can opener or, if impatient, with a bayonet. Remove bacon and set aside.
• Flatten can into a skillet shape. (The bayonet works well for this task as well.)
• Acquire a “handful” of C4. Place the C4 in an empty C-ration can.
• Light, very gingerly, with the matches included in your 10-in-1 ration.
• Place bacon in the flattened tin skillet and place skillet over the burning C4.
• Make sure nobody knocks over your stove.
• Cook for ten minutes.

Home cookery was simple, but there was still a learning curve. “Once I tried to blow the C4 out… it increased the flame and eliminated my eyelashes and most of my eyebrows,” admitted Perry. “I found out that a little dirt would put the fire out.” [8] 

Swoyer serves up turkey and pineapple on Iwo Jima.
Captain Joe Swoyer dishes out hot food on Iwo. He described the meal as “pineapple and turkey” – where he got the ingredients is not known. USMC photo.
55
“Chow down on Iwo Jima.” These 1/24 Marines are lucky to have found boxes of coveted 10-in-1 rations. Photo courtesy John C. Pope.

Some Marines couldn’t get enough of the new rations. “The real ‘chow hounds,’ whose appetites demanded more than was provided, raided the beach supplies,” said Stott. Corporal Franklin Robbins was particularly adept at this delicate larceny. He was an artist of the quartermaster scam – he had been a quartermaster himself before learning to blow bunkers for Charlie Company – and his outstanding combat performance led officers to turn a blind eye to his various escapades. The ration stockpiles made a tempting target, and Robbins set out to see what he could find. When accosted by an MP, Robbins simply turned his back, scribbled a quick note, and presented it to the guard. “Issue two cases of ’10 in 1′ rations to the bearer,” it read. “Signed: Franklin C. Robbins.” It was a risky move, but the MP was not entirely humorless. Stott concluded his anecdote: “He got the rations without question.” [9]

Supplies of water also became more plentiful; there was never enough for bathing, but Stott noted that there was enough to wash one’s extremities and to shave. LVTs and tracked M29 “Weasel” vehicles brought up jerry cans of water, food, and PX ration boxes of cigarettes, candy, gum, and toiletries.[10] These were dumped in piles at each battalion, and the distribution was left up to the men. Toothbrushes were popular, not just for the fastidious but for cleaning weapons. “I used my toothbrush for my weapon and everything like that,” said Platoon Sergeant Mike Mervosh. “That volcanic ash got in the weapons because all that artillery fire just blows it in.” [11] 

Personal hygiene was a matter of individual preference. “I brushed my teeth once, and I shaved twice,” continued Mervosh. “I dry shaved because I wasn’t going to use my water to shave, and anyway, you don’t have time to shave…. I didn’t change my underwear, the bottoms; no way do you take your trousers off. I changed my skivvy shirt once because all I had was a change of underwear and a pair of socks so it wouldn’t take too much room in the pack…. 36 days, I manage to take my shoes off once, got rid of those socks and put the other ones on and that was the extent of it.” [12]

boxx_MGcleaning
“Marines cleaning their .30 caliber water-cooled machine gun while in reserve [for the] first [time] since D-day, 26 February 1945.” Shown are Cpl. Ottis O. Boxx and Cpl. Jack Coutts of C/1/24. USMC photo by Sgt. Nicholas Ragus.
Other Marines took advantage of their free time to write letters. “The procurement of stamps and stationery was very much appreciated by troops in the battalion,” declared the battalion’s report. V-mail forms were readily available, and since the new “free air mail” option required no stamps, a few took the time to scribble quick letters home, or to the parents of buddies killed in action. Officers shouldered much of this burden, and many mourning families received a handwritten note of condolence in addition to their Western Union telegram. Some families wrote back with thanks, and more than a few letters were returned to the sender, the recipient having been killed in action. The ninth day of the battle, 28 February, saw the arrival of incoming mail, which “was dispatched immediately to all front-line units.” [13]  This perked up the battalion’s flagging morale immensely. “It was the first time I ever read letters with shells bursting all around me,” wrote PFC Wilford M. Goode.[14]

Those who chose had the opportunity to attend Catholic or Protestant religious services.[15] In addition to soothing the soul, the antics of clergymen unaccustomed to combat provided some entertainment. John Pope related the tale of a well-meaning Navy chaplain who left the safety of his ship to venture ashore.

