Iwo: D-Day. February 19, 1945

A Beachhead In Hell

0502. C. T. G. 53.2 assumed command of transport group BAKER.
0641. Arrived at transport area BAKER.
0644. Ordered by Commander Transport Squadron Fifteen to land the landing force.[1]

These businesslike words, entered in the logbook of the USS Hendry (APA-118) heralded the beginning of one battalion’s voyage through “Hell with the fire out” – a small volcanic island called Iwo Jima.

USS Hendry, 1945.

The First Battalion, 24th Marines was ready for this moment. For more than four months they’d hiked, dug into, or blown up countless acres of Maui. Shipboard training and landing rehearsals took another several weeks. The replacements, men who’d joined the unit after the bloody Marianas campaigns of the previous summer, had sweated through training and the effects of liberties alongside the veterans. Save for a few latecomers, they were at home in their squads, platoons, and companies. Many of the old salts carried new rank, their reward for good work in previous campaigns, and a few now held field commissions. Those who’d taken sick during the voyage were safe ashore, those who’d skipped the sailing were being chased across the hills of Hawaii, and while the companies were slightly understrength, confidence was high.[2] The battalion even had a special assault platoon, made up of volunteers from the rifle companies thoroughly trained in “executing firing problems with flame throwers, demolitions, bazookas, and small arms,” who would take out the heaviest bunkers.[3] Every day, the platoons received briefings on a relief map of the island, lectures on field sanitation and chemical warfare, learned basic first aid from the corpsmen, stood weapons inspections, and did as much physical training as they could in the cramped space aboard ship. The battalion officers drilled the ship’s small boat officers relentlessly to make sure their men would get ashore safely.[4] In all, “the men were in excellent physical condition, were well indoctrinated, and morale was at its highest level” as they gathered their equipment, took breakfast, and reveled in their assignment as reserve troops.[5] PFC Charles Kubicek, a machine gunner with the battalion’s Company B, summarized their assignment.

We were supposed to take the fat part of the “pork chop,” that was the 4th Division’s objective. I remember on board ship, they would bring out the relief maps and brief you on what your jobs were and what was going to happen, saying this was going to last about four days. All we had to do was to take this little corner and that’s going to be it because, what the heck, we got 60,000 guys hitting the beach and we got just this little corner to take. [5.1]

As the big guns thundered away and the day grew lighter, the boats containing the assault waves could be seen forming up in their proper circles, then peeling off and heading for the beach. The bombardment intensified. Support ships moved into position as flights of aircraft dropped tons of bombs and thousands of bullets. H-Hour was set for 0900; the first landing craft touched black sand at 0902.[6] The display of firepower impressed even the most seasoned Marines. “The Navy was blasting with all they had, and dive bombers were flitting overhead like angry bees,” wrote PFC John Pope of 1/24, himself a veteran of four major battles.[7]

These dramatic photographs of the D-Day bombardment were taken from a nearby attack transport, USS Sanborn. All are US Navy photographs by Lieutenant Commander Howard Whalen.

At first, there was little to do but watch the show. “The signal bridge of our transport was jammed with Marine and naval officers,” wrote battalion liaison Captain Frederic Stott.

Someone had set up a map and was penciling the moving lines. We listened to reports, and turned our glasses on the beaches where the Fourth and Fifth Marine Divisions’ leading waves were landing on a stretch of sand extending from the volcanic Suribachi north to a group of destroyed Nip supply ships rusting on the shore just below the rising ground spreading out at the northern end. We picked out the black dots which were men, and the larger spots which were tanks. The radio told of good progress in the Fifth Division sector, with indications that shortly the island would be split in two, isolating Mt. Suribachi. And it also told of flanking fire of increasing intensity driving in from both ends of the beachhead.[8]

Fourth Division officers watch the landing waves,
Fourth Division officers watch the landing waves.

Stott noticed with dismay that the division line was “inching forward, if not halted, only a couple of hundred yards in from the beach.” His stomach turned as Japanese gunners found the range. “Optimism vanished quickly when you saw a large cluster of black dots one moment, and in the next the dots were blotted out by the smoke from exploding shells,” he wrote. Good fortune changed quickly in the Fourth Division sector. The assault regiments were under heavy fire as early as 0920, and radio reports of casualties quickly outweighed news of movement. “Such reports put us to tightening gear and stomachs, for we knew our call was coming and that it would be a hurry call.”[9]

Al Perry aboard the Hendry. Photo from www.semper-fi.us
Al Perry aboard the Hendry. Photo source

Corporal Alva Perry was gazing at Iwo from over the rail of the Hendry. The veteran scout and BAR gunner knew a thing or two about the Japanese—he’d fought them in three major battles over the last year, and on his dress uniform he wore a Silver Star for breaking up a banzai attack on Saipan. He was not surprised when the Japanese batteries finally opened fire, and concluded (correctly) that the disciplined defenders were wreaking havoc on the crowded beaches. Shortly before 1100, the spectating Marines could see a handful of landing craft hustling away from the beaches. Ten minutes later, a Higgins boat was unloading her sorry cargo: eighteen bloody, shattered victims of Kuribayashi’s trap.[10]

A Marine nearby, “one of the new guys,” turned to the nineteen-year-old Perry. “What do you think?” he appealed, trying to conceal his nerves. “How long will it take to secure the island?” Perry thought about the promises of a three-day battle, a pushover campaign where the bombardment would kill every defender, where all he and his buddies had to do was walk ashore and put up a flag. He’d heard the same promises about three other islands, and he’d lost friends on each one. And there was every possibility that soon he’d be burying this new guy—or the new guy would be burying him.

