The cave-digging may be futile. The stand on Iwo may be futile. The whole war may be futile. But would you give up then? If our children can safely live for one more day, it'll be worth one more day that we defend this island.
~ General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (1923-1945) (to his troops defending Iwo Jima)
From those who fought there:
We were confronted with defenses being built for years. There were complex, subterranean levels, some two stories down. From these the defenders could approach the enemy on the surface virtually anywhere through warrens. spider holes, caves, and crevices.
~ Captain (later General) Fred Haynes
I'd known combat in the Solomons with its sly ambushes and jungle firefights, but Iwo was another kind of war. On Iwo by the eighth day, only two officers of my second battalion were standing ... We had one prisoner - unconscious, his clothes blown off.
~ Colonel Thomas M. Fields
I left some good friends there. It was a battle with no front line - all man-to-man, inch by inch.
~ Corporal Robert Hall
The enemy was nowhere and everywhere, especially at night. All around you, talking, moving. Only hand grenades you trusted, one after another.
~ Private First Class George Gentile
|A U.S. 37 mm (1.5 in) gun fires against Japanese cave |
positions in the north face of Mount Suribachi
February 19 is the anniversary of the amphibious assault by the United States Marines on Japanese-held Iwo Jima (wiki) in 1945, during the final year of World War II. Located in the Volcano Islands, 750 miles south of Tokyo, Iwo Jima was one of the final steps in Admiral Nimitz's Central Pacific "island-hopping" campaign and was attacked both to eliminate a base from which Japanese fighter aircraft could intercept Tinian-based U.S. B-29 bombers on bombing raids against Japan and to provide those bombers the protection of U.S. fighter escorts based there, plus an emergency landing site.*
After several days of naval bombardment, the initial landing involved 30,000 men of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions, and eventually 60,000 Marines were involved. The island was defended by 22,000 Japanese troops, heavily dug in. One of the key objectives was Mount Suribachi, a 554-foot peak at the southwest end of the island, and after some of the fiercest fighting of the Pacific war, it was secured on the 5th day, when photographer Joe Rosenthal took his iconic picture of the Iwo Jima flag-raising.
Nonetheless, Japanese resistance on the rest of the island remained formidable, and Iwo Jima was not declared completely taken until 26 March.** Virtually all of the Japanese defenders were killed or committed ritual suicide. American casualties totaled more that 6,800 dead and 19,000 wounded. Within six more months - following the capture of Okinawa and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war was over. General James L. Jones, 32nd Commandant of the Marine Corps, later said,
"The valor and sacrifice of the Marines and Sailors who fought on Iwo Jima is, today and forever, the standard by which we judge what we are and what we might become."
* N.B. In view of the horrendous casualties suffered on Iwo Jima, some authorities - ex post facto - have questioned this rationale. Iwo-based Japanese fighters had little earlier effect on the U.S. bombing campaign, and in the event, only ten bombing missions were flown later under the protection of Iwo-based American fighters. Moreover, relatively few subsequent real in-flight emergencies required bombers to land at Iwo Jima.
** A number of Japanese soldiers refused to surrender and hid out on the island until well after the war was over. The last two gave up on 6 January 1949.
This 9 minute documentary with rare color footage is well worth the time:
Iwo Jima vet James Scotella recounts raising of American flag:
Based on Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email. If you'd like to be added to his list, leave your email address in the comments.