Thanks to Arnold Rosen and Ray Smith of Sun City Hilton Head for sharing Ray's story of his experience on Iwo Jima.
This Friday will mark the 65th anniversary since the U.S. Marines landed on Iwo Jima late in World War II.
The volcanic island less than two hours flying time from the Japanese mainland only is five miles long and two miles wide, at the most, but in little more than a month, 26,000 Allies were killed, wounded or captured and more than 21,000 Japanese servicemen died trying to defend it. Most of the 6,800 U.S. servicemen who lost their lives in the Allied victory were Marines.
Ray Smith, 88, is from the Boston area, and moved to Sun City with his wife, Marilyn, in 1997.
Arnold Rosen shares his military story in his book, "Before It's Too Late." He wrote other local veteran profiles in his first book, "Keeping Memories Alive." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through the Web site, www.veteransprofiles.us.
Following are excerpts of an interview between Arnold and Ray.
The Battle of Iwo Jima
By Arnold Rosen
It was 65 years ago but Sun City Hilton Head resident and World War II veteran Ray Smith still can recall that fateful day when his Landing Ship Tank approached the beach at Iwo Jima five days after the Marines landed on Feb. 19, 1945. He remembered when the big engines that transported his 568th Signal Aircraft Warning Battalion rumbled to a stop and he and his buddies walked down the ramp and waded in knee-deep water until they stepped onto the volcanic ash-covered beach on Feb. 24, 1945. He was cold, wet and fatigued as he scanned the beach, which was littered with the remnants of scarred Japanese planes, trucks and corpses that floated back and forth with the tide.
Question. Were you actually a part of the invasion force?
Answer. Not as an infantryman -- but by D plus 5 all of the reserve 3rd Marine Division was on shore, fighting alongside the 4th and 5th Divisions. Our small advance unit landed shortly thereafter.
Q. Did you go into the beach on a landing ship or craft?
A. At Saipan we were loaded onto an LST for the 750-mile sail to Iwo. During the night a most unsettling sight came into view -- a brightly illuminated hospital ship with big red crosses painted on the sides, sailing south to Saipan hospitals with its precious cargo.
Q. And the LST took you right up onto the beach?
A. Almost. We landed in the late afternoon, knee-deep in water. Wrecked American ships, vehicles and equipment were everywhere. But in front of you was a long, uphill slope of loose lava granules. It was like climbing a hill with large black Grape-Nuts. On top of the ridge there were Japanese bodies and wreckage amidst pillboxes, barricades and abandoned equipment. The ground was more solid and we got into foxholes that had been used a couple of days earlier by the Marines. They were no more than shallow ditches; eventually we piled up bags filled with lava gravel for better protection.
Q. Besides the volcanic footing and general mayhem, what's your most vivid impression of your first night on Iwo Jima?
A. It was cold, damp and dark -- except the sky and terrain would be lighted up, from time to time, by parachute flares. I would hear occasional small arms fire and loud artillery blasts to the north. I was pooped and shocked by the physical and emotional events of the day. I barely slept that night. I developed a fever and shivered constantly. It was confirmed later that I had dengue fever, a mild form of malaria. Under the circumstances it was negligible and I didn't report it.
Q. Did you see any actual combat?
A. Not in the infantry or attack sense. We weren't combat troops but we were bivouacked in an area subject to enemy fire and reconnoiter action. The Japanese were good at determining and assaulting areas assigned to service troops or Air Force personnel, including our unit on two occasions. Even as the main battle line moved north on the island, the basic areas were subject to attacks and raids by left-behind pockets of enemy troops motivated by hunger, thirst or suicide.
Q. Did you lose any buddies?
A. I lost three close friends -- two on Iwo and one by suicide before we left for the States.
Q. How long did you stay on Iwo?
A. The rest of the war, actually; a total of nine months. We settled down to duties with our radar unit on top of Mount Suribachi, right near the flag site and temporary memorial.
Q. When did you leave the service?
A. I was honorably discharged in December 1945 at Fort McPherson, in Atlanta.
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