“I lied,” Perry remembered decades later. “I said I thought we could take it in about one week.”[11]

Another Marine confided his fears to John Pope. “You think you are the only man on this ship scared? We are all scared!” Pope retorted. “This is my fourth landing and I’m four times as scared as you are because I know what’s coming. When adrenaline takes over you’ll get over it.”

“I can’t even remember what I’m supposed to do!” wailed the new man.

“Just do what everyone else will be doing,” snapped the prickly Georgian. “Jump into the first shell hole you come to, and if you see an enemy soldier, shoot the son of a bitch before he kills you.”[12]

Orders finally arrived for the Hendry’s boat group at 1448: BLT 1/24 was to proceed to Beach Blue 1 as quickly as possible, to support the attack of RCT 25. While not unexpected, the official word was indeed “a hurry call” as Captain Stott predicted. Marines swarmed over the deck, lining up in boat groups exactly as they’d rehearsed, preparing themselves for a hasty climb down the swaying cargo nets and into the bobbing boats below. A Japanese gunner added his own touch of realism by splashing a shell a few hundred yards from the port bow, directly on the ship’s beam. A second shell landed even closer, scattering shrapnel across the deck.[13] The ship’s CO, Captain R. C. Welles, decided he was too close in to shore—the Hendry was standing in amongst the bombardment fleet—and the loudspeaker squawked his decision to haul off to a safer distance. The Marines booed. “That meant our ride in would last longer, extending our time as targets for their shore batteries before we could fire back,” noted John Pope. “A Marine yelled in the direction of the bridge, ‘You think that little shell is something? Go with us and you’ll see lots of fireworks!’” Pope noted this bit of gallows humor was “not so heartfelt” as the traditional ribbing meted out to the sailors.[14]

The battalion’s assistant surgeon, Lieutenant (j. g.) Richards P. Lyon, marveled at the activity around him. “It was a melee as we tried to keep units together as we jumped from ladders into the whirling landing craft,” he recalled. The number of battlewagons around us was dense and hard to believe, and the firing noise constant as shells hit the island. I remember well our group… they were our corpsmen. I thought, kind of crazy to have us all together, for it would take just one hit and the greatest damage would be done.”[15] Al Perry had more immediate worries. “[As] we went down the cargo nets into the landing craft, I had all I could do to keep from falling backwards off the cargo net,” he said. “I had more than sixty pounds of gear on my back.” As his boat motored away from the Hendry, the young corporal “realized what a beautiful day it was. The sky and the water were blue, the sun was out, it was balmy.” Still, “we were going in to kill some Japs, we thought.”[16]

First Lieutenant John Murray Fox was also making his fourth combat landing. Although relatively new to his assignment as CO of the battalion’s heavy mortar “base of fire” platoon, Fox was a well-known battalion officer with a Bronze Star and a scar from a close encounter on Tinian. The lieutenant felt he was in good shape for the coming battle. Firstly, his platoon was composed mostly of veterans like himself, competent men “so well trained… they know exactly what to do and have no time to be scared.” This was especially true of his assistant, Second Lieutenant Stephen Opalenik. A hugely muscular man with a pre-war wrestling career as “Steve Brodie,” then-Sergeant Opalenik earned a reputation on Saipan with a solo mission to rescue two wounded buddies from behind enemy lines. His field commission soon followed. The platoon’s senior enlisted man, Gunnery Sergeant Jay Lohff, was just as dependable and could claim more than ten years in the service. And finally, Fox had adhered to his pre-battle ritual of stockpiling his liquor ration. Instead of using it to fill his own “special” canteen as he had in the past, Fox gathered his platoon and shared out the precious liquid. He had planned well—every man got a dose of extra courage.[17]

Platoon Sergeant Mike Mervosh was not inclined toward dramatic gestures or romanticism. “We had so many amphibious maneuvers and training, and a few of us had three battles already behind us,” he commented. “So this was more or less routine. Just another battle. The procedures were pretty well the same as far as landing craft, team assignments debarkation and station assignments.” Still, he was impressed by the shellacking inflicted on the island. “While we were coming in, [there were] 16-inchers, 12-inchers, 10-inchers, plus the artillery, rocket fire, dive bombers coming in and dropping their loads. I said, ‘Man, there’s not going to be much left when we get there, I’ve never seen so much thrown at it!’ The fact is I didn’t think there would be much of an enemy left after all that prep fire… the most I had ever seen at one time.”[18]

The Marines have landed. Lt. Cdr. Whalen’s photographs show of Beach Blue 2 – an area with which 1/24 would become uncomfortably familiar. US Navy photographs.
For the full collection, please visit World War II Database.

