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World War II Names Still In Our Vocabulary Part Four - The Bloody Iwo Jima Memorial

Aug 17, 2007
The Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Virginia is the reproduction of the Joe Rosenthal photograph taken after the capture of Mount Suribachi. This was the highest point of land on Iwo Jima. The flag raising symbolized the capture of the volcanic ash island. This flag raising was the second of two such symbolic capture photographs. The first one was scarcely noticable, so the Marine commanders sent a second detail of troops up to the Suribachi summit to re-enact the first flag raising.

Although the flag was unfurled on Mount Suribachi, there would be a month's more fighting before the island was secure. The price for taking this volcanic ash island was ghastly. Of the 21,000 Japanese troops, 18,000 had died, fulfilling their loyalty to the Emperor. Only 216 were captured on the battlefield. The remainder were unaccounted for or else survived, hidden in caves until WW II had ended. By contrast, the Allied forces suffered 26,000 casualties, with nearly 7,000 dead. This was nearly one-third of all the Marine deaths in World War II.

Iwo Jima was the only large engagement of WWII in which the Allied forces suffered more casualties (dead plus injured) than their Japanese opponents. Over a quarter of the Medals of Honor awarded to Marines in World War II were given for heroism in the invasion of Iwo Jima. The Marines, both active duty and reservists, were commended with 22 Medals of Honor. An additional five Medals of Honor were bestowed upon five Navy servicemen and reservists. This total of 27 is the most ever given in a single battle to date.

General Tadimichi Kuribayashi, the Japanese Commander of Iwo Jima, was brilliant.
An aristocrat, he was educated in Canada and toured the US. In Japan, he was one of the few soldiers ever granted an audience by Emperor Hirohito. His preparations, fortifications and strategy were marvels in the history of warfare. By February 1945, the day of invasion, General Kuribayshi's counter-invasion defense plans unfolded with deadly force.
The Japanese strategy was unique for three reasons:

1. The Japanese didn't fight above ground. They fought the battle entirely from beneath the ground. They dug 1,500 rooms into the volcanic rock. These were connected with 16 miles of tunnels.
2. Japanese strategy called for "no Japanese survivors." They planned not to survive.
3. Japanese battle doctrine was for each soldier to kill 10 Americans before they themselves were killed.

In the closing days of the battle, the Marines located the cave command post of General Kuribayashi. Rather than surrender or even commit suicide, he fought until his ammunition was expended, then died in battle, just as he had foretold his wife not to expect his return.

The Japanese defenders did another thing that confused the Marine attacking force. Instead of putting up their characteristic fight at the water's edge, they dug just a little deeper to withstand the US naval bombardment. They didn't fire a single shot. The Marines began the attack in early morning, and had landed almost their initial force unopposed by 10:00 AM. Their invasion force was almost totally landed on the beaches, and was preparing to move forward. The Japanese must be somewhere on the island.

At 10:00 AM, the Marines found out where the Japanese were emplaced. From every pillbox and blockhouse and cave on the island, a deadly fire rained down upon the Marines. From that time forward, the Marines had to fight to stay alive. For a moment, the Marine commanders feared the invasion was going to fail. As they said, "Uncommon valor was a common virtue."

Long after WW II had ended, there were those that wondered if the American command might have chosen an alternative island or group of islands that lay between the Marianas and Japan. However, there was no room for alternatives. The American commanders in the Pacific were totally convinced that Iwo Jima was the only alternative to establishing a midway point.

The logic was simple. Iwo had two airfields and a third was almost ready to go. Airfield Number One had landing strips that could easily bring a stricken B-29 back to safety. Airfield Number Two could accommodate the Army Air Force P-51 long range fighter. The Army Air Force had learned a costly lesson in Europe. Sending unescorted B-17 bombers to bomb German targets meant that many B-17s would fall victim to German fighter planes.

The Japanese command was equally single minded for their role in the battle. Theirs was to dig, to fortify, to dig again, and to fortify the island. Not one square foot of ground would fall to the enemy without ten enemy Marines falling in battle. If the enemy could be stopped at Iwo Jima, the Emperor and the Japanese Islands would be spared. Neither side shrunk away from the battle. There was just too much at stake.

The Marines miscalculated on just how severe the casualty count would be to win a landing area within fighter plane range of Japan. The Japanese did not miscalculate. They could not expect no further troops or food or munitions to reach Iwo. The other islands in the Volcano or Bonin group could eventually have airfields built, but how long would it take? The Japanese stratedy was clearly to fortify Iwo to the hilt, because they knew the attack would happen there.

Had the Marines elected to trade time for casualties, there might have been 7000 fewer Marines that would have died, and there would have been no Iwo Jima Memorial. Certainly, an invasion of an alternate island such as Chichi Jima or Haha Jima in the Bonins would have left 21,000 Japanese soldiers playing gin rummy in their caves on Iwo until the war's end. When the Marines invaded Iwo in February 1945, the Manhattan Project that produced the atomic bomb was virtually completed. The US Pacific Command could thus have avoided the bloody battles fought at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

From atop the flagstaff of the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Stars and Stripes proudly flies The Iwo Jima Memorial draws thousands of visitors each year from all over the world. Many of these visitors were not even born when the bloody battle of Iwo took place. Only in a presently released movie is the story of the battle unfolded. From what I have been told, the movie spares nothing in graphically depicting the horror of three U.S. Marine Divisions going against General Kuribyashi's elite Japanese force committed to dying in place. I was invited to watch the movie, but I've declined the invitation. Maybe I'm getting too old for things like that.
About the Author
Bob Carper is a veteran consultant in information systems He holds a a MBA from Pitt. For additional information go to
http://www.secure-webconference.citymax.com. His blogsite is http://www.html-secrets.net/blog. You may also contact him at robertcarper06@comcast,net
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