Remembering Iwo Jima: A 1956 Perspective

A remembrance of the Battle for Iwo Jima from Feb. 19, 1956. (Marine Corps)
A remembrance of the Battle for Iwo Jima from Feb. 19, 1956. (Marine Corps)

The following unattributed article was originally published in the Camp Lejeune Globe in 1956, on the 16th anniversary of the landing on Iwo Jima.

A great American armada lay off the ash-laden beaches of a barren piece of rock in the Western Pacific on Feb. 19, 1945. Attack Transports unloaded their precious cargoes of Marines into landing craft now forming for an assault.

Naval officers scanned the beaches and the imposing heights of Mount Suribachi, searching for any obstacles which might have remained to slow the advance of the 30,000 Marines now making their way to the ugly beaches of Iwo Jima. For 72 consecutive days, sea and air elements of one of the mightiest U.S. naval task forces in history bombarded the island.

One junior officer remarked; "I can't see how any living thing could have survived that bombardment." Meanwhile, 21,000 Japanese troops waited in bunkers, bombproofs and underground passages, and pledged again their lives in defense of the Japanese Homeland, 760 miles to the north.

An unreal silence lay over the battered island as the Marines landed on Iwo and unloaded their heavy weapons. Anxious eyes scanned the terrain of the desolate rock. To the west rose Mount Suribachi, a grim natural fortress. Ahead and to the flanks, a succession of rises, which were found later to be honeycombed with bunkers and sniper's nests.

Slowly, Marines from the 3d, 4th and 5th Divisions, 30,000 of them, began to move slowly forward and met almost instant resistance. Japanese were routed from their bunkers, only to return through underground passages to fire at the rear of advancing Marine units. Snipers clung tenaciously to well-fortified positions and had to be rooted out, one by one.

On Feb. 23, Marines fought their way to the precipice of Mount Suribachi, and raised the American flag. Joe Rosenthal's photograph of the dramatic moment was soon to become a source of inspiration to the American people, and a monument to the valor of America's Marines.

The conquest of Suribachi did not mean the end of Japanese resistance on Iwo Jima, however. For 25 more bloody days, the battle was to rage.

America could not afford to lose the island because the airstrips there would provide fighter escorts to protect American bombers from the Marianas on missions over the Japanese homeland. The Japanese could not afford to lose the island for the same reason.

The fight must be won with mortar, grenade, flame thrower and bayonet until one side or Japanese, with no means of escape, must win or die in their holes defending Iwo.

On March 16, 1945, the last of the Japanese resistance ended, possession of the Marines. Of 21,000 Japanese, all but 1,083 were killed or committed hari-kari. The Marines suffered a total of almost 20,000 casualties, with 5,000 killed. The last gateway to Tokyo had been opened.

A few months later on Aug. 6, 1945, the Enola Gay, one of hundreds of bombers operating from airstrips in the Western Pacific, circled high above Hiroshima. In Tokyo, the Japanese high command was planning to reinforce the coastal defenses of the home islands of Japan. A bombardier pressed a button in the belly of the Enola Gay, ending both resistance in Japan and World War II.

The Marines had paid a high price for Iwo, but their sacrifice made possible the early finish of a long and brutal war. On this, the 16th anniversary of their landing on Iwo Jima, we, as free Americans, owe them a debt of thanks and a moment of remembrance.

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