The Price of Courage: The Battle of Iwo Jima – Part Four: Head For the Hills
Two-thirds of Iwo Jima remained to be taken after the capture of Mount Suribachi. The remaining territory consisted of a large number of hills that would not be easy to capture, along with many more caves, pillboxes and bunkers.
The most fearful spot was an area known as the Meat Grinder, which included Hill 382 (named for its height in feet) and the nearby Turkey Knob. On D+6 the move northward began with the 4th Division moving on the right to face the Meat Grinder, the 5th Division to the left and parts of the 3rd Division (which came ashore on D+3) went up the middle.
For a time no real progress was made. A good example came on D+4, the day of the flag-raising on Suribachi. On that day troops of the 21st Regiment, 3rd Division were fighting for the second of the island’s three airports (one of them, Chidori, had already fallen to the Marines). Lieutenant John P. Lee, a regimental chaplain, watched the heavy fighting and reported that “they [the Americans] would get up on the airfield, then get knocked off. Then they would make it again.”
Chidori would provide the scene for the most dramatic event of the campaign since the flag-raising on Suribachi. On March 4, D+13, a crippled B-29 Superfort bomber named “Dinah Might” landed on the airstrip. The plane was soon repaired and took off its home base on Guam despite the antiaircraft fire it took. “The island has begun to function as intended. This was what the battle was all about.”
Still there was much to despair about. As one Marine said,
They send you to a place… and you get shot to hell and maybe they
pull you back. But then they send you right up again and then you
get murdered. God, you stay there until you get killed or until you
can’t stand it anymore.
Many companies had frequent changes of command due to casualties.
Kenneth Stockburger illustrated the view that no real progress was being made in recounting his actions on D+16. His flamethrower tank was sent to
burn out a large pocket. When we arrived there were many Nips
there. As we started to spray the flame, they ran in all directions.
We really had a picnic shooting and watching them all running.
We thought we had them all, but after we pulled out with our
tank, hundreds more moved right in. So we went back and
refueled, [and] we went back to the same spot. This time we
went in about fifty yards farther. The same thing took place
as when we were there the last time.
After we fired our load this time and had to back out, we threw
one of our tracks… it could be worked back on with a little
assistance. My gunner got out and was directing my driver…
I was out beside the tank guarding him with my pistol. An
infantryman stepped around the back of it [the tank], and
there was a Nip who was only about ten feet away from me,
and there is where the Nip died. It was a great surprise to me,
as he was lying in a hole and I hadn’t been able to see him
The entire battle was filled with instances of individual heroism. On D+6, during the American attack on the second airfield, the 3rd Tank Battalion, 26 Shermans strong, moved forward to the landing strip. Their commander, Major Holly H. Evans, recalled the reception given them by the Japanese on a nearby ridge: “We were hit by antitank weapons, machine gun cannon, five-inch guns, and 150-millimeter mortars, as well as mines of all descriptions. They knocked hell out of us for a while.”
The three tanks at the head of this procession were named “Ateball,” “Angel” and “Agony” by their crews. Each was hit immediately; the latter two quickly caught on fire.
As the crews of the two blazing tanks jumped out and ran cover, one crewman, Corporal William R. Adamson, was hit in the leg by machine-gun fire. He fell on his stomach and looked for the gun that shot him. He spotted an antitank gun. Cutting off a trouser leg to use as a tourniquet, he bound up his wound and crawled over the “Ateball.” Although this cannon was immobile it was still in use as an artillery piece.
“Ateball”’s driver reported that Adamson “lay right in the muzzle blast of our 75, and pointed out the antitank gun. We knocked it out.” He then sought more targets and spotted four machine gun nests at various points. Pointing them out one by one, he allowed the tank to destroy every one.
Next he saw a Japanese soldier carrying a satchel charge to put on the tank. Adamson’s directions enabled a machine gunner to shoot him down first. Finally, the wounded crewman alerted the tank to the presence of an attack party of about 30. This strike force was swiftly cut down with both the 75 and the machine gun. When a tank retriever moved “Ateball” Adamson was picked up through the escape hatch on its bottom.
As the Marines pushed on they took different hills in their path from 362A and 362B (two hills of identical height near each other) to Turkey Knob. Many paid a price for these victories. Corporal Bill Faulkner “got it in the right elbow. As I started for the rear, everybody seemed happy to see me go. They knew at least I was walking away from it.”
