A tour of the beach from the garrison atmosphere of one end to the bloody combat of the other.
By Sgt. Bill Reed YANK Staff Correspondent
With the Marines on Iwo Jima—On D-Day- plus-8 the southeastern end of Iwo Jima had very nearly gone garrison. This had been the invasion beach—the stretch of sand running down from Motoyama Airfield No. 2 to the foot of Mount Suribachi. On D-day the road paralleling the beach had been covered with mines and tank traps. Beyond the beach were Jap machine-gun nests and snipers. And the advancing Americans headed into one of the worst mortar and artillery bombardments in Pacific warfare.
Now MPs ordered marines to police up around their foxholes; higher brass was rumored to be coming for a visit. Some junior officers already snapped Rotary Club salutes at their superiors. A brand new eight-holer had been constructed. Rear-echelon troops were going AWOL to Mount Suribachi to hunt souvenirs in the caves.
The beach was busy and confused. Ducks, amtracks, weasels, bulldozers and trucks puffed clouds of dust as they struggled from one area to another. Huge cranes looked like robot giraffes as they moved cargo from LSMs, LCMs and LSTs. Men sweated and cursed and wrangled, trying to push their freight ahead of someone else’s. An officer’s sedan on the road looked as out of place as a dowager in a bawdy house.
There was a Seabee camp on the beach, and below it bulldozers leveled the land and 10 men with shovels dug graves. A surveying crew took measurements to fix the exact resting place of each body. Behind a line of freshly dug earth were several rows of filled-in graves. Above each grave was a dog tag on a pointed stick. Later the sticks would be replaced by white crosses. A few marines passed between the rows examining the dog tags for the names of their friends.
Pallbearers carried bodies shrouded in green broadcloth to the graves and then returned for more. A lieutenant asked Pvt. John W. Conloy of Le Roy, N. Y., in charge of a pallbearer detail, for a receipt. Conloy handed him a slip of paper identifying the last body buried. “It’s too bad, but you can't even get buried without a receipt,” the lieutenant said.
To the northeast was an artillery post. The artillerymen had come in at 0300 on D-plus-1 and had fired an average of 350 rounds a day since landing. Now they were resting while Sgt. Walter T. Edwards of Lakeland, Fla., received telephoned instructions.
“The first patrol is going into a new village,” Sgt. Edwards said.
“That must be where all those geisha girls are,” said Cpl. George T. Delta of Berkeley Springs, W. Va., one of the crew members. “I hear they got 400 of them.”
There was talk about the geisha girls, and then Sgt. Edwards listened more attentively to his earphones.
"Okay, let’s go,” he shouted. The crewmen jumped to their positions. “Change the deflection right, one-three-four—fire!”
Across from the artillery post was a dump piled with boxes of D- and C-rations. Cpl. Floyd M. Barton of Sarasota, Fla., sat on a box, marking figures on a pad. He had no helmet and his face puckered in a frown of concentration that was not interrupted by the boom of the gun nearby. His job was distributing rations, and he thought Iwo Jima was a better place to distribute rations than either Saipan or Guam, where he had been before. “It’s cooler and there aren’t so many insects,” he said. The rations were picked up at his dump by trucks that carried them as far to the front as they could go. Then the boxes went the rest of the way on men’s backs.
Road traffic dwindled as you moved north. Pfc. Steve A. Trochek of Clairton, Pa., lay on his back on the bank between the road and the first airstrip, repairing a communications line. He had been in the front lines for five days as an artillery observer and was working in the rear area as a rest. The line he mended led directly to. the front where he expected to return in the morning.
Just two days before, the front lines had straddled this first airstrip, and already souvenir hunters had searched through the ruins of Jap fighter planes and bombers strewn across runways and hard stands. A grader worked on one end of the field, and bulldozers, tractors and other graders had been moved up to prepare the base for our own bombers. Pfc. Darrel J. Farmer of Broken Bow, Nebr., ran a grader he had brought in almost before the Japs moved out. He started his work under mortar and sniper fire, but it was
quieter now. “We'll have the field ready in two
days,” he told bystanders.