Surprisingly, it would seem that the actual ship-to-shore movement was just that: routine. Fifty-seven minutes passed between the initial receipt of the landing order and the departure of the last of the Hendry’s landing craft, which took up their customary circling pattern as they awaited orders. At 1612, the first wave of eight boats—four rifle platoons, two each from Baker and Charlie companies—peeled off and motored to the line of departure; the flag went down, and the trip to shore began. Succeeding waves departed at five-minute intervals.[19] The final run from the line of departure to the beach itself took only ten minutes. It was “the briefest time we had ever spend in the boats in the transition from ship to shore, and the brevity meant we were urgently needed,” recalled Stott.[20]

Iron Mike Mervosh put it more succinctly. “That’s when the defecation hit the ventilation.”[21]

Going in with A/1/24. The man at center with stenciled helmet is Corporal Lenny Yush.
Still from USCG combat film.

Every man who survived Iwo Jima remembers the moment he set foot on the island.

The black sand. Volcanic ash so soft your boondockers disappeared, that sucked at your feet so you always felt you moved in slow motion, that slid back into your foxhole as soon as you could scoop it out. The fissures in the ground that belched sulfurous smoke, a rotten egg smell that never left your nostrils. The curious warmth of the ground when one burrowed into it for shelter. Rows of men stretched out on all sides, some living, some dead, or turning in a full circle and seeing no one at all. Smashed jeeps, broached boats, blowing smoke, something on fire, burning rubber, burning gasoline, burning flesh, American or Japanese, it smelled the same. Piles of excrement marked where a man lost control of his bowels through fear, muscle spasm, or sudden death. Viscera. Blood. Discarded gear. The second you lost sight of your buddy and never saw him again. Men running to and fro, piles of supplies, sandbags, a forward aid station, ammunition dumps, a mired bulldozer. No two accounts are alike, save for one common thread. Every man describes stepping into a version of Hell he’d never believed possible, or ever saw again.

First Battalion, 24th Marines came ashore on a few hundred yards of beach over a span of thirty minutes. They were a reserve battalion, spared for now the devastating casualties of the assault troops. A few remarked at how quiet it was. They saw only a fraction of the battlefield for only a few moments, but it was enough. Their introduction to Iwo Jima.

c_parrishCpl. Johana Parrish
Squad Leader
Company C
I’ll never forget when we were on the way in. I had been promoted up to squad leader. Lieutenant Manning, a platoon leader on his first operation, says to me “What am I supposed to do?” “I’ll tell you what, if I was you I’d let the platoon sergeant handle it, you just stay with him.” “OK, I’ll remember that.” But you know what’s funny is that platoon leader, every night we’d dig in on Iwo, he was in the foxhole with me.[22]
d_popePFC John Pope
Machine Gunner
Battalion HQ
I’m sure we were the first wave ashore because there was no one in front to see when the ramp went down. As we scrambled ashore we weren’t greeted by rifle and machine gun fire as we expected. A short distance in from where we landed we saw we were at the foot of a steep terrace of soft gravelly volcanic sand. We scrambled to the top expecting to be met by a horde of soldiers with bayonets screaming “banzai”…[23]
a_perryCpl. Alva Perry
Scout
Company A
When we hit the beach the front of our boat did not go fully down and I jumped to shore and suddenly fell a sharp pain in my back and left leg—two crushed disks, I found out years later. I had to continue on, my buddies were depending on me and nothing was going to stop me. The first things I noticed were the steep terraces of volcanic ash. As we tried to run up them our feet dug down deep and we had no traction. We would take three steps and go back one.[24]
Richards Lyon.Lt. (j.g.) Richards Lyon
Assistant Surgeon
Medical Section
My men seemed to disappear as they spread out. I wandered about between vessels discharging tanks and munitions, but aware that being on the beach was a bad idea. All I remember is standing on sand at the water’s edge in the midst of landing craft and looking for someone familiar. The beached ships were trying to deliver their goods as mortar blasts chipped away, the island’s defenders having perfected their aim on the beaches. The death toll was immense, for our positions could be anticipated by the enemy, and easily “zeroed in.” Buck [Schechter] found me, grabbed me and yelled, “Doc, let’s get out of here. Follow me!”[25]
hq_schechterMaj. Irving Schechter
Operations Officer
Battalion HQ
We weren’t in the first wave, but if there was one island where that didn’t matter, it was Iwo. Once we went ashore, shells started to land all around us. One of our first men killed was a major who had always been in our rear echelon. He had reached a point where he couldn’t stand all his friends going into combat while he never got near the front lines. He actually begged for a combat command and finally got it. I don’t think he was on the beach five minutes before he was dead. I’ve never stopped thinking about that. He could have stayed aboard ship at Iwo, but he just couldn’t stand being out of things any longer. [26]
c_mervoshPlatoon Sgt. Mike Mervosh
Machine Guns
Company C
On the beach, it was all volcanic ash. Moving was so terrible even us foot Marines were ankle deep in ash. Our vehicles were bogged down to their hubcaps. The tanks and artillery pieces couldn’t move. Thank God in a way that we had volcanic ash because the artillery and mortar shells that hit that sand absorbed a lot of that shrapnel. If not, Marines would have taken it in their faces, their backs, legs and arms. In the end, volcanic ash embedded itself in our skin, faces, necks and hands, but, hell, that’s better than shrapnel.[27]
c_buzzardCpl. Glenn Buzzard
Machine Guns
Company C
My first thought was this: why the hell didn’t they know the island was this way, because of the sand and stuff like that? We wasn’t just fighting the Japanese; we were fighting the elements, the island itself, the make of the island, worse than anything else…. We landed up at the boat basin, about as far away from Suribachi as you could get, in about the third wave. Everything didn’t go according to Hoyle…. I’m not trying to take any glory from any wave. I was not in the first, but when I got there, the first wave was laying right there, waiting for us. Bodies everywhere, equipment couldn’t move. The main thing was to get out of that boat and get the hell off the beach, three hundred feet in if you could. It wasn’t any safer, with every firing mechanism pointed at that beach. Nine thousand people they said put ashore the first day…. Maybe they were conserving ammo, but I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t have blowed us clear off that beach.[28]
hq_tutaloPvt. Domenick Tutalo
Flamethrower
Demolitions Platoon
During the landing we were getting shelled as we went in on Higgins boats. There were bodies all over the place. What did I feel? Scared. You had the fear, but you didn’t have it. I think it’s a stupid thing to say it, but whatever they wanted you just did. There was no place to hide, and you have to function if you can control yourself. We got off the boats from the front and charged up the beach. There were cannons, artillery, machine guns, mortars. I’m not that good at relatin’ what went on from there. A lot of stuff I forget. I don’t know. [28.1]
b_curylo portraitPFC Edward Curylo
Scout
Intelligence Section
I finally reached the hard coral rock to walk on. I laid on that coral rock sand all night and day. Scared? Yes. There’s no way that somebody’s going to tell me they weren’t scared. When we got into the firepower, the actual fight, we weren’t exactly scared. We did what we had to do. My sergeant, in training back on Maui, he says “We’re sending you into the jaws of death, and we want you to bring back the jawbones.” And that was about it. You kill or be killed. It’s your choice. [28.2]
b_jeffreySgt. Harlan Jeffery
Squad Leader
Demolitions Platoon
We hit the beach about 3:30 in the afternoon, it was a sight one will never forget[,] dead marines everywhere. We moved up slowly under heavy mortar and artillery fire, about 50 yards to our left artillery had knocked out [two] of our tractors and about 15 yards to our right one of our light tanks knock[ed] out by a direct hit. Later we was pinned down by a Nip machine gun that was about five thirty in the evening, so we had to start digging in before it got dark. [28.3]
PFC William T. Quinn
Ammo Carrier
81mm Mortar Section
I turned around to say goodbye to the guy in the Higgins boat, and he just waved and left! So we couldn’t go back, anyhow. The ammunition cart for the 81mm mortars was quite heavy. It got stuck in the sand, so we’re told to abandon it, pick up the canisters under our arms and go. So we went to the top of the crest of the beach – now we observed the whole big show…. To the right of me was a bunch of Marines who looked like they just came out of boot camp. They’re all aiming their rifles towards the enemy… but they’re all dead. And I didn’t understand how that happened, it must have been a concussion bomb or something that got them. [28.4]