Not many of those hit were so fortunate. Wounded Americans were strewn across Iwo Jima. Bulldozers plowed Japanese corpses under in areas controlled by the Marines.
American dead received preferential treatment. A big truck would pull up and out would come Graves Registration, wearing rubber gloves that reached to their armpits and black rubber aprons. They placed their deceased comrades on the truck along with arms, legs, heads and other detached body parts.
These remains were taken to the cemetery of the 5th Division. Placing the corpses in rows of 50 bodies, these workers began the thankless task of identification. The first test was a print of the right index finger. If there was none, one of the two dog tags was taken (the second one was left for burial). If no dog tags could be found such means as letters, stencils on clothing, scars, tattoos, birthmarks and dental charts identified some more of them. If none of these were available either, Graves Registration made a guess based on the part of the island the body was found on, which unit the man could have come from and lists of troops missing from each unit. Many of these men could not be positively identified.
There were several other duties which were neither easy nor pleasant but were not as distasteful as Graves Registration. One such task was the searching of Japanese caves after Marines gained control of the surrounding area. Corporal Edwin Jordon went on an unapproved mission with four buddies on March 7 (D_16), his 20th birthday. The five Marines went to a cave in their spare time to
give it the once-over. We had learned beforehand that at least two
Nips were hiding in a cave halfway up a cliff. We managed to climb
up to the mouth and into the entrance.
It had been well worked-over by a flamethrower… was well-charred.
Our Navy light lit the tunnel like daylight. Another passage led off
to the left. With our pistols raised, we started in.
It was hot as hell in there, and Haynes brought the sweat down on
all of us. He had continued on through the main passage and had
almost fallen into an air vent in the middle of it. We caught up with
him and shined our light down the hole. All we could see were
sacks, bottles, and woven sleeping bags…
We found ourselves in a Jap warehouse or supply depot. All around
us were rifles, swords, flags, mines, and all sorts of war materials.
We began examining everything we could… I ran smack into the
galley. The mess gear was wet. That about cooked my goose then
and there. They Isley came out of another tunnel saying there is a
radio and a Jap up, up, up there. Rayfield started to take a look,
claiming it was just a pile of rags. I went with him…
Instead of rags, there was a Jap. He was sitting on a box with a
potato-masher [grenade] in his hands. I leveled my pistol and
let fly a round. It hit him in the belly and he let go of the grenade.
It looked like he pulled the cord…
We took off at high port but no explosion came. Then we remembered
that there were supposed to be two or more still in there and they
could be hiding in a million places. We all started to get out of there
at once, dropping everything on the way…
Lieutenant Short [company commander] gave us a good bawling-out…
then when he heard our story, he gave us permission to go back
after the other Nips, but not to blame him if we got a slug in our
Back in the cave we started yelling for them to come out. Finally they [a trio]
decided to come out, and to our surprise, fell to their knees and
seemed to be begging us not to kill them. Then two M.P.s showed
up… they were right in time to keep us from giving those three
Nips what we wanted to. They were among the first Nips to be
captured and we were told they might give out some valuable
Bob Haynes, one of the men on Jordon’s cave mission, told a story of the Marines on Iwo Jima at rest. These periods were brief but much-appreciated. Haynes and his buddies were relaxing at their bivouac area after the day’s fighting.
The victim of our joke was the only man who wasn’t resting,
Sergeant Emerson Drake. He was putting his all into the task of
mixing a large platter of cake dough. He was proud of his little
galley that he set up just after D-Day. His hands were covered
In my hand was a dummy hand grenade. The pin was out and I
stepped over and asked Drake to help me put it back in. Drake,
being an obliging fellow, didn’t hesitate to help me. Then, just as
he touched it, I let it drop on the ground…
Drake was taking off like a racehorse, trying to yell a warning, but
all he could do was whisper, “Hand grenade! Hand grenade!” In
just a few seconds Drake was at least fifty yards away in the dirt
with his hands, cake batter and all.
After everyone had stopped roaring with laughter, we gave Drake
the scoop. After his nerves settled a little, he gave out with a laugh,
then went back to work making the cake. I wonder if he put any
extra ingredients in the cake for us. Well, it was good cake
By this point in the campaign the Marines did not fear the night more than the day. Clustering together for the conclusive battles, the surviving Japanese did not conduct any more raids. The end of the struggle was near.
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Senior Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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