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Dr. George Gentile, Newington, Connecticut, May 29, 1921 - Oct. 7, 2003
George Gentile, founder and president of the National Iwo Jima Survivors’
Association, passed away at his home in Newington, Connecticut on Oct. 7,
2003. He is survived by his wife, Winifred, and daughters -- Bethanne,
Susan and Julia.
Born in New Britain, Connecticut on May 29, 1921, Dr. Gentile enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942 while in his second year of college, soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Initially placed in the Marine Corps Reserve, he later completed boot camp at Parris Island, SC and advanced training at Camp Lejeune, NC. In late 1944, he was sent to the West Coast by troop train with the 30th Replacement Battalion. At San Diego, the unit was loaded onto ships and transported to the Island of Maui, in the Territory of Hawaii, to train with 4th Marine Division. Dr. Gentile spent the first few days at Iwo Jima helping transport troops and fuel to the beach. The third day, casualties were so high, he went ashore at Blue Beach as an infantry rifleman as part of a platoon of replacements with C Co., 1st Battalion, 25th Marines.
Unwounded after weeks of heavy fighting, Dr. Gentile helped to “mop up” the surviving Japanese, clearing them from caves and sniper positions. When he and his fellow Marines finally made it back to the beach to await transport back out to the ships, they found a stack of New York Daily News newspapers on the beach. On the front page, they saw Joe Rosenthal’s photo of the second flag-raising atop Mount Suribachi, taken on Feb. 23, 1945, and began to realize the historical impact of the flag-raising and the Iwo Jima victory.
After the long ship voyage back to Hawaii, Dr. Gentile and the other 4th Marine Division returnees enjoyed the huge welcome given them by the people of Maui, then began to train for the battle against the Japanese home islands. When the armistice was signed that September, Dr. Gentile was assigned duty with 7th Military Police Battalion on Guam, guarding supply ships and rounding up the remaining Japanese snipers on the island.
Honorably discharged in April 1946 with the rank of Corporal, Dr. Gentile completed his degree at Niagara University (1947) and another at Georgetown University (Doctor of Dental Surgery, 1950). He practiced dentistry in New Britain, Connecticut for 38 years, and was very active in his community and numerous organizations.
In 1987, Dr. Gentile attended an Iwo Jima Survivors Reunion. Realizing that many battle veterans were still living, he formed the Iwo Jima Survivors Association and served the rest of his life as the association’s only president. On Feb. 23, 1995, the 50th anniversary of the two flag raisings on Iwo Jima, the Association unveiled and dedicated the National Iwo Jima Memorial Monument in Newington, Connecticut.
When Dr. Gentile attended the 4th Marine Division reunion in San Diego in 1996, he met Alice and Sefton (“Bee”) Clark of Kamuela, Hawaii. Alice was then Chair of the Camp Tarawa Historical Association, a Hawaii-chartered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose primary goal was to raise money for a memorial on the Big Island of Hawaii. She and Bee were spearheading the effort to create a memorial to honor the 2nd and 5th Marine Divisions and the 5th Amphibious Corps. (All three units -- some 50,000 men -- trained at “Camp Tarawa” aboard Parker Ranch during World War II.)
Dr. Gentile shared with the Clarks that Marines of the 4th Marine Division had also trained in Hawaii during World War II, at “Camp Maui” on the Island of Maui. He asked them for their support of his group’s desire to place an Iwo Jima memorial in Hawaii to be shared with the world. The Hawaii memorial would duplicate the one his national organization had put up in Connecticut. More importantly, it could be cast from the same molds.
The Clarks soon organized another non-profit organization, “The Pacific War Memorial Association,” to raise funds for the replica monument and to find an appropriate location for it here on Oahu. (They also continued their work on the Big Island, bringing the Camp Tarawa Monument into existence and seeing it dedicated in 1998.)
The end result of Dr. Gentile’s dream and the Clarks’ tireless efforts is the Pacific War Memorial that now stands aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay. Dr. Gentile was present to witness the dedication of the memorial on March 16, 2002. Several of those whose hands had helped to shape the original molds for the bronze, cut or inscribe the granite, prepare the site, place the stones beneath the feet of the flag-raisers, arrange the bricks in the “Walkway of Honor” to honor individual service members and complete the landscaping were also present.
The Pacific War Memorial reflects in bronze the famous (second) flag-raising on Iwo Jima. Photos and words etched into the granite base reflect the history associated with jointness of effort and Hawaii’s role in preparing those who would participate in the Battle of Iwo Jima.
The memorial is a tribute to all who have served and continue to serve our great nation. It also honors residents who have supported and continue to support the military in Hawaii.
Dr. Gentile’s oral history is just one of hundreds of histories collected to date by the Pacific War Memorial Association. Additional histories, oral and written, of veterans who served here in Hawaii are still being collected. If you wish to write down your recollections or record them on audio tape, please mail them to: The Pacific War Memorial Association, P.O. Box 1761, Honolulu, HI 96806. More information is also available from this address.
The PWMA website, which showcases photographs of the memorial, the Walkway of Honor and the individual bricks, is at www.pacificwarmemorial.org.
For those interested, brick orders for the Walkway of Honor have been reopened, in response to numerous requests. If you would like additional information, you may visit the PWMA website or call Alice Clark, PWMA Chairperson, at (808) 533-3759.
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Dr Gentile's Personal History
I was born in New Britain, Connecticut on May 29, 1921. New Britain was a factory town, in fact, it was named “the hardware city of the world.” They made a lot of hardware, machinery, built machines, and crafted ball bearings. So I was brought up in the Depression, when the economy of the area, the factories, were hardly operating, skeleton staffs because of the poor economic conditions. Many people in the city were on welfare because there was no work. As I grew up, living through the Depression, and reached my high school age, I went to New Britain High School and I played football. Football took up my whole life: I slept, ate, drank football. I can remember wanting some day to become a football coach. I graduated from New Britain High School in 1939.
We were just coming out of the Depression, the war in Europe had gotten our factories going again because we were lending and leasing materials to our allies over there in Europe, England. The factory started to pick up after I got out of high school. I always wanted to go to college, but because of not having any money, my family wasn’t that well off at the time. My father had lost his little grocery store business in the Depression. But I was able to get a job at the factory, the ball bearing plant in New Britain. They gave me the shift from 5:00 in the evening to 5:00 in the morning. I did that for quite a few months. I began to realize that this was nothing I wanted to do all my life.
I had to go to college so I applied at Niagara University in New York State. It was a small but excellent school. It was administered by the Vincentian fathers of the Catholic Church. The tuition was very low. The room and board was very low because the faculty was made up mostly of priests. The nuns cooked the food for us, and did our laundry for us. I was able to matriculate there at very low cost. I had saved enough for one semester, I think it was. In September of 1940, I entered Niagara University, and the first few months there I had a bad case of homesickness, it was the first time I’d been away from home. So I didn’t go out for football, and didn’t get into athletics too much until my second and third years at Niagara. I was taking a premed course so I had a lot of science courses, a lot of studying to be done. It seemed to work out okay in the long run; it was just those first few months that I found very difficult.
