The grinding battle of Iwo Jima continues

 D plus 3 day. Because of rapid advance made this morning by 1st Bn, 26th Marines, many Jap pillboxes and snipers were harassing troops. Photo’s of men moving near airfield.
D plus 3 day. Because of rapid advance made this morning by 1st Bn, 26th Marines, many Jap pillboxes and snipers were harassing troops. Photo’s of men moving near airfield.

The battle for Iwo Jima continued as intensely as ever. The American objective to split the Japanese forces in two had still not been achieved, even though Naval ships had come close inshore to provide supporting fire when the Japanese bunkers were identified.

Jim Craig was a platoon commander with the Marines on Iwo Jima. In the 28 days on the island his platoon of 41 men would receive 19 replacements, out of the total of 60 men who served in the platoon, 20 were killed and 30 were evacuated wounded. Although not a true first person account, this is the story as related directly by Craig to his nephew, and gives a graphic understanding of the nature of the battle:

Jim’s primary job as leader of 1st Platoon was to lead his men as they advanced toward the day’s objective. At first they advanced slowly and cautiously, ready to dive for cover the moment the Japanese started shooting. They seldom saw a Japanese soldier shoot at them.

As they advanced across the rugged terrain, they suddenly came under an intense mortar barrage. They all hit the deck and crawled to the nearest cover. Jim and five of his men dove into a large shell hole while mortar shells landed all around them. The noise was deafening as one round after another pounded into their position. Fortunately, the soft volcanic ash attenuated the round’s blast effect. Still, the concussion was tremendous.

The Marines instinctively covered their helmets and ducked their heads as sand and dirt rained down on them from close hits. The sound of deadly shrapnel zinging overhead was unmistakable. Anybody unfortunate enough to be caught in the open was killed immediately or he received mutilating wounds.

If one of these shells landed next to a Marine, he might simply disintegrate in the blast. Later, bits and pieces of human flesh and bone and the odd piece of uniform or boot might be found, but sometimes nothing was left by which the body could be identified for burial. In some cases the coffin ofa dead Marine shipped home to the family was empty — there was simply nothing left to send home.

The barrage was so intense that Jim was forced to concede the ground, and he yelled to his men that they were pulling back. The mortar fire would have to be silenced one way or another before they could move forward. The best way to get his men safely out was to order them back in pairs between salvos. After the next salvo landed, he turned to the two nearest men in the hole with him and yelled, “Go.”

When they were safely away he waited for the next salvo. When it landed, he immediately pointed to the next two and yelled, “Go.” They jumped out of the shell hole and started to run. They had gone only about ten feet when the next salvo landed near them.

Jim and the remaining Marine huddled in the shell hole and waited for the next salvo and then they, too, got up to run back. As he ran from the hole he nearly stepped on what was left of the body of one of the two men who had left before he had. Its head, left arm, and the entire left side of its torso had been blown off; they were simply gone. Blood and shreds of tissue were scattered all around.

For the most part Jim was able to maintain a detached, stoic attitude over the loss of his men. Naturally, it grieved him to lose any of his men, but he had to keep his emotions in check for the sake of the men still in the fight. If they saw their platoon leader start to lose it, they, too, would be adversely affected.

On the surface he might appear to be cold and callous toward the death of one ofhis men, but he had to be. The rest of the platoon depended on him to keep his cool. He was their leader, and one of the best ways to lead is by example. Even with the obscene mutilation of the Marine’s body, Jim had to put aside his emotions and revulsion and carry on with what had to be done.

The battle did not allow him time to mourn. He still had a job to do that required his full attention. The horrible way in which the Marine had died shocked Jim. He leaned up against the side of rock and sat there, unmoving. His men noticed that he appeared to be in a daze. Sergeant Darnell, concerned by this uncharac- teristic behavior, radioed the situation back to Company CP. After a minute or two, Jim seemed to snap out of his catatonia. Darnell noticed this and radioed back, “He’s okay now.”

Jim got up and yelled over to Darnell to have some stretcher bearers brought up to collect the body.

The second Marine lay on the ground with blood oozing from his back. Miraculously, he had survived the blast. It had blown him about ten yards from Jim’s shell hole, and shrapnel had peppered his back, but he was still alive. One man dragged him back to the shell hole. After another salvo landed, they got out and quickly carried him back to safety.

A stretcher was brought up, and the wounded Marine was taken back to Battalion where he received medical care. He survived his wounds and was soon evacuated to the offshore hospital ship where he received definitive care.

Later, another stretcher was sent up to the front to retrieve the dead Marine’s body.

The Marines took care of their own. Every effort was made to get the dead and wounded off the front lines as soon as possible, even at the risk to others. With rare exceptions they never left a wounded man for more than a few hours. It was part of the Marine psyche. They simply would not leave one of their own out on the battlefield to fend for himself.

See The Last Lieutenant: A Foxhole View of the Epic Battle for Iwo Jima This book presents Jim Craig’s story, as told to his nephew, John C. Shively.

Battle at the foot of Mount Suribachi on D-Day plus three.
Battle at the foot of Mount Suribachi on D-Day plus three.

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