He would hold a brief prayer session and a sermon for whichever company happened to be in reserve at the time. We did not check our rifles at the door as we were only a short distance behind the front line. A whizzing bullet or an occasional shell passing overhead was normal for us. However, this was not something the Chaplain was accustomed to hearing while he preached, and naturally, he ducked every time it happened. This was a little embarrassing for him and was very amusing to us. We appreciated his visit and thanked him for coming, but for his sake, we were a little relieved when it was over, and he could hurry off to safer ground.[16]

img229_web
Field mass for the 24th Marines. Photo from the Austin Brunelli collection. (LtCol. Brunelli, would take command of 1/24 on 9 March 1945, labeled himself in the photo.)

Sleeping, or trying to, was the most popular activity. “You slept whenever you could,” said Private Domenick Tutalo. “Sometimes you stayed awake and sometimes somebody watched for you. You got shuteye any time you could. I can’t explain it, but it wasn’t like sleeping. You are always on alert; you are always moving.” [17]

Iwo_Sleeper_127-gr-14-93-110321_001-ac
USMC photo by Cpl. J. Schwartz.

Combat Activities

Being in reserve was restful, but one was never completely at ease. Iwo Jima is often described as a battlefield with no rear area, and for a good reason. Japanese troops hid in bypassed bunkers, waiting for a good target or for the day their food and water ran out, at which point they opened fire. General Kuribayashi’s subterranean tunnel network had countless entrances and exits; try as they might, Marine demolition teams couldn’t find and seal them all. At night, raiding parties emerged to steal supplies, kill Marines, or both. PFC William Quinn swore he could hear someone digging beneath his foxhole around the clock. “My foxhole buddy and I were deciding, when he breaks through, who’s going to drop the first grenade?” Quinn recalled. Luckily, “he never did get through.” [18]

The battalion took daily steps to counter this problem, starting with a combat patrol to the Boat Basin immediately upon arrival in the rear. After investigating some rusted Japanese barges, the patrol reported all clear. Despite this security, the danger remained. Even a mundane chore like going for water was potentially dangerous, as PFC Charles Kubicek describes:

We went down and we each picked up two five-gallon cans of water. I’m carrying a carbine, and I put it on my shoulder – of course, the thing would be sliding down. So I unbuttoned the flap [on his combat jacket], and I put the sling underneath and buttoned it down.

Now, how stupid could you be? The Japanese, they had spider traps and stuff – they could come up out of the ground from anyplace and be behind you. What would have happened if they had popped up? I couldn’t have fired a shot. I could have thrown water on ‘em maybe…. That sounds ‘rear echelon,’ but we had to get the water back, and I was having trouble keeping that rifle handy so I buttoned her down. Boy, I never did that again.[19] 

Iwo_Water_127-gr-14-90-110924_001-ac
A water resupply point on Iwo Jima. USMC photo by PFC Charles Jones.

Even without the commanding heights of Mount Suribachi, the Japanese still had enough of the high ground to direct the occasional volley of heavy artillery or the hated spigot mortars, heralded by shouts of “Screaming Jesus,” “Bubbly-Wubblies,” or other, less printable names.[20] 

Bill Quinn and his buddies had a close call courtesy of a skilled Japanese observer. They were at loose ends, with “no leadership, no communications, just sitting in these big foxholes.” One of the men, a hometown golf pro, produced a little white ball from deep within his pack. He was sitting in the biggest sand trap of his life, but still scooped out a hole, found a stick, and took a few practice putts. Suddenly, everyone wanted a turn. “We were gonna have a contest,” related Quinn. “The battle’s going on while we’re doing this. We’re seventeen, eighteen, twenty years old – what did we know?” Unfortunately, one killjoy Japanese observer spotted the tournament and sent over a dozen mortar shells. “Missed all of us, but it almost got the gunny sergeant. The Gunny was sitting in the gun position, and the mortar came right over his head, went into the embankment, but didn’t explode.” Gunny Lohff was “a little irate” and swore unspeakable vengeance if he saw the golf ball again. “We knew what he was gonna do with it!” Quinn laughed.[21] 