December 7, 1941, we were in a classroom, I and two other colleagues there at the university, and we were studying for an exam the following day. We had a little portable radio on in the study room and we heard the announcement that Pearl Harbor had been bombed and attacked. Most of us weren’t too sure just where Pearl Harbor was. We knew through the radio report that I was in Hawaii, but not many of us had ever heard of Pearl Harbor before. As the day wore on, and the news articles kept coming in, we realized this was a serious matter and that we were going to war. It wasn’t too long before we were realizing that we may have to end up in the service.
The following day, the announcement that we had declared war, when President Roosevelt got on the radio and announced that we were at war with Japan, then we began to realize that we were definitely going to be drafted, or we were going to have to enlist. Most of us, at that point, were so disturbed by what had happened that the next day most us were talking about enlisting, even though we were in college. So your future completely changed because you knew if you enlisted that would interrupt your college education and so that there was a lot of serious talk going on as to which service to enlist in, or wait to be drafted. We had R.O.T.C. there at the university so it was compulsory to take R.O.T.C., which is the best thing in the world that ever happened. I think for the whole country, there were so many students in the colleges that were taking reserve officers training corps training, that it was a real help to our country when they needed officers, most of them had basic training through R.O.T.C. So R.O.T.C. kind of prepared us for World War II.
But the thing that really prepared us was the Depression. We had become accustomed to making do with whatever we had, we had become accustomed to transitions that came in our lifetime because of our families losing businesses, and being out of work. We had to really downgrade what we had and what we were able to do. We didn’t have a car, we couldn’t afford one, and I came from a family of seven, so to feed us and clothe us was an awful problem for my mother and my father. We ware used to going without. I think this prepared us tremendously for being in the service where you had to go without and you had to adjust. When we were young and growing up, we had to adjust to these serious changes in our lifestyle and what we could do and what we couldn’t do. I think that was another advantage that our country had, that we had been through the Depression. Of course other countries had been through it too. But we had ourselves really adjusted to change, and having to go through difficult situations.
So when the war started, and we went to war against Japan, most of us within days enlisted. I can remember because of my premed education that we were in a situation where the government would maybe let us stay in school so they could have sufficient doctors, and wouldn’t take us into the service until we had finished our education and then go into the military as physicians or dentists, or whatever medical field we happened to go into. So I was really “gung-ho”, I was a young idealist and I decided I was going into the Marine Corps. Some of my friends were going into the Marine Corps; a lot of athletes were going into the Marine Corps. I decided I would enlist in the Marine Corps and interrupt my premedical education. I wanted to go into the infantry – I didn’t want to go into the medical corps. I wanted to go into the infantry so I could be somewhere where I could fight, and learn the things that a Marine is known for doing. In early April, I finally found out what the government intended to do with us – it took that long to finally find out which direction we were going to be going in. I decided to enlist in the Marine Corps and there was a group of us who had decided about that time. We had to go to Buffalo to enlist – it was the nearest enlistment office; it was about 35 of 40 miles to Buffalo from Niagara University. We hitchhiked to Buffalo – we didn’t have enough money to take a bus or train to Buffalo. When we got to Buffalo, we enlisted. They told us we wouldn’t be going in right away, but they would tell us when we would be going in for active duty, but we were put in the Marine Corps Reserve there. That was about April 5 or April 6, 1941.
So we were staying in school, and I was finishing my year through 1942. Some of us were getting impatient about not getting in. Some of the other men on the campus, some going into the Army, some going into the Navy, or being sent to different universities and colleges that had been taken over by the military for pre induction training. There were V-12 schools and then there were A-12 schools – the Marine Corps would go to V-12 schools and they were pre basic training, similar to R.O.T.C. at these schools.
I got my notice in June, 1943, that I was going to be going into active duty July 1, 1943. So I got my orders and I got my train fare, and I was being sent to University of Rochester, in Rochester, New York, called V-12 school. It was pre basic training and at the same time we took courses so our education wasn’t interrupted while we were waiting to go into our respective boot camps, either Navy of Marine Corps. So we took military training in the morning; drilling and military courses, and in the afternoon we took our academic courses. It was a good arrangement because we were still making credits toward our degrees, but at the same time we were being trained for the military. So we were there at the University of Rochester for four months. We had our uniforms and everything; Marine Corps uniforms were issued to us, and it was early November when it was arranged that we were going to be sent to our boot camps. I was processed to go to Parris Island, which is a Marine Boot Camp in South Carolina, and boarded a train and was sent to Parris Island, South Carolina, for Boot Camp training.
I was in a group that were all coming from colleges and taking basic boot camp training. We had had R.O.T.C. at Niagara, and then we had had the training at the University of Rochester, so when we got to boot camp we had an advantage over those who had just come directly from civilian life to boot camp. We were all more or less already indoctrinated into what a boot camp is like and what we were going to be required to do. A lot of the things we had already been trained to do and they were being repeated. But the actual field training out on the field with the rifles and on the rifle range, maneuvers, and things like that, we hadn’t had any of that. I think the Boot Camp then was about 12 weeks, and then I was sent to Officers’ Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia. I went through all of the training for an officer candidate and I passed all the academic subjects, and the military training and everything I was required to do in the field, the obstacle courses. I passed all of that, but when the time came at the end of the Officers’ Candidate School, two or three days before graduation, I was called in, with about 8 or 10 others, our class had about 60 members. We were spoken to individually but there were 8 or 9 of us lined up ready to go in to see the commanding officer. Individually we were told that we weren’t going to be graduating, and the reason was a lack of “command presence”. We weren’t sure why we were selected for lack of command presence, because I thought I did pretty well in the drilling and leading troops and things like that. But when we all met after, we all realized we were all short; most of us 5’6” or under. So then we went out to dinner to commiserate with each other one night after the graduation, and we began to realize that the reason we weren’t selected was because we were all short. We didn’t have the commanding appearance that they thought in those times a Marine officer should have.
Of course we ere very depressed about that; it was really a set back for us. Not to tell the story ahead, but actually it was good fortune for us that we were turned down, for our lives and physical condition, it was good fortune. Many of our classmates at OCS were killed or wounded as platoon leaders at Iwo Jima. I was sent to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, for advanced training, and I did very well there. I had no problems there in North Carolina. In late 1944, I was shipped to the West Coast with what was called the 30th replacement battalion. These were Marines who would replace casualties of the battles. Each division usually had one or two replacement battalions in their division to be able to be ready to replace casualties. We set out for the West Coast and we went across country on a troop train. To us who hadn’t traveled a lot when we were growing up during the Depression we hardly traveled at all, the farthest I went was New York City when I was growing up. It was quite an adventure. I look back on it as really one of the adventures of my life. Seeing our county through a troop train window – it was still exciting, we found it fascinating and I can still remember to this day very clearly, when the train stopped in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We couldn’t get off the train because of total security, and the food was brought on the train in lunch boxes and that’s the way we were fed. It took us five days or more to get across country. We didn’t have bunks; we slept sitting down in our couch seats. It was crowded and it was good training for what we were going to have to go through later on.
