Iwo Jima Remembered…

 

William Leahy, USMC

“As it appeared on Locust Valley Leader, March 4, 2015. Patty Brexel of the LV Leader sent this to me,” Rosalinda Morgan, contributor.

William Leahy, at 17, enlisted in the U.S.M.C. in December, 1943. At that age, he needed parental permission to join. Eventually his mother relented and signed the form. Less than one year later the young Marine fought in what is considered the bloodiest battle the Corps has engaged in to date. In the following , Leahy vividly recalls some memories of the 36 days he spent on Iwo Jima.
In his words:

There was a war going on and I wanted to fight for our country. After boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. much to my disappointment, I was assigned to guard duty in Maryland. One day I noticed a Fleet Marine Force sign-up sheet on a bulletin board at the camp. I immediately signed my name to it. An old Marine, with previous service, a “retread” were the only Marines available for guard duty except me. He told me, “To forget it, the notice had been there forever, and no one was ever called up.”

I proved that old Marine wrong. After some advanced training at Camp Lejeune, NC, I eventually arrived in Guam in October, 1944. I was assigned to the 3rd Pioneers of the 3rd Marine Division. We shipped out and headed for an eight-square mile volcanic island called Iwo Jima, about 750 miles south of Japan. It was heavily fortified with about 22,000 Japanese soldiers and it was said to be impregnable.

We were there on the first day of the invasion, February 19, 1945. For the first 10 hours everything seemed to be going well. We were still on our transport ship, but we could hear everything that was going on through the P.A. system. Then a Kamikaze raid badly damaged one of the carriers in the fleet and forced us to head out to sea. We were just a sitting duck in the harbor.

The next day, they let down the cargo nets on our ship and down we scramble onto our landing craft. No mean task that was. Three times that day, we climbed up and down the cargo net because the artillery and wreckage made it impossible to make a beach assault.

My company, Fox company, 2nd Battalion, 21st Marines, about 240 men or so, finally hit the beach the next day. There were American bodies everywhere. I don’t think I saw a dead enemy soldier for about a week. They were all underground, dug into caves.

We were getting hit hard. We were taking a pounding. They were giving everything they had. We dug into foxholes as fast as we could. But the holes kept filling in, because the whole island was made up of very fine volcanic ash. Marines were getting hit all around me.

Then we advanced up the island, alternating between forward and reserve units. But even if you were in the reserve you could be assigned to stretcher duty, bringing in the wounded and the dead from the front lines, which in many ways was worse. A buddy of mine, Charles Thomas Lochre, from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, went out on stretcher day and I never saw him again. We lived and fought side-by-side and then he was dead. I saw the flag go up. The famous one on top of Mt. Suribachi. That hill was captured a few days after the invasion. A lot of people think that was at the end of the invasion. But we had many more rough battles ahead of us. Actually, the worst action was in the northern part of the island. That’s where the Japanese headquarters and their General were located.

Sherman tank w/ rocket launcher attachment

There were two things all the ground troops hated, tanks and rocket launchers.  And I don’t mean the Japanese tanks and rocket launchers. As soon as our tanks came in or the artillery started deploying the rocket launchers, the Japanese would zero in on us. The guys in the tanks were all zippered in but the guys on the ground really caught it.

I guess they fed us all-right, mostly cold K-rations. Once in a while, they’d manage to bring in big vacuum bottles of hot coffee up to the front if the action calmed down. Most think of the Pacific as hot and balmy. But actually it was pretty chilly, especially when it rained. Once during those 36 days, I actually got to have a hot shower. After about four weeks we were pretty “skuzzy”. Our uniforms were covered with blood from carrying out the dead and wounded. They took my dirty clothes and threw them away and gave me new ones.

Our favorite defense weapon was a bulldozer. We put some metal up around by the operator and he would raise the blade and forge ahead into the enemy lines. The Japs were all underground. They had a very intricate network of tunnels. One day my buddy, Ralphie Lane from Brooklyn, and I were clearing a cave. I don’t know how it happened but that time he went in first. I heard a scream, saw gun flash and I fired at it. I guess I hit the Jap. We pulled my buddy out and blew the cave. There were probably more of them in there. I just don’t know for sure. But Ralphie was dead, shot in the head.

They also had something called a spider trap. The enemy would buy steel, like our 55-gallon drums, in the ground, get inside, and camouflage the top, wait for a patrol to pass by and then pop out and shoot us. Well the bulldozer worked out real fine in those situations. On one sweep we captured a Japanese soldier who was in a spider trap. His legs were sticking up out of the ground. When we pulled him out he indicated that his leg was injured and he couldn’t walk, so we put him in a shelter shelf and took him back to the CP. On the way to the rear, numerous Marines wanted to shoot and kill the injured Japanese soldier. I had to fend them off on several occasions. Saving him proved worthwhile, because it turned out that the next day they gave him a radio and sent him behind the Japanese lines in an effort to get the Japanese General to surrender.