 

Looking down Beach Blue 2, significantly after D-Day.
Looking down Beach Blue 2, significantly after D-Day. This is the “steep terrace of volcanic ash” referred to above.

Hell began at the top of the terrace.

Al Perry looked out and “all I could see was dead marines. These were violent deaths, men who had their bodies cut in half, men with no legs and arms.”[29] He was looking at the remains of the Third Battalion, 25th Marines. Seventeen officers and 270 men of that gallant battalion—more than a third of its strength—had been killed or wounded since coming ashore at 0902 that morning. King Company, 25th Marines was already on its sixth CO, a captain who had begun his day as the assistant plans and training officer.[30] Lt. Col. Justice Chambers’ battalion clawed its way to the top of a ridge, but towards nightfall “it became increasingly apparent that unless relieved by a full strength unit our chances of holding the high ground against any organized assault by the enemy were exceedingly slim.”[31] Their relief was supposed to come in the form of 1/24, but Major Paul Treitel’s battalion was still sorting itself out on the beach. A runner was sent to find Major William K. Stewart, the Able Company CO, who was to move his company into line and relieve L/3/25. Stewart’s company could not be found, so Captain William Eddy’s Baker Company was dispatched in its place.

The survivors of L/3/25 occupied a dominating position on a ridge that overlooked the Blue Beaches in one direction, and the Quarry on the other. This ridge was crowned by “several gigantic concrete fortifications where the Nips had housed five-inch coast defense guns,” in the words of Captain Stott. “The tenants had been killed or driven out by the 14 and 16-inch shells which ripped gaps through solid masonry walls ten feet thick. This bare ridge above the quarry with its four destroyed pillboxes atop, was a key to the protection of the troops and supplies pouring into the Blue beach area.”[32] The objective was in sight and the orders were clear, but between the relative safety of the beachside ash terrace and the ridge was a stretch of open ground—every inch of it covered by Japanese fire. Although the skies were darkening, the defenders scarcely needed to aim. Their guns were pre-sighted, and all they had to do was pull a lanyard or a trigger.

This is the ridge first taken by L/3/25. Baker Company scaled the terrace in the foreground, and made their attack against the high ground in the rear. Visible on top are the four 120mm gun positions that were their objectives.
This is “Target Area 183WX” – the ridge first taken by L/3/25. Baker Company scaled the terrace in the foreground, and made their attack against the high ground in the rear. Visible on top are the four 120mm gun positions that were their objectives.