In Albuquerque, New Mexico, on the platform in the railroad station, there were two or three Native Americans, Indians, in those days we called them Indians. They were sitting cross-legged on the platform with the Indian ponchos over their shoulders and to me; I was astonished, because I was seeing real Indians. Growing up, for 10 cents we would go to a cowboy and Indian movie – that was the entertainment for young people, and here we saw real Indians. We never thought we would see real Indians. I was very impressed that they were, sitting on the platform in the Albuquerque, New Mexico train station.
We arrived in California in the dead of night, there was total security and it was pouring rain and we didn’t know where we were. The rain was coming down in torrents. We got off the train and we were in the middle of nowhere. It was totally dark, no lights except the dim lights out of the train. We were in the middle of what looked like an orange grove. It was very muddy because it had been raining for a while. Then we found out that we were in California of course, but it was in the San Diego area. We were picked up by trucks there. There was a lot of mud, it was raining hard, and it wasn’t a very nice night. When we got to the training camp at Camp Pendleton we were assigned tents. It was in the pouring rain and quite a few of the tents leaked. The floors were not wood; they were dirt, so there was mud even inside the tents. It was quite a change from the way we had been living. Even though the training on the East Coast had been difficult, this was training to operate under really tough conditions. We found out that we were only going to be there not more than a week, and then we were shipping out aboard a troop ship.
I think most of that week it rained and of course we heard that it never rains in San Diego – so we wondered what they call this if it isn’t rain. I distinctly remember that while we were there that the election for President Roosevelt’s third term took place, so it was early November. We finally boarded ship there and were taken up to the Los Angeles area. We went under the Golden Gate Bridge. The troop ship was crowded with thousands of men. We rendezvoused at Pearl Harbor. We took off from the West Coast within a day or two of our arrival in San Francisco where a couple of other ships joined us.
In these troop ships, you had your bunks down in the hold – the bunks were stacked five high, and the stacks were very close together. They were canvas with ropes for support, along a metal rack. We used to call it, “getting into the rack” going to bed. It was stuffy down there; it was sometimes very hot, sometimes very cold, depending upon the weather conditions outsides. Many times it felt like there wasn’t enough air down there. The first three days we had stormy weather, huge swells in the ocean as high as a three story building it seemed. Most of us got sick. The first meal we had aboard ship included lemon meringue pie. I never expected to get that kind of thing. It tasted so good but it all came back up. There was lemon meringue pie all over the decks of the ship. They were all vomiting. That was our first three days until we got out of the real stormy area. But even then, many of the men who were not accustomed to being on the ocean were seasick the whole trip from San Francisco to Hawaii.
We weren’t sure, at first, where we were going, but we soon found out we were going to Hawaii. It wasn’t a bad trip except for sleeping down in the hold. I got in the habit, although they didn’t sanction it, after dark I would take my blanket up on the steel deck and sleep out on top above the hold. If it rained during the night, while the ship was traveling, you just stayed there and got wet. Because they knew some of the men were up on deck sleeping, they’d announce over the p.a. system that there was a rain squall coming to warn them. But there were many of us who stayed up there even through the rain squalls – you would dry off afterwards because of the wind. This is the way it was on a troop ship. You stood in line for everything; to go to the john, to eat, whatever you wanted to do, you stood in line. It took shifts to feed everyone. There were at least 2,000 men on one ship.
When we got to Pearl Harbor, that was exciting for us to see where the Japanese had bombed and some of the tops of the disabled ships you could see showing above the surface of the water. We were there for about three or four days and then we got back aboard ship and we went over to the island of Maui. As most people know, Maui is a beautiful luxury resort now, but at that time when we arrived at the harbor there, it was just a small village town, Kahului, was where the ship docked and we got off. They took us in trucks to what was to be our training camp in the Pacific, in Maui. It was then that I realized that I was being attached to the 4th Marine Division as an infantryman.
We were given tents at our Maui camp, as I recall I think there were eight to a tent, and we had canvas bunks but here we had a wooden deck – it was above ground a foot or so, so you were dry. After we were assigned our tents, we were assigned to units, platoons, companies, and so forth. Training began immediately the next day. We trained in the field and it was much more advanced than what we had been accustomed to. We had liberty on weekends and we would either go to Kahului or Wailuku. The town we were located in was called Haiku. You could get almost anything there that you could get in the states because if they hadn’t had it before, they had it when they knew you were coming. You could get a hot dog and a hamburger. Hot dogs were popular fare in those days, but they knew what the Americans liked and they made sure they got it, and they made it for us. When we thought of Hawaii we thought of pineapples because that was one thing we knew about; Hawaiian pineapples. We had a grocery store growing up, and I remember the canned Hawaiian pineapple. But we learned after seeing a lot of cattle, especially on Maui, one of the largest cattle ranches in the world, even larger than those in Texas, was located on Maui. So we learned that raising cattle for beef was a big industry in Hawaii even in those days. They had cowboys who dressed like cowboys in the states. That came as a surprise to many of us. At that time, Hawaii was a territory; it wasn’t a state.
It was a real learning experience for us – the history of Hawaii which is fascinating. When we went out on liberty we were able to explore the historical places. Most of the time we went out to get a good meal and most of the time it would be steak. We never thought we would be getting steak at such a reasonable price in Hawaii. But that was one of the things we most frequently ordered because the beef was native to Hawaii. We also learned a lot about the Hawaiian foods and we took a liking to the Hawaiian people. The Hawaiian people were very hospitable; they took us under their wings. They were very nice to us. Some of the 4th Division had already been in battle and when they went back to Maui, the Hawaiian people treated them like heroes. I think they were so grateful for us being over there after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, that they couldn’t do enough for us.
So life on Maui wasn’t that bad. We had wooden floors in our tents. We were fed in large mess halls where there was a lot of standing in line, but the training was good. The beaches in Hawaii were perfect for training us for landing on beaches, which we were destined to do. There was actually one beach in Hawaii that had black volcanic ash, the same as we later contended with at Iwo Jima. We took practice landings there. Our “intelligence” must have been pretty good if they knew where we were going early on. Our training fit the type of battle we were going to be going into. Even the weather could be duplicated in Hawaii because sometimes these storms would come up and the ocean would get real rough. That’s when they would like to take us out and make us train when the sea was rough, because we were going to meet that kind of a situation. The training in Hawaii was good.
Once in a while we would get a USO show that would come in, or we would have a movie, all outdoors of course. For latrines you might have to walk 300-400 yards to get to a latrine. When you took a shower, the water was rationed; you couldn’t take a shower as often as you wanted to because of the difficulty of getting the water to us. I don’t know what the water situation was in Hawaii in those days, but they did seem to ration it. The Marine Corps food wasn’t bad in Hawaii – I don’t remember having any complaints about the food. But like everything else, you got used to it. Sometimes when we went into town we could have a change by going to these small local restaurants and they even had one soda fountain where you could get ice cream. Life on Maui wasn’t bad.
