A Personal Story – Iwo Jima

We had practiced and drilled and prepared for months. We were not told what we were doing, where we were going, where we might die. We were told that we would be told when we needed to know. Until then just do as you are told. Do what you are told, how you are told, when you were told to do it. We did not question the situation – we had been attacked and we were mad. All we knew is we were attacking Japanese positions. Japan had brought the war to us – we were now bringing it back to them.

We trained with LST (Landing Ship, Tank) that were parked in a field. We would load into them and they would raise the ramp. Then the ramp would be dropped and we would rush out simulating firing our weapons and taking up defensive positions. On command from Officers and NCOs, we would move forward in a coordinated dance, we would cover each other as the other moved forwarded and set up to cover the next as they moved forward. We would do this until a whistle would sound and then we would recover and fall into formation. We would be critiqued about what we did right and what needed improvement. It was relentless in that it seemed everything always needed improvement. Often we would also clean our weapons. They had not been fired but we were expected to be able to clean them with our eyes closed.

Some of the guys grumbled about the constant criticism – others realized nearly all the Officers and NCOs had seen battle and lived to teach us – maybe we should listen to them. After a short break – the orders would be given to reload back into the LSTs. Although designed to have a wide door that would provide a ramp for tanks, jeeps and other vehicles to use to reach a beach head, the Marines, and I guess the Army also, figured they would work great for launching a platoon of men at once onto the offensive. Seemed logical and seemed to work. I guess sometimes the military does get it right.

Once back in the LSTs we would repeat the drill of loading, exiting and advancing on our objectives. We might do this 3 or 4 times in a morning.

After a lunch break, we would head for the rope ladder towers. The rope ladder towers had the heavy rope ladders up one side that we had to climb – then swing over the top and climb back down the other side. While carrying weapons and ammo packs. In order to get from transport ships into the LSTs, rope ladders would be throw over the side of the ship and we would have to climb down into the LSTs beside the ship. A rope ladder is very unstable anyway but when the ladder is more like a big net with around 10 men in a row climbing on them and another row above them and more climbing down at the same time – it is an accident waiting to happen. Since the ships would be under enemy fire – the faster the detail made it down into the LST the better. Thus it was not a casual, climb down and when you are down the next guy comes. No – we would go over the side of ship 8 to 10 at a time and just as soon as the first row was below the edge, the next ones where swinging their feet over to start down. If you were slow – you were going to get kicked in the head or have a hand stepped on. Did I mention that it was an accident waiting to happen? Yea. Numerous guys fell and broke arms and legs training on the towers. Many fingers where broken or dislocated from being stepped on. On the bright side, if you fell here, you landed in sand. You do it on the ship – you land in the water and could be either drowned or crushed between the LST and the ship as they pitched back and forth in the seas.

These drills lasted for weeks. Other portions of other days were occupied with close order drills (marching in formations), weapons training, weapons cleaning, more weapons cleaning, military strategies, physical fitness – aka exercising, and weapons cleaning. The Marines were obsessed with weapons cleaning.

Finally we were given orders and started packing up. We traveled by truck to a rail station and then a day rail ride and then we marched the last couple miles to the waiting ships. The time on the ships was horrible – in our limited experience – because we were so crammed on them that there was no room to move around. We were restricted to our berthing (bed/sleeping) areas except we were allowed in rotation to go top side to smoke and see the ocean. After two days the seas looked the same. You still could not wait to get back up there just to get out of the cramped quarters. Then a meal and then back to the bunks.

Finally, the junior officers were called to command briefings. They then summoned Senior NCOs who after being briefed – passed on the info to the lower NCOs who let us know our objective: Iwo Jima!

The next couple of days were a blur of excitement – of fear – of anticipation – of dread. We were briefed on individual platoon assignments. We cleaned our weapons. We discussed situations. We cleaned our weapons. We reviewed battle plans. We cleaned our weapons. I mentioned the Marines were obsessed with weapons cleaning didn’t I?

Finally we were ordered to bed and lights out. Anyone caught talking or anything – was facing serious punishment. They wanted us rested for the fight ahead of us. Suddenly with lights bright and alarms sounding – we were awaken and started the orderly progression of moving toward the railings. A plan had been devised to move us systemically from our berths to the offloading – the rope ladders. In the distance we could hear the heavy roar from Navy ships bombarding the island. Less obvious over the roar of everything else was lighter booms from tanks and artillery already landed. We were part of the 2nd wave. The fight was going on hard and we were going in as replacements and re-enforcements.

Over the side the ship we went. Our LST, once loaded, backed away from the transport ship and headed ashore. The ride was anything but smooth. We bobbed up and down and left and right all at the same time. What kept us from falling over was the fact that we were standing shoulder to shoulder, chest to back and packed in like sardines. The Marines knew exactly how many could fit in an LST and that number was achieved every time – no wasted space. As we neared shore we could hear the bullets being fired by the Japanese soldiers as they hit the LSTs. The drivers of the LST were the most exposed and the Japanese sharp shooters knew that taking out a driver could affect the entire LST landing. Plus since we were coming in side by side and one after another – the right shot might take out several landing crafts. The Japanese also knew that once the LST hit the beach, the ramp would come down and the Marines would come pouring off. Thus – they started firing at the ramp as soon as the LST was cresting the beach.

I was in row 1 – next to the ramp. The ramp started coming down, we knew we were sitting targets and wanted out as fast as we could. We started to push forward even before the ramp was all the way down. As I stepped forward – the guy to my my left moved backward. No, not because of fear – he had taken a round in the chest and driven backwards by the impact. He died instantly. There was nothing I could do for him – I rushed ashore.

A few days later – while still supporting advancing troops, I heard a collective cheer and turned to look as US Marines were raising a USA Flag over Mount Suribachi. After a few minutes of pride – we returned to the battle. It would rage on for another month.

I often thought about the Marine – his name long forgotten – who died next to me, having given his life before being given the chance to fire his weapon in defense of his homeland. When we enlisted, we did not know where we were going. When we trained, we did not know were we would fight. When we disembarked we did not know if we would live. Many did not. Others did. Some were only lightly wounded. Others would carry scars to their graves.

As Per Ancil Albert Carter
LCpl, US Marine Corps

Transcribed from stories pieced together over several years.

John Carter

John Carter

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