Of course, where there was combat, there were casualties. Shells felled a few men, sending them to the hospital with blast concussion or shrapnel wounds. A few others went down for untreated diseases, or with complications from earlier injuries. And two Able Company men lost their lives. The first was the company commander, Major William K. Stewart, who succumbed to wounds suffered on 25 February. The other was Private William W. Knicely, the company’s barber.

Although a Marine since 1939, Knicely was in combat for the first time. He had served as a cook for a Parris Island defense battalion; when his unit left for the Pacific, Knicely and a handful of others decided not to make the trip. After six months on the lam, Knicely was apprehended and charged with desertion in time of war. Whatever defense he offered failed to impress the judge, and Knicely was stripped of his rank and sentenced to several years in Portsmouth Naval Prison.

As the demand for manpower grew more pressing in the summer of 1944, someone at Headquarters hit upon the idea of offering a second chance to prisoners. Hundreds of men took the offer of parole, which was contingent on maintaining a perfect disciplinary record, and after a brief refresher course in infantry tactics were sent out to the Pacific. Bill Knicely was one of several pardoned men assigned to 1/24. All took their new oaths seriously – the alternative was an even stiffer sentence – and some, like Knicely, paid with their lives. A shell fragment fractured his skull on 28 February, and although quickly evacuated to the USS Samaritan, Knicely died of his wounds. He was buried in a military cemetery on Guam, and his record was updated to reflect his final character award: “Excellent.”

The Fallen

a_wstewart2 xz_nopic
Maj.
William K. Stewart
Age 24
Commander, A Co.
On 26 February,
of gunshot wounds, pelvis
Pvt.
William W. Knicely
Age 23
Barber, A Co.
On 28 February,
of shrapnel wounds, skull
 
WOUNDED
all suffered on 26 February
COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Able PFC Richard J. Hammill BARman Unknown Not evacuated
Baker Capt. William A. Eddy, Jr.
Pvt. Paul W. Smith
Company CO
BARman
Unknown
Gunshot, spine
Not evacuated
USS Sanborn
NON-COMBAT EVACUATION
all suffered on 26 February
COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Baker PFC Alex Klinkoski Machine Gunner Sick USS Lowndes

Reorganizing

The respite also gave the battalion a chance to reorganize. Wounded leaders needed to replacing; depleted squads and platoons required reinforcement. Unfortunately, few of the details survive for posterity. All of the battalion’s companies had lost at least one officer; NCOs led several platoons. Baker Company needed another lieutenant, so 2Lt. Charles R. Anderson, Jrjoined from Charlie on 27 February.

In addition to the inter-company shuffling, a handful of men rejoined the battalion. These Marines, wounded or sickened in the first week of battle, were treated in rear area hospitals or aboard ships and were judged well enough to return to the battalion. However, welcome as they were, they were not enough to rebuild the battalion to fighting strength.

JOINED / ATTACHED / TRANSFERRED*

Action Name From To Duty
Returned Cpl. Virgil M. McNutt Hospital A/1/24 Demolitions
Returned PlSgt. Walter S. Shamray
Cpl. Melvin J. Burzynski
Cpl. Frank H. Mitchem
Cpl. Howard W. Johnson
Cpl. Donald W. Rau
ACk. Dave L. Gonzales
PFC Stanley J. Koziol
Hospital B/1/24 Rifle NCO
Small Arms Tech
Machine Gunner
Rifle NCO
Rifle NCO
Cook
BARman
Returned Cpl. James L. Chisholm
Cpl. John Hasara, Jr.
PFC Bill Fotiades
Hospital C/1/24 BARman
BARman
BARman
Transferred 2Lt. Charles R. Anderson, Jr. C/1/24 B/1/24 Platoon Leader

Cpl. Hasara returned from hospital, and 2Lt. Anderson was transferred, on 27 February, 1945.
All other events occurred on 26 February.