Farther up. Pvt. John R. Dober of Milwaukee, Wis., operated a magnetic mine detector. He was as careful with it as a housewife with a new vacuum cleaner. He had to comb over every foot of the road to make sure it was safe for the bulldozers that would follow.
A battalion aid station was set up in a clearing above where Dober was working. Corpsmen gave plasma to two marine casualties. Less than an hour had passed since they had been wounded.
In another 30 minutes they would be aboard a hospital ship.
A medical officer, just back from the forward CP, told Floyd M. Jenkins CPhM of Altus, Okla., to prepare to move the station 100 yards closer to the next ridge. "They’ve been going like hell today,” he said, “and they’re shoving off again at 1240.”
At the top of the ridge the road blended into the sandy plain. Fighting had been vicious here.
An American heavy tank lay flopped over on one side, its turret hurled 30 yards away by a land mine. The gunner, carried away by the turret, had been butchered by a jagged piece of iron. Arms, legs and bodies of other members of the crew had been twisted as badly as their tank.
Half a dozen American bodies were piled a few yards above the tank. They were covered with ponchos and shelter halves, and from beneath the covers one clenched fist jutted belligerently. American dead lay everywhere. This battlefield was so new there had been no time to clear it.
Beyond another ridge were the front-line reserve troops. They crouched in foxholes and talked quietly. They inspected their weapons and occasionally fired them to make sure they worked. They- chewed on fig bars and smoked cigarettes and pawed the dirt restlessly with their feet. Beyond them were the front lines.
Compared with the noise, bickering and confusion that surrounded the southern (garrison) end of the beach, the front lines were peaceful. On D-Day-plus-8 we were just in front of Airfield No. 2 and about 700 yards from Sandy Ridge, the last major objective on the island. The battlefield was a flat, desertlike plain with no hills, shrubbery or trees for protection, and it was dominated from the ridge by Jap machine guns, snipers and mortars.
We made headway slowly. Every yard advanced was an individual problem. It was a battle of single-man-charges from one foxhole to another. A man would crouch silently in a shelter and look across the sand to a foxhole ahead. He would watch the other men try to reach that foxhole, and he would figure the angle and range of the machine-gun and sniper fire that sputtered to stop them. After watching enough of the others advance successfully, the man would'try to make it himself. But when one marine failed, it was a psychological hazard for everyone else.
There were too many failures. There were too many marines sprawled in the dirt with caked blood on their fatigue coats.
The field was a space of great silences. There was no conversation about the war and no cursing or bickering. When a man stumbled into a foxhole, the men who were there-automatically made room for him. When he decided to leave, there was no melodramatic well-wishing. When enemy bullets dropped a man, he went down like a character in a silent picture—there were no groans or calls for help. It was a hushed pantomime of war which the sounds from machine guns, sniper fire and mortars seemed to accentuate.
Cpl. D. J. Mason, a rifleman from Lincoln Park, Mich., watched from behind a sand dune on the edge of the field. Since early morning he had been moving slowly ahead with the riflemen. He was a reconnaissance man, and it was his job to see that no unnecessary gaps occurred between his regiment and the one on its flank. Since D-Day he had been advancing yard by yard, exactly as he was advancing on D- plus-8. He figured out beforehand every dash he made between one foxhole and another. So far he had figured right. Now the vanguard patrols were beyond his range of vision and it was time to dash again.
He studied the next foxhole carefully and then he studied the ridge from which a machine gun and two snipers fired consistently at anyone who tried to reach the hole. Dirt had splattered dangerously about the feet of two corpsmen as they slid into the foxhole a moment before. A dead marine who had made the wrong calculation lay several feet to the right of the hole.
Mason rolled his tongue in his mouth as his mind worked on the problem. Then he grabbed his rifle and hurled himself toward his objective, his feet pounding out a wake of dust and ashes. As he approached the shelter the machine gun spoke sharply and the sniper’s bullet pinged over his head. Then he smashed into the hole. A moment later he crawled carefully up the embankment on the other side.
He had figured right again.