But what a change when I returned 45 years later to Maui. It was so rural then; it was more like a small village back in the states – like some of the small villages in Connecticut. When I came back it had turned metropolitan – it had become a luxury resort island. In fact, where we had our training originally was a pineapple plantation that was taken over by the government. To go back to Maui and see the changes there, how it had become a resort and vacation area for the very wealthy would build homes there on the island of Maui. These are changes we saw from when we were there. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. I wish it had stayed the same – the vistas, the scenery was beautiful, some of the waterfalls and the mountains. We had the mountains behind us and they would actually be snow-capped sometimes. It was quite an experience for a boy who had grown up during the Depression and had never been anywhere to speak of. It was the adventure of a lifetime.
It had to end however. It was late December of 1944 and early January 1945, that we were told to board ship. We were trucked down to Kahului early in the morning where we boarded a troop ship again, the same type of troop ship with the canvas racks with thousands of bunks in the hold. All your gear was stowed near your rack, your rifle, your helmet. Our sea bags were taken from us because they told us we wouldn’t need them until after the battle. So all we had were the clothes we could put in our knapsacks and the clothes we had on our backs when we boarded ship on Maui. We didn’t know where we were going; it was all super secret. We boarded the ship at Kahului; we went back to Pearl Harbor to join a convoy that was going to convoy us. In the Pacific, the convoys weren’t that big. There were two destroyers who were sent out with us.
We got two or three days liberty in Honolulu while we were waiting to rendezvous with other ships that were parts of the 4th Marine Division. That was a great experience to have liberty in Honolulu – to have our pictures taken in our uniforms, to see some of the hula dancers and some of the shows they put on for us. The USO there was very hospitable. Sometimes we would go to these places, now we would call them spas, where you could go to get a shower and get yourself cleaned up in a nice atmosphere; not in a tent or in a camp atmosphere. A lot of guys did that. Some of them even got a massage in some of these areas where the natives would be providing services for the service men. Mainly it was just a nice change from camp life. For those three days we slept aboard ship and we were able to spend the days seeing Honolulu. Some of us were given tours by the local people – they arranged bus tours for us so we could see the other parts of the island.
I think it was middle January when we finally shipped out. We were heading west. Days ran into days. Constant lines aboard ship. A lot of card playing. The fellows got together in groups and played cards – just sitting on the steel deck – there was no place else to sit. There was a small library aboard ship and I did a lot of reading – not that they had a lot of books, but what they did have, I read. I can remember picking up the book of Plato’s Republic. I would never have thought of reading it as a diversion at home, but that was one of the books I picked, and I enjoyed it. In the course of going to the library, I met another Marine who would go to the library and look up books to read. The time could be very boring if you didn’t find something to do because the Pacific Ocean, we found out, was endless. We went on and on and on without seeing land. Constantly heading west. We didn’t know where we were going. But this friend I mat, “Izzy”, was interested in books so we got to be quite close. We had a lot of conversations together. He had been to college too, and he enlisted. He was planning to be a lawyer. Between our conversation and our books we occupied a lot of time.
Finally about three days before we arrived, we were told where we were going. We were going to the battle for Iwo Jima. They told us it would be a three or four day battle. It was a small island. The day before they brought out a relief map and showed us where we would be, where our division would go to man the invasion. During these three days, my good friend asked me if I would witness his will. I had never thought about having a will because I had nothing to leave to anyone. That’s the way I looked at it then. We did have our G.I. life insurance but I had already made out my beneficiaries as my mother and father. I agreed to witness it but I asked him, what’s this about a will? He said he had to do it. So I witnessed it and didn’t think anything more about it. Then that night, just before dark, the day we were to arrive at Iwo Jima, we had a religious service. I went to the Catholic service. Later, they briefed us again about what gear we were going to carry in, our knapsack and things like that. This was the final review. We went to bed early and were wakened around 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. for breakfast. That breakfast was the only time they had steak and eggs in the Marine Corps. The eggs must have been powdered. So we had steak and eggs – a lot of us jokingly referred to it as our last meal. A lot of us didn’t realize how true it was – it was the last meal for a lot of them.
In all that time spent crossing the Pacific, the only thing we saw on the horizon, as far as other ships, were two destroyers out on the horizon and they would be there to protect us. They would be using their radar and sonar to detect any submarines in the area. As long as they were there, we felt a lot safer than when we couldn’t see them, when it was foggy or cloudy we would start to worry that we weren’t being protected. But every morning when we got up we’d look to see if those two destroyers were still out there, and every night when it was time to “hit the rack” as we called it, we would look out to see that those two destroyers were there.
So that was life aboard ship. It was so tedious to stand in line for meals, to use the bathroom, to take a shower. You could only take a shower during certain times because the water was rationed aboard ship so you weren’t able to have a very good shower and not too frequently. After a few days after sleeping down in the hold of that ship there was a real strong odor of bodies. So many of us, including me, tried to sleep on deck as much as possible.
When dawn arrived, I went topside after breakfast and the most awesome sight in my whole life there were hundreds of our ships, all had rendezvoused at one point during the night. I said to myself, “What a strategic accomplishment”. I found out later that there were 750 of our ships rendezvoused there during the night. What a morale booster to know that they were there and that they were going to be there to fight alongside of us. Then about 6:30 or 7:00 the naval bombardment started and we were able to watch it on the upper deck. That was another awesome sight to see all these big battleships, cruisers, destroyers, all doing their job. The artillery aboard the ship throwing shells at the island. It was like a huge Fourth of July; the smoke from the guns, the fires, the cannons. Then our airplanes were strafing the beach. This was all happening at the same time, and you said to yourself, “There can’t be anyone alive on that beach after this bombardment.” It was a tremendous bombardment that lasted for at least an hour.
It was then that I found out that the replacements were not going in that morning so I was able to watch the show of our other men that were going in; going over topside, down rope nets, helping them out, making sure their knapsacks and equipment were tied on to them, their rifles slung properly as they went over the side and down the rope net. We knew we’d have to be doing the same thing, so we were watching. A lot of people don’t realize how dangerous coming down the rope nets could be in rough seas. The boat that you were getting on to, down below in the water and the one you were coming out of were both moving with the swells of the ocean. So they might come together and collide, or they might separate suddenly as much as ten feet from each other, so when you got down to the bottom of the net, the boat you were supposed to get into wasn’t there – it was over ten or fifteen feet away from you and you’d have to wait until the ocean gave them the ability to come back close to the ship again. But there was always the possibility that you could get crushed in between the two boats while you were on the net. You could also lose your footing getting off the netting to the boat. It took a lot of agility, physical coordination, and reflex to do it. While we were doing the physical training we didn’t realize how much it was going to help us, and one was the dangerous task of going down a net to get from one boat to another. But we were in such top condition I don’t think we lost many men because they lost their footing. The nets were also swinging a little bit.