Towards the end of February, groups of bewildered-looking men began reporting to the combat units. They were comparatively clean, fresh-faced children or somber older men. They bunched together or wandered out into the open. They handled their weapons without confidence or enthusiasm.

They were the replacements.

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Footnotes

[1] Sandy Stott, an excerpt from “Looking Back at War and Life: Fred Stott, ’36,” Andover Magazine, Fall 2011, 23. Digital edition. Lt. Stott evidently argued with a superior officer, telling the man he was unfit for command. He spent four days in the brig, but avoided formal charges thanks to his performance in the Marianas campaigns.
[2] Stott penned at least two works that were published during the war years: “Saipan Under Fire,” and “Ten Days on Iwo Jima,” which appeared in Leatherneck magazine.
[3] Frederic A. Stott, “Ten Days on Iwo Jima,” Leatherneck Vol. 28, No. 5 (May 1945); 18.
[4] Original landing strength, by this author’s count, was 893. Accounting for the battalion’s daily casualties is more difficult than might be expected. This article uses three main sources: individual casualty cards, battalion muster rolls, and the battalions After Action Report. As the muster rolls were compiled from the most immediate records, the author regards them as the most authoritative source for tabulating gains and losses.
[5] Stott, “Ten Days,” 18.
[6] John C. Pope, Angel On My Shoulder, Kindle edition, locations 1509-1511. Interestingly, a former Charlie Company cook named Peter Kakadelis recalled making donuts on Iwo Jima, and that the smell was so enticing that he had to have guards posted around his kitchen. Unfortunately for 1/24, Kakadelis had been transferred out of their unit, and the fruits of his labors went to his new buddies in I/3/14.
[7] Ron Bracken, “Uncommon valor: A common tribute,” in Replays (State College, PA: Nittany Printing and Publishing Company, 2003), 175.
[8] Alva Perry, “The Men Of ‘A’ Company,” 2011.
[9] Stott, “Ten Days,” 18.
[10] 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), 142. Hereafter “Final Report.” Toothbrushes, razors, and razor blades were in short supply.
[11] Mike Mervosh, oral history interview conducted by The National World War II Museum, “Oral History Part 2,” 19 March, 2008.
[12] “Sgt. Maj. Mike Mervosh, USMC (Ret.)” in Gail Chatfield, By Dammit, We’re Marines! (San Diego: Methvin, 2008), 73.
[13] Colonel Walter I. Jordan, Annex George to Fourth Marine Division Report on Iwo Jima: RCT 24 Report (20 April 1945), 32. Hereafter “Division Report.”
[14] “Pvt. Wilford Goode Wounded On Iwo,” The Miami Herald, 13 April 1945.
[15] “Division Report,” 32. “On two occasions Catholic and Protestant services were conducted for members of the landing team. On each occasion, the landing team was in a rest area and all personnel were afforded the opportunity to attend.”
[16] Pope location 1599.
[17] “PFC Domenick Tutalo” in Gail Chatfield, By Dammit, We’re Marines! (San Diego: Methvin, 2008), 82.
[18] William T. Quinn, interview conducted by the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, “Heroes of Iwo Jima: 70 Years Later,” 5 March 2015.
[19] Bill Crozier and Steve Schild, “Uncommon Valor: Three Winona Marines at Iwo Jima,” Winona Post, 25 October 2006. Online edition.
[20] Col. Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret.), “Iwo Jima: Hell With The Fire Out,” Leatherneck vol. 78, no. 2 (February 1995), 17.
[21] Quinn, oral history interview. The battalion’s AAR for 27 February notes “late in the day a few heavy enemy mortars landed nearby.” That a few shells merited reporting gives a good indication of the relative quiet.

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