Accounts differ as to what happened during Baker Company’s first foray on Iwo. The battalion’s official history notes only that “after dark [“B” Company] moved into position on the high ground north of the quarry.”[33] Captain Stott recorded “almost without casualties, the rifle companies pushed up across the beach terrace in behind Chambers’ depleted lines.”[34] Yet PFC John Pope recalled a far more dramatic scene of racing for safety before the Japanese could spring their trap.[35]

We could see a row of pillboxes ahead of us, and we had to secure them before they were put to use by enemy riflemen. Their shore battery guns had already been put out of action by Navy bombers and heavy guns from the ships. In past operations we had seen pillboxes badly damaged by our navy guns, taken over by enemy riflemen and put to effective use against us even though their big guns were destroyed. But before we made it to the pillboxes they opened up and bullets began whizzing.

Men began to fall everywhere I looked. Knees buckled and they dropped; no Hollywood-type swan dive. At the same time the Japs began to lay down the most terrible shell barrage I had ever come through. To say it was raining arms and legs is not much of an exaggeration.[36]

Lieutenant Murray Fox, whose heavy mortars were deployed to support Company B, heard incoming fire and shouted for his platoon to hit the deck. Twenty shells rained down. Quick action and strong leadership were required. “Gunny!” barked the lieutenant. “Have the men drink the whiskey now!” Gunny Lohff rolled his eyes. “Fer Chrissake, they drank it before we left the ship.”[37] Miraculously, the Japanese shells caused no casualties.

One of Fox’s men, PFC William T. Quinn, was experiencing battle for the first time. After abandoning his mired ammunition cart, the young Marine from Revere, Massachusetts was struggling under the weight of his mortar rounds. “We were told ‘let’s go or we’re gonna get plastered with mortar bombs!'” he recalled. “We had these canisters [of ammunition] under our arms, and we would have been missing in action if they’d [hit] us. So we were told to take off – and we took off from bomb crater hole to bomb crater hole. I seen Marines all over in all conditions.”[37.1]

A closer view of the ridge. The blockhouses on top were mostly destroyed by naval gunfire before the battle.
A closer view of the ridge. The blockhouses on top were mostly destroyed by naval gunfire before the battle.

Baker Company’s corpsmen were busy. One bandaged the shoulder of the company’s First Sergeant Richard Murphy; despite his shrapnel wounds, Murphy ignored the sailor’s pleas to head for the beach. Corporal Harry Schueneman also refused evacuation. PFC Robert Kenfield couldn’t have stayed on the line if he’d wanted to; he was boated back to the Hendry, nursing a broken ankle. Japanese riflemen and machine gunners had worked their way back into the blasted pillboxes, Pope remembered clearing them out at hand grenade range only to discover a series of tunnels linked the positions with dugouts deep in the Japanese rear.[38] The relief of L/3/25, begun at 1845, was not completed until 2330.[39]

Meanwhile, orders caught up with Able Company, which was instructed to replace I/3/25 on the right flank of the entire Marine line. Reluctantly, Major Stewart’s men got out of their holes and started moving forward at 2030. Night had fallen and confusion reigned supreme. Corporal Al Perry, his back and left leg throbbing from his landing, got separated from his buddies. “Everything was in total chaos, there was dead and wounded everywhere, and I had to be careful where I walked,” he said of his odyssey. “I started calling out to Company ‘A’ but nobody answered.” Luckily, a familiar captain pointed Perry in the right direction, and he reached his friends in the pitch dark. As Item Company hustled to the rear, a whoosh and a tremendous explosion signaled the arrival of a “spigot mortar” – a 320mm Japanese shell unlike any the Marines had yet encountered. “Never in my life have I seen such huge explosions,” Perry related. “That explained the horrible wounds we were taking. The first night was a night in hell. Utter chaos, men screaming for corpsmen, some calling for their mothers, wounded and dead all over the place….”[40]

Mortarman Bill Quinn concurred: “It seemed we were caught in a crossfire. The mortars were coming from Suribachi… there was no getting around it.” He didn’t believe a conventional mortar could fire shells so large, and speculated that the Japanese were launching explosive-filled barrels by catapult. [40.1]

Second Lieutenant Walter Russell, in charge of Able Company’s mortar section, deployed his three 60mm tubes to cover the company front—everyone expected a banzai attack before long—but one crew was knocked out before firing a shot. An enemy shell landed squarely on their position, wounding the gunner, his assistant, and the squad leader. PFC Howard R. Pratt, a nineteen-year-old ammo carrier, ran up to help just as another barrage swept the position. Pratt threw himself across the body of a wounded buddy, taking the full, fatal blast of another nearby shell. Despite Pratt’s sacrifice, the squad was finished as a fighting unit. Ronald Bartels, John Casale, and Henry Shoenfelder would return five days later, but Richard McClanahan and Charles Ward were badly wounded and out of the war. The mortar section chief, a veteran platoon sergeant named Wilbur Plitt, was evacuated for combat fatigue.[41]

Charlie Company spread out in reserve, 200 yards behind a sector held by 2/25. Being in reserve did not guarantee safety by any standard. A demolitions team led by Corporal Franklin Robbins discovered a Japanese machine gun set up in ambush; Robbins blasted the cave shut, sealing the enemy inside. A cold rain began to fall, surprising those Marines whose combat experience was on the arid islands of the central Pacific. “The island hadn’t had rain there in years,” complained Mike Mervosh. “I think all the shelling brought the rain. We broke out our ponchos. The rain was bone chilling…. That cold rain and the incoming fire kept us awake.”[42]

Something more dangerous began raining down.