I watched the boats go in under cover of a smoke screen that the airplanes laid across the beach. I was given a job to go down into the hold of the ship and assist one other man to get the 55 gallon fuel oil drums up to the top and over the side into a smaller boat to bring them to the beach. They needed fuel for the tanks and the jeeps and they had to have it that day. It would be critical if they ran out of fuel. I went into the second day doing that and the second day it got rough. We’d be down in that hold attaching what they called the grappling hooks to the 55 gallon drums; I think we did two at a time. That was hazardous because the ship was rocking, and the crane that was lifting the drums would sway back and forth down in the hold of the ship. If you were down there and any of those 55 gallon drums broke loose, it would crush you to death.
It got so that in the second day I got very impatient about going in and getting out of that duty of unloading the fuel drums that I asked a sailor that was in charge of the boat going in if I could go with him and help him unload at the beach, which they allowed me to do. I did go in and that was my first experience with the landing at Iwo Jima. I went in and helped to unload the fuel drums. Attach them to hooks so they could be lifted out of the boat, and the beach was chaos. Many of the vehicles were swamped; others were bogged down and were unable to move in the volcanic ash. There were quite a few wounded and quite a few killed on the beach. This was my first exposure to seeing Marines and Navy men wounded and dead on the beach. I was scared. There were mortars dropping, rifle fire, and quite a bit of activity there.
Unloading on the beach was a real job. We weren’t prepared for the volcanic ash – it got in your shoes and everything. I took my leggings off because my legs were getting too warm. I had to go back to the ship after we unloaded. Some of the things that I’ve been thinking about: Many times when I came into the beach later on, the first thing some of the men would do when they found out how bad things were, if they had a carbine, they would try to pick up an M-1. They would try to find the weapon that had the most fire power. Someone with an M-1 might try to pick up a BAR because they had great fire power even though they were heavy. With the mortars dropping, and seeing how bad things were, we were looking for more fire power. If anyone had been killed, we would pick up the weapon if it was more powerful than ours. The same with the grenades and things like that.
I went back to the ship and I felt that I really wanted to go back to the beach because I figured I could help them more there than what I was doing aboard ship. You don’t feel that you are helping them as much by unloading fuel as much as you could help them on the beach. Then the following day, they said that the casualties got so high that we had to go in. I think we had about a platoon for a replacement battalion when we went in. We went into Blue Beach, the 4th Marine Division, which I thought might be more cleared out and safe by then because the 25th Marines had moved up a bit. When I got there, they directed us to unload some of the k-rations and the other types of rations. There was a lot of sniper fire and the first thing the experienced guys said “stay down”, they knew where the fire was coming from, they’d direct you where to get behind cover. We were carrying cases of about 50 or 60 pounds and we learned fast to carry them on the shoulder, on the side we thought the sniper fire might be coming from, to protect your head. When I picked up a case, I tried to figure out where the sniper fire might be coming from and then put the box on that side, to kind of protect my head. But looking back, sometimes we were carrying grenades and I don’t know how much protection that would be if the box of grenades got hit.
You started to learn survival techniques real early, and the same with mortars. The first time you heard that whine, you didn’t know enough to move even though you had the training, but after that first one, you hit the ground before the mortar did or else you were dead. I could hit the ground fast – you learned things like that in the first few hours of hitting the beaches. You were alert all the time to the different sounds and smells. Meanwhile my friend Izzy was looking for me. He had become the company clerk, I think it was about 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon at that time – Izzy asked me if I had a foxhole yet. I told him I didn’t have a foxhole and I didn’t even know what unit I was with yet. He said, “Okay, I’ve got a hole. You stay with me tonight.” So I followed him and the whole time he was carrying an attaché case filled with company records. He showed me where he had dug a hole under a disabled tank. I thought this was fantastic; what a great place to be with the sand dug out under the tracks, a little typewriter set up in there and everything.
We no sooner got in there and I was telling him what a great place it was when the mortars started to drop around us – 80mm mortars. They got closer and closer and didn’t stop – they got so close the sand would come in under the tank. We started to get worried. I said, if they hit this tank, it’s got fuel in it, and we could really be in a bad spot.” Then we got almost a direct hit so we decided to get out of there. He had his typewriter and attaché case and we started heading back toward the beach and the mortars actually followed us down the beach. Looking back on this I think the Jap observers probably thought we were setting a command post because he had an attaché case they might have thought a general or high ranking officer was setting up a command post there. Otherwise, why would they follow the two of us right down to the beach with the mortars? They knew just how much to step up as we called it. They had our range and everything all zeroed in. Going down to the beach was like a bouncing ball; it was up, down, up, down. I would hit the dirt when I heard the whine and back up again. I must have done that twenty-five or thirty times. I didn’t see where Izzy was, whether he was beside me of behind me. I finally got down where we were going, and I looked around but didn’t see Izzy at all. I figured he dug a hole somewhere else, so I dug a hole down on the beach. But then I started to worry about him and wondered if he had gone back to the tank. So I went back – training taught you never leave a buddy, but he wasn’t there so I went back to the beach.
It was getting dark and I tried to sleep but there were phosphorus bombs dropping and they are the ones that really burn. We were all afraid of a banzai attack because on other islands and battles the Japanese made banzai attacks at night. But on Iwo the Japanese had evidently changed their strategy after finding the thousands of men they lost in banzai attacks without success. We didn’t realize that then that they were going to drop that tactic.
It was on the following morning we got up at dawn and our orders were to up to the front lines. Casualties had been bad. As we were lining up single file, one of the guys who knew me and Izzy said, “Did you hear about Izzy?” I said, “No, what did you hear?” He said, “They found his dog tags.” So he must have had a direct hit. That was really traumatic when he told me that. But I think it was good that I was going up to the front lines because I didn’t have time to think about it too much. As you were going up there, you saw all the dead Japs and all the dead Americans. You were going to where they had already been fighting. In a way, I think I was forced to stop thinking what happened to Izzy because now I was worried about what was going to happen to me.
We went up close to the front lines, but not up because it wasn’t until night fall that they put us in our positions on the front line. You could tell that the casualties had been so bad that there wasn’t really enough replacement to set up the line as close as you would like to. We were being spread out pretty thin. Having had extra training in this type of strategy as far as setting a defensive line, I could tell things were pretty bad. One of the sergeants took me to a position on the front line and he said, “You have to hold it.” He showed me who was on my left and who was on my right, where and how far, and what the password was. Where he put me there were four dead Marines – it was a fire team. One of them was still holding his BAR. Fortunately in the dark you couldn’t see very much. As I sat with them in their foxhole all night, there was a ravine in front and I could tell by the way the sound was coming, there was moaning and groaning and I figured there was wounded down there but you never know if it was a Jap playing tricks. Sometimes they would yell, “Corpsman, corpsman”, to get you to come down there and then they would do a job on you. So you just had to stay put and listen to it all night long. That had to be the longest night of my life – it seemed to last forever, and it was my first experience on the front line.