That’s about the only time you’d capture a Jap. They never gave up. I admired them. They were tenacious fighter. I didn’t hate them. They were the other team and they lost. And they lost big. Out of the estimated 22,000 Japanese soldiers on the island, we only captured 216. Some 3000 Japanese soldiers were hiding in the caves, and eventually surrendered or committed suicide. The ones that surrendered were surprised by the American’s kindness in offering cigarettes, and water. We took a very heavy hit. Of the 60,000 Marines who took part in the invasion, 6,831 were killed and 19,000 were wounded. I was one of the rarities of that battle. I was never wounded.

When the island was pretty secure, we turned it over to the Army on April 1st.
We went back to Guam to train for a planned November 1st invasion of Japan. If the Japanese fought so hard for a tiny island like Iwo Jima, what would they fight like for their own homeland? I had decided at that point that I would never make it home. Then the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan finally surrendered, on September 2, 1945. The dropping of the atomic bomb proved to be a good decision as it saved hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides.

I came home on my 20th birthday, April 22, 1946. Being in the Marine Corps was the defining point of my life. But, looking back now, it seems like a vignette from a distant past. Sort of like when I read about the Civil Was as a child and imagined what it would be like to fight in a war. I sometimes wonder if I was really there.

####################################################################################

Military Humor – 

 

 

####################################################################################

Farewell Salutes – 

Anthony Acevedo – San Bernadino, CA; US Army, WWII, ETO, Medic, POW

Jack Barnes – Tampa, FL; US Navy, WWII, PTO

Charles Crump – Emmett, ID; US Army, WWII, POW camp guard

William Derrenberger – Loudonville, OH; US Coast Guard, WWII, PTO

John Harvey – Barnum, WV; US Navy, WWII & Korea, (Ret. 20 y.)

Herbert Leake – Seattle, WA; US Army, WWII, PTO

Warwick Mentiplay – Malvern, AUS; RA Navy, WWII, HMAS Quiberon

Frederick Stokes – Rock City, CAN; WWII, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion

Millie Dunn Veasey – Raleigh, NC; US Army WAC, WWII, 6888 Central Postal Battalion

William Wheat – Montross, VA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, HQ Co./187th/11th Airborne Division

 

####################################################################################

Advertisements

About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on March 26, 2018, in First-hand Accounts, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 118 Comments.

  1. Zoals altijd een knap artikel.Proficiat

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent post gp.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Give Me Liberty and commented:
    Lest We Forget

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A real trooper! A great share!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A fine vignette of the horror of the battle on Iwo Jima.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, what a great story/read, I am definitely going to reblog this one for you, I want as many people as possible to read this!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The idea of opposing teams is so striking

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Our general humanity to the enemy often shocked them. I read that in Europe, when the jig was up, the Germans would almost run to surrender to the Canucks, Yanks or Brits, out of fear of encountering the Russians, who didn’t share that ethic.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Just astonishing. And that final paragraph…few people think about how survivors of conflicts live the rest of their lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. That Sherman appears to have been (very neatly) ‘home-made’ modifications to its armour. Sandbags to help defeat shaped charges?

    My eternal gripe: such shouldn’t be necessary~ (but when the enemy du jour springs surprises “We duz the best we can wiv wot we’ve got”.)

    Part 2 of my eternal gripe is the Purchasing Officer’s cheerful … “We got ten thousand of these bald tanks in stores! You get the new ones (with spaced armour) only AFTER they’ve all been used up! Sheesh!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can understand your point, but one must remember that the Pacific had to fight Washington for everything they got in the way of men and materiel alike. The majority of supplies went to Europe.

      Like

      • Aaah, human nature—we all have our favourites.
        And priorities—fighting a major war on two fronts is never easy, but the more I learn about the predominance of human nature the more disillusioned I become …

        Like

  11. Apart from the HUrtgen Forest, I always think the Pacific War sounds the worst of all possible wars with the heat and the cold, the mud and the misery, the things like leeches and an enemy who refused to surrender… I was puzzled at the thought of people being ‘zippered ‘ into the tanks… my father and his mates were always dreading being ‘brewed up’ in their tanks… were these tanks fireproof, and impervious to attack???