That first night we were hit with Willy Peter, white phosphorous shells from the enemy. Without those ponchos, we would have had a heck of a lot more casualties. A lot of us did become casualties because that white phosphorous comes down and hits you and goes right through your skin. As we felt those pieces falling on the ponchos we threw our ponchos up to toss them off. It burned through those ponchos, but that kind of helped.[43]

Sergeant Harlan Jeffery scribbled an entry in his diary: “They threw everything at us, shrapnel was flying pretty close over head, we just cuddled up as close as we could to mother earth praying we wouldn’t get hit. One piece came so close and made such a noise coming through the air that I thought it was an airplane crashing in my hole. That was about the longest night I ever stayed awake.” [43.1]

As midnight approached, the expectation of a banzai attack grew stronger. The attacks were simultaneously feared and welcomed; feared for the terror and casualties that always resulted, but welcomed because they always wiped out the majority of the Japanese. The battalion broke out picks and shovels as soon as they stopped, and when not ducking shellfire “we were busy filling in gaps and strengthening the defense,” wrote Captain Stott. “Jap doctrine had been known to switch, but it was our expectation that a heavy counterattack would materialize that first night as at Tinian. And if it failed to crack the fragile toehold, then, as at Peleliu, the Nips could be expected to retire to their caves and pillboxes until rooted out. We dug deeper than ever before, and the digging was easy in the sandy soil already pocked with innumerable bomb and shell craters.”[44] It was fortunate that they did, as Corporal Harry Gunther discovered that night on the midnight watch. “A little after twelve I heard a noise. Just then one of our flares lit up and I could see two men coming towards me. I did not want to shoot Marines so I yelled ‘Halt! Give the password!'” Instead of a password, Gunther heard–and felt–a grenade smack into his helmet. Fortunately, the missile bounced off and exploded harmlessly outside the foxhole.[44.5]

Several small attacks did develop around Baker Company’s position; Captain Bill Eddy personally rallied his troops to hold their line, while his wounded First Sergeant Murphy circulated among the foxholes “under the enemy’s incessant shellfire to distribute grenades among his men and encourage them to remain steadfast in the face of eminent counterattack.” “Fatally struck down shortly thereafter by hostile fire,” twenty-five-year-old Murphy was written up for a Silver Star medal.[45] PFC Eugene Andree was likewise killed outright; Corporal James Moorman and PFC Eugene Nesbit were evacuated with wounds that would prove fatal.

Why they had to hold. This view, taken from Baker Company's objective (TA 183W), shows how the defenders could hit any point on the invasion beaches from the Quarry to Suribachi-yama.
Why they had to hold. This view, taken from Baker Company’s objective (TA 183W), shows how the defenders could hit any point on the invasion beaches from the Quarry to Suribachi-yama.

Still, this was considered an isolated incident. Alva Perry and Company A weathered the spigot mortars while awaiting a counterattack that never developed, and Captain Stott remarked “Evidently we guessed wrong as to current Jap strategy, or the brilliant illumination and drumfire from the warships close offshore forced a change in strategy, for the uncertain lines were not challenged throughout the night. The small arms fire which we had expected to be unceasing in the early dawn was sporadic or non-existent, and there were no new gaps needing repair in the morning.”[46]

“All I can remember is digging my hole. No Spam or C-rations for the moment,” concluded Doc Lyons.

The sky was alive with bright, whistling shells, thundering as they hit the sand and its occupants. That is all I can remember, except a young Marine, afraid to the point of tears, who I held in my arms until we moved out, somewhere, the next morning. The night was one of fireworks, making Fourth of July celebrations since then hardly a joy.