In the morning as the mist cleared, at first light, at dawn, I saw something that looked like an apparition coming out of the mist. A Marine came walking by me, evidently he was shell shocked. He looked like an officer, he had his helmet off, and he had this “bulkhead” stare, and he walked right by me like he didn’t see me or anything else. He had no weapons on him; he was like a ghost coming out of the mist, like a zombie. I always remember that. He didn’t say a word to me. Then it was very quiet all along the line – it got to be very eerie. I wondered if I was the only one there and I wondered when they were going to let us know if we were going to be relieved, or when was the sergeant coming. It was so quiet; I began to wonder if I was the only one there. It was frightening until finally the sergeant did come over and told me, “You can come back; were going to bring up some rations.” He wanted me to help.
I want to recall the sequence of the things I did the following day. I know we dug foxholes. The position I was in was really too rocky – I just built up the rocks and used them for protection. We knew that the Japs had a pattern. Every day at certain hours they would start a mortar attack where they thought your position was. It got to be so bad that I lost all track of time – it seemed like an eternity. It began to finally get to me. You really get stressed out and think when is this going to end. You’re down in this foxhole and some of the mortars are dropping very close. You would think, maybe my number is going to be up and it’s going to be a direct hit right in the foxhole. That was a lot of stress – that was the most difficult psychological stress to overcome; knowing that your number is going to be up and each mortar that came down, you thought it might be the one that was going to kill you. I think that’s what causes a lot of the stress and the battle fatigue – more of that than the actual hand-to-hand fighting. It’s not knowing when and if you are going to get hit that is very damaging to your whole psyche. It brings on what’s called battle fatigue.
But finally we must have neutralized them because we moved and set up another line. They also brought in more replacements so I wasn’t alone anymore in the foxhole – we had two in the foxhole; myself and a Southerner with a drawl so thick I couldn’t understand him. But at least we could get a little sleep – two hours on, two hours off. We moved up again and hit another ravine. The 4th Division’s section was very rough – a lot of ravines, a lot of rocky terrain. When you hit a ravine, the Japs had caves on the other side. They would be looking at you from the caves but you couldn’t see them. So we spent a lot of time firing at what we thought might be a cave. Some of the bazooka men would fire bazookas and sometimes they would bring up the flame throwers and we would use grenades, those of us in the foxholes. It was senseless using a rifle because you didn’t have a target. You just did what you thought would be the most effective. I used to like to throw grenades – I thought that was the most effective for me – I had pretty good accuracy and range. Being athletic, I could throw them far – I found a joy throwing grenades and hardly ever used my rifle. A couple of times the Japs started to come across the bottom of the ravine, and when we heard them, we would just start throwing grenades and launch a grenade barrage. Even though you couldn’t see them in the brush, you could hear them, so usually it did the trick. One or two of them might get through and you had to finish them off individually, but you had to be on your toes all the time.
I remember one thing that happened that really bothered me quite a bit. We had a machine gun on the top of the knoll and a sniper got the machine gunner right in the head. I was in the line, and you never knew when you were going to get called on to replace somebody else, so the officer called one of the other men to go up and take the place of the machine gunner. The guy goes up and no sooner gets there when he gets a bullet right between the eyes. That happened a third time and then someone went up to a higher officer after three guys got killed, and they finally had someone crawl up there without exposing himself and figured out a way to pull the machine gun down to a different location. I was standing there and I could have been the one to be called on to retrieve the gun or to go up there and fire the machine gun. I often say to myself, “I could have been the one to get it.” I was so fortunate.
The area was so difficult because the ravines were there. There were all these caves and you couldn’t knock them out. You just couldn’t get across the ravines. We had tanks and air support but we were working too close. One of the morale boosters were the air attacks when we saw our planes strafing and bombing it would really give you a boost. They would come in with the rockets and they could pinpoint the caves sometimes, if we could locate or pinpoint them for them. Sometimes if it was a direct hit, we would end up cheering. You’d think you had a football game. You’d see them make a hit, and we would wave to them. It was a morale booster to see the air support, but the amount of air support they could give us was limited. There was one Piper Cub flying around trying to find the defensive positions of the Japanese. Most of the time that was all I saw – the Piper Cub trying to get information on the Japanese defensive positions.
After a while, you lost all sense of time. One day went into the other and it just becomes a blur – time becomes a blur. You’re at a point where you are just doing everything for your own survival and the survival of your buddies on either side of you. One day they told us we could go back from the front lines for a few hours, and were replaced for those few hours. We were going home to change, get some water, get washed up, get a change of underwear and socks. We had a food ration. But it was really refreshing to be able to wash up. The water was limited so we filled our helmets with water and washed up out of our helmets. To have clean socks and clean underwear made you feel a little more comfortable. The thing I remember most of all was the food ration we had that day. In it was a can of cooked bacon and it was so good, we finished it off in minutes. We heated it and gobbled the bacon up – it was a real delicacy and quite different from what we normally got in battle. However, we got some cheese and crackers, maybe some candies and some gum, and five cigarettes – a little pack. I liked the cheese and crackers and that’s what I lived on in battle.
One time I got put on a detail bringing up grenades and we were using them up like they were going out of style, and we were running out of them. Along the trail back to the ammunition dump there was a lot of sniper fire. The Japanese obviously knew what was our supply line and that was one of the times I learned to carry a box on the sniper’s side. There were a couple of other men who were carrying supplies who were hit, wounded, and fortunately not killed. But you laugh now at some of the things you did because even it a bullet hit a box of grenades, you don’t know what might have happened. We did that for a half day – brought up grenades, food supplies. It got to the point where everybody did everything because there were so many casualties. If they needed you for a machine gun, they’d put you on a machine gun. That’s where the training comes in – the Marine Corps taught us how to use every weapon. The only one I didn’t know how to operate was a flame thrower. That was quite a specialized weapon and they usually got a big man to carry it because it was heavy. One of our flag raisers, “Chuck” Lindberg carried a flame thrower.
Some strange things happen – your mind starts to get a little whacko. I can remember one incident when we had to fight a grenade battle and we heard what we thought were sounds of the Japanese moving so a couple of us decided that to see better, we’d get out of the foxhole and look down into the ravine because we couldn’t see very well – there was a lot of brush. There was a very narrow ledge that only one person could walk on, and I started to walk on it so I could see better down into the ravine and I looked up and coming around the other way was a Jap. We came face to face but we were in such a close proximity that if either one of us made a move we would have fallen off the ledge. So I just made an about face and he did the same thing, turned around and went down the ravine. I turned around and then threw a grenade down into the ravine. It was one of those things that I was so fortunate that the position I was in, he had to go back down in the ravine, where I could just follow along the ledge and get room enough for me to throw a hand grenade down at him and then duck behind the rocks there. We were surprised to see each other face to face, your reaction was kind of screwy – it was probably not what people would think you would do, but being on the edge of a ledge, you had to think fast. Both of us thought the same way – to turn around and get more room, and not have a confrontation there because either one of us, or both of us, would have fallen off the ledge down into the ravine.