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Pacific was larger and lasted longer than Europe. The ETO received more media time and historical reference since most people related to their ancestral ties in those countries. No, nothing was impervious to attack and destruction. Thank you for coming by, Valerie and taking the time to read this article.

      Like

  12. FYEO

    Hello GP,

    Just wanted to offer you this info on a WWII vet that recently passed away in Midland, Texas. His name was Donald Wesley Troy, he was 95 when he died. My Mother knew & worked with him at Texaco headquarters from 1970 – 1976. He flew over 250 combat missions in a P-38 Mustang during WWII & later in Korea without a scratch, he was awarded every medal in the book including the Distinguished Flying Cross, but rarely spoke of his military experiences. Once you see his record I think you’ll agree, this man was the epitome of a War Hero. Maybe you could include him in your Farewell Salutes, he truly deserves to be remembered and honored. Thanks my friend.

    SEE: https://www.mrt.com/opinion/article/Column-There-was-a-lot-to-learn-from-Don-Troy-12780082.php#photo-10044278

    AND: https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/midland-tx/donald-troy-7796443

    Liked by 1 person

  13. It’s impossible to imagine a boy of 17 these days doing what this one did.
    I will not make excuses for todays youth, I seriously doubt they could shape up to what those ‘boys’ did and faced.
    War then was closer and dirtier than what now passes as war.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Nothing brings the war home like reading it from the perspective of someone who experienced it firsthand. Thanks for sharing all these personal stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Well captured reality, G. The details bring the war home in a way it rarely is. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Reblogged this on johncoyote and commented:
    Please read this powerful and worthwhile story.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you for sharing the story. Need the soldiers from the past. To remind us. War is costly and many didn’t come home. William Leahy story is powerful and worthwhile reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Was this the defining moment in the life of the Marine Corps? I’m sure a lot of people would think so.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. War is so ugly for all soldiers.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Thank you for another first hand account, GP. This was an incredible young man.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Amazing. You can’t know what it’s like unless you were there. You don’t expect to live but you do. Then it seems difficult to believe you didn’t dream it. Then your heart breaks again when you think of all the Ralphies who didn’t make it. In my dad’s case, he spent decades wondering why them and “why not me?”

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Just the thought of getting from ship to shore and the deadly threat of large enemy presence must have been daunting, if not terrifying.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I love stories like this. The eyewitness accounts from those who actually participated probably give the closest sense to what battles like this were like.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. That is one very powerful story. Especially his final words. It is remarkable how memories can become distant, and it is important for survival that they do. How could one go on living if such horrifying experiences and images stayed as vivid as they were when we experienced them?

    Liked by 1 person

  25. It is always interesting to read about war experienced by someone like William Leahy to add a personal touch to the cold statistics of the dead, the wounded and the survivors. William’s account was very touching.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Every one of these stories adds another few fascinating details. Here, it was the volcanic ash they had to dig into despite collapsing holes, the “spider traps,” and the quite amazing fact that he wasn’t wounded. For some reason, it amused me that he said the men were “zippered” into their tanks. There wasn’t a thing funny about their situation, but the metaphor certainly does raise some interesting images. Every story is different; that’s part of the fascination, and part of the reason that none of your posts seems repetitive.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. another excellent personal story.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. I think you know how much I enjoy the personal stories. You think about battles and fighting, but you don’t think about not being able to dig a hole or shower for four days while someone is trying to kill you. You don’t think about seeing the man ahead of you die.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Wow!! 17 years old!! Amazing. Plus I loved the one where doc breaks rules #1 & #2.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. What a powerful piece of writing. This turned a personal experience into something we could all imagine having to endure. For such a young man, that action on Iwo Jima must have seemed like Hell on Earth, and his closing point, that it seems he was never really there, highlights the unreal experience of close combat in a bitter war. Phew!
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Reblogged this on Rosalinda R Morgan and commented:
    Let’s not forget the sacrifice they made to have the freedom we enjoy today!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. wow, so interesting to hear it from his perspective, then, and years later –

    Liked by 1 person

  33. At 17, men of that generation had a strong sense of patriotism to fight for their country. Some were extremely lucky to survive and share their war story. Thanks for posting this piece. I appreciate it very much.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Always found those rocket launchers really scarey.

    Like

  35. I enjoyed the piece very much. War is a scary thing, so I can’t imagination what it must’ve been like for anyone on those front lines. Only, that they are all brave men and deserve to have their names remembered.

    Liked by 3 people

  36. Thank you for sharing the story. Have a safe memorial Day.

    Like

  1. Pingback: Iwo Jima Remembered… — Pacific Paratrooper – SHOWERS OF BLESSINGS COVENANT HOUSE

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 )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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 )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: