IWO JIMA: World War II Veterans Remember the Greatest Battle of the Pacific.

The battle for Iwo Jima lasted five long weeks and involved three Marine Corps divisions (the lst, 3d and 5th). The amphibious assault began on the morning of Feb. 19, 1945, and by the time the island was declared secure, 36 days later, 28,686 men had died or were wounded in action, making it one of the costliest of the Pacific Island campaigns.

There were 27 Medals of Honor earned during the struggle for possession of the island. Much of the time, success of a mis­sion boiled down to one or two ordinary individuals, committing extraordinary acts of courage.
Many of the stories involved in those heroic battles have never been reported. Today, most of the Marines, who fought there and survived, have passed on. Those still living are in their 80s or 90s. Many who died took their memories of the fight with them to their graves.

However, 22 of those still living agreed to be interviewed by author Larry Smith, and their stories are told in his book “Iwo Jima: World War II Veterans Remember the Greatest Battle of the Pacific.” The result is a long overdue work—one of many that should have been written to capture the first-person recollections of those who survived this and other historic fights. A few of those who were interviewed died before this book was published.

Smith’s book also gives glimpses of the fight as seen by the enemy, through captured documents and diaries, and includes an interview with the daughter of one of the island’s defense commanders, who sur­vived the battle.
Japanese Lieutenant General Tada­mi­chi Kuribayashi, the island’s overall commander, had ordered a departure from the norm in his defense of the island. Instead of trying to defeat the landing Marines on the beaches, he organized his defenses into interlocking fields of fire and myriads of interconnecting tunnels and pillboxes, which did devastating damage to each of the divisions. Also addressed is the mystery surrounding Kuribayashi’s own demise.

The book takes a look at the controver­sy about the two flag raisings on Iwo Jima and includes an interview with Corporal Charles “Chuck” Lindberg, who helped put up the first flag. He died a few weeks after being interviewed by the author.

One chapter tells how Private First Class Samuel Tso saw the war and gives his views on the importance of his role as a Navajo Code Talker. Two Medal of Honor Marines tell their stories in modest prose, underlying the horrors and harrowing events that earned for them, the nation’s highest decoration for valor.

The real value of Smith’s book lies in the fact that the stories we read are told in the voices of those who experienced the fight. Smith does very little editing in what or how it is said. While the memories might be dimmed or distorted by the expanding years between the event and now, most of the survivors tell their tales as if the events had occurred yesterday, instead of nearly 60 years ago.

After reading Smith’s book, I recently was dining at a local restaurant. Seated nearby were two older men and their wives. Both men wore baseball caps that were monogram­med with “WW II Vet” on the bills. As I was leaving, I felt compelled to thank the men for their WW II service. They thanked me for remembering … modest men, who undoubtedly could be the chapters in another author’s book about WW II experiences. I hope their own stories will be told before they, too, pass into history.


 

IWO JIMA: World War II Veterans Remember the Greatest Battle of the Pacific.
By Larry Smith. Published by W. W. Norton & Co. Inc.
320 pages. Stock #0393062341.
$24.21 MCA Members. $26.95 Regular Price.

 

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