Mortars were the most fearsome thing to me – there was nothing you could do about them. You don’t know where they are, you don’t see them. I think they were running out of mortars toward the end and that was good because the mortars bothered me more than anything else – you couldn’t do anything about them; you couldn’t find out where they were being sent from and you had so little time to react to them, actually no time at all. You don’t hear them until the last split second and if you are fast enough you can drop, and maybe you would be all right. But still, you just can’t defend yourself the way you would like to. But by then the Japanese were getting more desperate, and were making advances. They weren’t actually banzai attacks, but they would go out a night to get food and water, they were getting desperate for food and water.
I remember hearing a story of a corpsman who heard someone calling for help and he thought it was one of our soldiers so he went in the direction of the calls and some of those guys would actually go out to where the sound came from. Two or three Japs came out of cave and dragged him inside. That was the last they saw of the corpsman. The wanted his uniform so they put it on and go out at night and steal our food. We did kill some who had Marine uniforms on, but you had to be sure they were Japs. That was a very difficult thing sometimes. Of course the password was very helpful. The Japanese couldn’t say our passwords very clearly so you suspected that they weren’t Marines if they didn’t answer the passwords properly in our American dialect.
There were some other things I saw which weren’t too pretty. One fellow who started to go a little nutty and he had a pouch hanging from his cartridge belt and a pair of pliers. The Japs were notorious for having gold teeth and when things got slow and quiet; he would go around extracting teeth out of the Japs’ mouths and put them in his pouch like it was an every day thing. The gold crowns and gold fillings that he pulled out of their teeth, I don’t know if he ever did anything with them. I think a lot of men became animal like. I can remember seeing guys throwing rocks at dead Japs, bodies that had been lying around for days and were full of gas. They would throw a pebble or a rock and they would get some kind of a good feeling out of it. I can understand it – some of the atrocities the Japanese committed on our American prisoners, from past battles, like beheading prisoners from Wake Island, and the mutilation of bodies in other Pacific Island battles. It’s sad when you look back on it, how fast human beings can change when survival is at stake, and when you had so much death and so many wounded that it wasn’t too difficult to become like an animal.
They made us mop up on the way back to the ship finally when they said the island was secured. That was around March 15 or 16. We lost all sense of time by then; most of us were approaching battle fatigue. But when they told us the island was secured and we would be going back the ship, it actually was the most worrisome day that I had because there were still a lot of Japanese snipers, and you would say to yourself, we have to mop up and check the caves and make sure there were no Japs in them. Then you thought, all you had to do is get hit on the way back to the ship on the last day. How bad that was for your morale, doing that. You went though the whole battle and now you had to mop up and take the strong chance that you might get hit by a sniper. So that was your big worry; you had to go back to the caves and mop up. Take a grenade and check it out.
The snipers were a different situation. They had holes with manhole covers. They would be down in a hole and just lift the cover a little bit, fire, and then put the cover back down. It was very hard to find them. Sometimes you wondered if they used smokeless powder because it was hard to spot even smoke from the firing of a rifle. It was towards the end of the battle that we had a rare Japanese prisoner and we used him as an interpreter, to get the other Japs to come out. We got him to say they won’t hurt you, they treat you well, and to convince them to surrender. Sometimes we were successful, sometimes we would hear a big explosion in the tunnel – they’d kill themselves rather than come out. We didn’t go in any caves – at least I didn’t. Most of us were told not to go in if we weren’t sure if there were live Japs in there or not.
We threw in grenades or the demolition men would throw in a satchel charge. Sometimes we used dogs – the canine teams. If you had a dog team around, you’d let the dog go in the cave. They knew the difference if someone in there was dead or alive, and they would let you know. There was more than one instance of the dog would go through the cave and come up and around. That was important to us to know that there was another exit or entrance, so the Japs couldn’t come up around us, behind our backs sometimes.
But we got down to the beach safely, I don’t know if all of us did, but I did. We were in a great mood down at the beach waiting to get off the island. The first thing we wanted was a good shower. We had grown beards which we weren’t accustomed to. In the Marine Corps, even in training, we were clean shaven every day. Here’s the first time in maybe three years that you hadn’t been able to shave for three weeks. Of course you were dirty too, and the dirt was in your beard, grubs and everything else, and in your hair. You just couldn’t wait; to take a shower, clean up, and get a real meal. That was just like heaven. He flag going up wasn’t visible to us in the 4th Division at the time it went up weeks before because we were so far w=away from Suribachi at the time it was occupied. We had our own problems over there. In fact the fighting on the fourth of fifth day when the flag was raised, the fighting was very fierce in the 4th Marine Division and we didn’t have time to even take a good look at the flag raising. But when they put the larger flag up, we were able to see it from our position and we never realized the historical impact of the flag raising during the battle. I didn’t, and I don’t think many men realized its historical impact. Maybe some men in the 5th Division who were very close to it realized that they had done something very historical, but most of us didn’t.
We got back to the beach and everybody was jubilant that we were getting out of there. On the beach there was a stack of newspapers that I think were flown in from Guam. They knew we would be coming down that way so they left a stack of newspapers for us. One stack was the New York Daily News and at that time was a very popular newspaper all over the country. There on the front page was a picture of the flag raising. Then we realized what kind of an impact this was making back in the states. But it wasn’t until we got back to Maui that we fully realized the impact of the flag raising on Iwo Jima and the impact of winning the battle against the Japanese.
Going back to Maui on board ship was nothing like coming out. It was bitter sweet – you were exhilarated that you made it out alive, but then you thought about the guys who didn’t come back and who we were leaving on the island – some of your tent mates, your platoon buddies, some of your buddies, and that would really bother you aboard ship – that you were going back and they were being left there in our cemeteries. But like everything else in life, it got so that it just wore off. When we arrived back in Maui, however, and got back to the same tents we had left, we were very sad to go into the tents and see two, three, some tents even five of our buddies were gone. We went through that experience.
The natives of Maui gave us a big celebration, a nice welcome party that went on for a couple of days. They knew all about the flag raising and we were all heroes to them. The whole island was ours if we wanted it. They were very appreciative and did all they could for us. So getting back to the island, helped us to forget. They immediately started training after that. Some of us got five days of rest and recreation in Honolulu. I remember staying at the Moana Hotel, right on the beach. The greatest thing I enjoyed there was the food. They served our breakfast right on the beach. They had bacon, eggs, and pancakes, things we so rarely had that that was a real enjoyable part. I think we were there for five days and when we got back from R n R in Honolulu, we immediately started training for the assault on the Japanese mainland.
We knew we were slated to be in the front lines of the battle against the Japanese on their home island. To me, this whole experience, when I look back on it, was one that I’m pleased I participated in and I would do it again if I had to. I learned a lot, changed my character for the better. One thing that this whole experience instilled in me was a sense of determination, and perseverance, and not to be discouraged if you’ve been pushed around a day or two. I think the perfect example of how important it is to hang on is when those guys were on the beach the first couple of days, we could very easily have been pushed back into the sea. It was a very thin line in making a debacle out of it. What we did do finally I think was only because of the determination and discipline that the Marine Corps had instilled in the guys that made us hang on. I like to think that’s what I still have. I never lost that determination and perseverance.