The Fallen

a_hpratt b_rmurphy b_andree2
PFC
Howard R.
Pratt

Age 19
Mortar Ammo Carrier, A Co.
Shrapnel wounds
1Sgt.
Richard H.
Murphy

Age 25
First Sergeant, B Co.
Shrapnel wounds
  PFC
Eugene M.
Andree

Age 20
Rifleman, B Co.
Cause unknown
WOUNDED
COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Headquarters PFC Clyde W. Letcher, Jr.
PFC John W. Morrison
Pvt. Kenneth R. Cassel
Radioman
Field Lineman
Assault (Rifleman)
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Not evacuated
USS Rutland
Unknown
Able PlSgt. Wilbur E. Plitt
PFC Ronald P. Bartels
PFC John A. Casale
PFC Robert L. Glogowski
PFC Richard L. McClanahan
PFC Henry D. Schoenfelder
PFC Charles R. Ward, Jr.
Mortar Section Sgt.
Mortarman
Mortarman
BARman
Mortarman
Mortarman
Mortarman
Combat Fatigue
Fragment, right buttocks
Fragment, left side
Unknown
Shell fragment, right shoulder
Foreign body, right shoulder
Shellfire
USS Hendry
USS Hinsdale
USS Hinsdale
USS Deuel
USS Hinsdale
USS Hinsdale
USS Samaritan
Baker Cpl. James R. Moorman
Cpl. Harry R. Schueneman
PFC Robert E. Kenfield
PFC Eugene M. Nesbit
MG Squad Leader
Rifleman
Basic
BARman
Unknown (Fatal)
Unknown
Fracture, right ankle
Unknown (Fatal)
Unknown
Not Evacuated
USS Hendry
USS Ozark
Charlie Cpl. Albert Goldsborough
Cpl. Frank Papciak
Fire Team Leader
Basic
Unknown
Combat Fatigue
USS Rutland
USS Hendry

PREVIOUS DAY | MAIN PAGE | NEXT DAY


FOOTNOTES 

[1] Commanding officer, USS Hendry, “Report of Operations in the Invasion of Iwo Jima, Bonin Islands, 2/19-25/45,” (5 March, 1945), 3.
[2] 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), 113. Hereafter “Final Report.” “The rifle companies were somewhat under strength when planning and preparation for the IWO JIMA operation commenced. Headquarters Company, and the 81mm Mortar Platoon were up to strength at this time…. Each rifle company was approximately twenty (20) men under Tables of Organization strength.”
[3] Ibid., 114. There was no “assault platoon” in the current Marine Division T/O, and the existence of this unit sounds very much like an experimental idea. Volunteers were an even mix of veterans and new men; Platoon Sergeant Harry Koff organized and led the unit.
[4] Ibid., 116. Evidently the Hendry’s final landing rehearsal, which took place off Saipan on February 16, did not inspire much confidence. “Poor control by the Boat Officers” was cited as a major factor, hence the “extensive schooling” that followed. This turned out to be an excellent idea.
[5] Ibid., 117. The 24th Marines was designated as Division Reserve for the Fourth Marine Division; the 23rd and 25th would make the initial assault.
[5.1] Bill Crozier and Steve Schild, “Uncommon Valor: Three Winona Marines at Iwo Jima,” Winona Post, 25 October 2006. Online edition.
[6] Lt. Col. Whitman S. Bartley, Iwo Jima: Amphibious Epic (Historical Section: Headquarters, USMC, 1954), 53.
[7] John C. Pope, Angel On My Shoulder, Kindle edition, locations 1396-1398. “They thought they were preparing the beach for our landing,” Pope added sourly. “Actually all they were doing was rearranging the sand.”
[8] Frederic A. Stott, “Ten Days on Iwo Jima,” Leatherneck Vol. 28, No. 5 (May, 1945); 18.
[9] Ibid.
[10] USS Hendry, “Report of Operations,” 3.
[11] Alva Perry, “The Men Of ‘A’ Company,” 2011.
[12] Pope, locations 1420-1421.
[13] USS Hendry, “Report of Operations,” 3. The report notes this event as occurring at 1500 hours—fortunately, there were no casualties.
[14] Pope, location 1409.
[15] Richards P. Lyon. Personal correspondence with the author. Compiled online.
[16] Perry, “A Company.”
[17] J. Murray Fox, oral history interview conducted by Nicholas Elsbree, “Honoring our Marin Veterans,” June 22, 2011.
[18] Mike Mervosh, oral history interview conducted by The National World War II Museum, “Oral History Part 2,” March 19, 2008.
[19] Wave 2: supporting platoons and headquarters units of Baker and Charlie companies (6 boats)
Wave 3: Able Company, landing team reserve (7 boats)
Wave 4: Battalion HQ Company (6 boats)
Wave 5: Assault Platoon and 81mm Mortar Platoon (5 boats)
Call Wave Able: 1st 37mm anti-tank platoon (attached)
[20] Stott, Ten Days, 18.
[21] Mervosh, oral history interview, March 19, 2008.
[22] “Sgt. Maj. Joe Parrish, USMC (Ret.)” in Gail Chatfield, By Dammit, We’re Marines! (San Diego: Methvin, 2008), 207.
[23] Pope, locations 1427-1430.
[24] Perry, “‘A’ Company.”
[25] Lyon.
[26] Irving Schechter, “The Lawyer Who Went to War,” Semper Fi, Mac, ed. Henry Berry (New York: Harper, 1982), 224.
[27] “Sgt. Maj. Mike Mervosh, USMC (Ret.)” in Gail Chatfield, By Dammit, We’re Marines! (San Diego: Methvin, 2008), 68.
[28] Glenn Buzzard in Larry Smith, Iwo Jima (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2008), 85.
[28.1] “PFC Domenick Tutalo” in Gail Chatfield, By Dammit, We’re Marines! (San Diego: Methvin, 2008).
[28.2] Edward Curylo, oral history interview conducted by Brian Louwers, Veteran’s Oral History Project, December 4, 2013.
[28.3] Harlan Chester Jeffery, unpublished diary entry dated 19 February 1945, collection of Domenick P. Tutalo.
[28.4] William T. Quinn, interview conducted by the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, “Heroes of Iwo Jima: 70 Years Later,” 5 March 2015.
[29] Perry, “‘A’ Company.”
[30] Headquarters, Third Battalion, 25th Marines, Operation Report, Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands (1945), 2.
[31] Ibid., 3.
[32] Stott, 18.
[33] Final Report, 120.
[34] Stott, Ten Days.
[35] In his memoir, Mr. Pope occasionally combines the events of several days into a single incident, or recollects incidents in an order that does not jibe with official reports. He is certainly to be excused for any confusion: few survivors of Iwo Jima claim to accurately place events after the first several days of the battle, as they were numbed by shock, exhaustion, and wounds. The author has divided Mr. Pope’s narrative into quotations based on comparing the veteran’s words with the official record, but has no doubt that Angel On My Shoulder is written precisely as Mr. Pope remembers.
[36] Pope, locations 1435-1440. It should also be noted here, as in the Saipan narrative, that while Mr. Pope’s on-paper assignment was HQ Company, the vast majority of the names and incidents he recollects are clearly associated with Company B. The author believes Pope’s team or particular assignment caused him to be attached to Company B when in combat.
[37] Fox, oral history interview, June 22, 2011.
[37.1] Quinn, oral history interview, 2015.
[38] Pope, location 1440.
[39] Bartley, Amphibious Epic, 63.
[40] Perry, “‘A’ Company.”
[40.1] Quinn, oral history interview, 2015.
[41] Pratt received a posthumous Silver Star for his actions, the citation for which provides the only known account of this incident. However, the assignments of the men make it very likely that this was one entire squad. Bartels, a four-campaign veteran, was the gunner; Casale, who can be seen in other pictures taken on Iwo, was probably the assistant. Pratt, McClanahan, Schoenfelder, and Ward were newer men and likely carried the ammunition. Furthermore, a mortar squad leader – Corporal Bartholomew R. J. Wanagaitis – was also hit by shellfire, and died of wounds the following day. The loss of an entire squad at one fell swoop, including two of his long-time comrades, is presumably the trigger for Plitt’s combat fatigue.
[42] Mervosh in Chatfield, By Dammit, 68.
[43] Ibid.
[43.1] Harlan C. Jeffery diary.
[44] Stott, 18.
[44.5] Harry R. Gunther, letter to The Lakeside Press Retired Employee’s Club, July 2011. Much later, Gunther would quip “the Jap must’ve taken a lesson from Bob Feller.”
[45] Eddy’s actions on the night of February 19 would be mentioned in his forthcoming Navy Cross citation.
[46] Stott, 18.

7 thoughts on “Iwo: D-Day. February 19, 1945

  1. My mother’s fist husband was killed his name was Eugene Martin Nesbit. She received a telegram when my brother Mike was a little boy. God Bless him and all of the fallen.
    I marched in a small parade today in Sanford, Florida for him and all the fallen with my fellow Daughters of the American Revolution. Ladies.

  2. Thanks for your research about the battle of Iwo Jima. I’m Thomas and I come from Taiwan, Thomasbug is my nick name and Chen is my last name. I’m doing my master degree essay about battle of Iwo Jima know and I have searched relative information on the Internet for a year. It’s amazing when I found your research! My master drgree essay is focus on Clint Eastwood’s movie, then I will do something about Public History research among Eastwood’s movie and battle of Iwo Jima’s history. Although I can’t explain my perspective clearly now, I’m very appreciate that I can find your research. Actually, I think your research is true in detail because the memory of veteran is usually accurately. So I’d like to beg you that I can quote your research in my master degree essay if you allow it. I’m very apologized for my poor English that I can’t do my best interpretation in my words. Thank you!

    Chen
    ,Thomas

    1. Hi Thomas,
      Thanks very much! Please feel free to quote anything you like for your thesis – the topic sounds fascinating.. I finished mine two years ago; it’s a ton of work but worth it in the end!

      If you have any questions, you can contact me at missingmarines@gmail.com

      Cheers,
      Geoffrey

      1. For Geoffrey:
        Thank you very much for your approval that I can quote it in my essay. I will quote your research, clearly mark it at footnotes and references. Geoffrey, I plan to complete my essay four months ago, then I will try to translate my abstract in English and send one for you. I’m really appreciated for your assistance ! Good luck and all the best !

        Chen,
        Thomas

  3. Thank you for this research. My father was in the 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division. I have been trying to find supporting information to our family stories. I am confused about how I could track my father’s movements. Do you have any suggestions? My father made it until 26 Feb when he was hit by mortal shell shrapnel during the night. He survived even though his injuries devastated his body. He lost his best friend, his best buddy, who was shot in between the eyes while looking out of a shell crater or foxhole. I wish I knew his name. All I know is that he was Mexican and that he was a musician, like my father. Any help finding lists of names would help me…point me in that direction!!!

    1. Hello Lynn,

      Marine Corps muster rolls are partially indexed on Ancestry.com – if you have an account there, it’s a great place to start. They also have rosters of Marine casualties, though the information contained in those is somewhat limited. The most detailed information would be found in your father’s Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) which should be stored in the archives at St. Louis.

      If you could send me your father’s name, I can put together a basic profile and possibly put you on track to find his friend’s name. If he was a musician, he should be relatively easy to find as each regiment only had a handful of such trained men.

      Cheers,
      Geoffrey

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s