To give you a sequel to the battle I’m going to go into a little bit of what happened to me and what I did after I got home and I got discharged. It’s an interesting sequel. Before I was discharged, because I didn’t have quite enough points, I had only been in one battle, even though it was a big battle, I didn’t get discharged until April 5, 1946, a few months after the war had ended. During the interim, I was assigned from Maui, in the Hawaiian Islands, to go Guam as a military police in a military police unit, 7th Military Police Battalion. When you are looking forward to going home for three years and are suddenly told you are going to go in the opposite direction, that was a very depressing time for me. I was happy to still be alive, but I thought I’d be going home and I had to go west, way out to the other end of the Pacific, farther away from home, to the island of Guam.
I would say that the duty on Guam was god duty. There were still a few Japanese snipers left. I would be on patrol at night, with the military police, and it would be very easy for a sniper to get you when you were riding around in a Jeep, exposed and not expecting it. That was kind of worrisome, but we did have quite a bit of liberty. We set up touch football games, and spent a lot of time on the beach swimming, doing swimming acrobatics. It was a good time to unwind from our battle experience, even though it was important duty. We had to guard the docks when the ships came in so that the provisions, food, and supplies they were bringing into Guam weren’t pilfered.
Then there was a huge b-29 dump, or damaged B-29 planes were pushed into a large hole and we’d spend some time trying to gather souvenirs of parts of the B-29s, use the metal to make different kinds of bracelets and things like that because now we had a little more time to do these things.
Close to March, I left Guam. It was a long trip back and for the first time I wasn’t on a troop ship, I was on an aircraft carrier. I t was great to have all that space down below on the hanger deck because they didn’t have all the planes on the hanger deck – they were using it to bring back the troops so they modified the hanger deck to put hammocks there. It was a lot more airy, a lot more spacious. We could actually play games on the deck of the aircraft carrier. It was the Bonhomie Richard and we used to call it “The Big Dick”. We had some fun going back but it was along trip. When you know you are going home and it’s day after day after day. We docked in Pearl Harbor and stayed there a day or two and then back to the West Coast. Then went back on a troop train back to the East Coast. The troop train had two of my buddies that were with me on Iwo Jima and were with me in the military police battalion on Guam. So on the troop train even though it was tedious, we enjoyed each other’s company and never talked about the battle.
We got to the East Coast to Bainbridge, Maryland, and I was discharged at Bainbridge, Maryland. On April 5th I arrived home. A lot of people think we all came home to the bands and the parades and the thousands of people. But because I came home four or five months after the war was over, the only ones waiting on the platform in my hometown were my mother and father. That’s the greeting I got and that was sufficient. I was happy to see that they were there to greet me. From then on I got back into civilian life. I had no difficulty. Some of the things I had difficulty – I learned very quickly that the sense of values, the priorities of even my folks and other civilians who hadn’t been in the war were a lot different than my priorities and my sense of values. Some of the material things they thought were important, I could care less about. That was why a lot of men who got out of the service had a tough time readjusting to their families and their friends. There were two different worlds we were coming from and to get back to the world the way it was before the war was never going to happen. It was never going to be the same after World War II because the different experiences we had from the civilians who worked in the factory, we knew they supported us, we knew they worked hard, but we could never talk to them about the battle of Iwo Jima because they wouldn’t understand it. It would be a waste of time trying to explain it; they couldn’t understand it or realize what we had been through. So we never discussed it.
I decided to go back to my college and get my degree. Niagara University was very good. They had a summer program set up for veterans who had to complete degrees, whose education had been interrupted. I went back to Niagara University that summer and after what I had been through, it was like a country club. I took three heavy courses and it was a breeze. But if had tried to do that in my early years at the university before World War II, it would have been very difficult. I had no trouble concentrating on reading, studying; I enjoyed studying and I understood things a lot more quickly from my reading. My whole mind set was altogether different than it was before the war, so that I came through that summer with flying colors and got the credits necessary for my degree at Niagara University. During that time, I had made up my mind because I had lost almost four years in the service, that rather than go for a medical degree which would be another eight years, I was already reaching into the 20s where you feel you’re getting old, you got to get going, you got to start getting a job and earning a living, so I decided that rather than go to medical school I would go to dental school which you could do in four years; five with an internship.
I applied to Georgetown University while I was taking the summer courses at Niagara to go to the dental school under the G.I. Bill and I was under the G.I. Bill at Niagara and I was accepted. I had to be there September 1 to register. The course at Niagara ended about August 30th so to drive or go by train it would have been impossible for me to get there in time to register in time which was mandatory – you had to register on that date. I made arrangements and had saved enough money during the summer to get a plane flight on United Airlines from Buffalo to Washington. I left Niagara that day after completing my course, went over to Buffalo and got my plane and ended up in Washington, D.C. and registered on time the following day to matriculate at Georgetown University School of Dentistry. I was able to get an apartment with two other fellows near the school and the G.I. bill took care of the tuition and books, and although there was a monthly sum that helped, it didn’t take care of all the food and lodging. So I got a part-time night job and went through Georgetown, working at various jobs. Even with the G.I. bill, dentistry is one of the most expensive courses to take at any university because you have to purchase your instruments and loads of expensive books. Living in Washington, D.C. was very expensive, even in those days after the war. So I had to work to make a go of it. I worked at the drugstore for quite a while as a clerk. Then I got a job as the Good Humor man during the summer. We had to go to school through the summer during our third and fourth years, so I worked part time as a Good Humor man selling ice cream in the town of Alexandria, which wasn’t a city then, it was a small town, almost a village. Now it’s a metropolitan area. Then I worked in the Washington D.C. post office through the efforts of at that time, Congressman Ribbicoff. I went to his office and told him, “I need to work. Can you help me?” He got me a job at the Washington D.C. post office in the evening from 6:00 to 11:00. We didn’t finish dental clinics until 4:30 and it meant going across town, getting something to eat, and being at the post office by 6:00 which was no easy feat. On the way over to the post office, it was near Union Station, we’d stop at the counter, it used to be the oyster bar there, there used to be a counter where you could get a quick bite, sandwich and so forth. Three or four of us from Georgetown would stop there every night, and the waitress got to know us pretty well; we would go to the same waitress at the counter every night. She would give us a break on the meal check.
I graduated from Georgetown in 1950 and opened my office for the practice of dentistry in August. I practiced for 38 years and retired in 1987. During all those years I never thought too much about my WW2 experiences – especially the Battle for Iwo Jima. I rarely discussed it with my family and friends. After my retirement, I attended an Iwo Jima Survivors Reunion. I began to think about how many survivors of the Battle were still living. I formed the Iwo Jima Survivors Association. We now have almost 500 members nationwide (see enclosed “A Brief History of the Iwo Jima Survivors Association). (Also see enclosed brochure). On February 23, 1995, the 50th anniversary of the Iwo Jima Flag Raising, we unveiled and dedicated the National Iwo Jima Memorial Monument in Connecticut.