Following my first post on this forum an unusually large number of people responded with very touching comments. I was encouraged to write more about my experiences in WWII. So, to avoid a dull, monotonous narrative I have used what literary talent I have, however little, to describe what it was like for an ordinary, enlisted, line Marine during the battle for Iwo Jima. This is principally an account of the disaster that happened near Hill 362C in a place dubbed “Cushman’s Pocket” It does go on for a while and perhaps the site administrator may choose to edit it or break it up into smaller segments. NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO DIE The rain has stopped and sudden flashes of bright sun poke through the overcast. It is still cool and damp, actually cold at night. There is no moon. February is the month of compromise at this latitude: never too hot, never too cold and never too comfortable. All three divisions are now ashore, yet the advance is still bogged down. Naval intelligence told us a three-division assault would overwhelm the island in 36 hours, 72 at the outside. The flag, snapping in the breeze atop Suribachi, is but motivation, a symbol, certainly not proof of any great tactical advantage. We have made little progress against the defenders. Unspoken concern and doubt is a malaise seeping surreptitiously into the mind of every man ashore. The battle sounds are familiar but the terrain is alien, foreign: no jungle, no dank odor and no place to hide. Iwo Jima is eerie, flat, dark yellowish-gray, pitted with hidden guns and traps. Death and misery lurk here more than any other campaign. It is perdition. I am frightened. The Japanese garrison on Iwo numbered over 23,000 men. They had prepared well to turn back the enormous American landing force standing offshore out on the horizon. Fiercely dedicated, they had labored daily for long sweat-filled months to fortify their island. Now their fate was no longer in their own hands, and they waited, expectant and optimistic but unsure of success. The events of the next few weeks would tell if their hard work had been sufficient to repulse the invading armada. Huge coast defense guns and heavy mortars as well as hundreds of long-range weapons, all encased in impenetrable concrete bunkers, were primed and expectant. Artillery pieces of various sizes and weights were ready in cave entrances and bunkers. Rocket launchers and mortar tubes were in preset positions. Tanks, buried with their light cannon fixed in predetermined fields of fire, antiaircraft guns with their barrels cranked down parallel to the ground. Heavy machine guns poked from every pillbox and bunker opening. Every individual yard of terrain could be quickly brought under intense fire and assault. Walls of emplacements were of reinforced concrete up to twelve feet thick. The openings on the outside of the bunkers provided firing windows four feet by two feet receding back to an opening at the gun port of only 12” by 6”. Numberless cave entrances, tunnel openings and other apertures were assigned to hidden snipers with their dreaded and accurate long-barrel, Arisaka rifles with smokeless powder. Anti-personnel mines were planted all along the beaches, and heavier mines had been positioned just below the surface on routes the invading tanks would probably travel. General Kuribayashi had established his command post in a huge concrete bunker at the northern end of the island. Inside, twenty radios kept in contact with all defense zones and each commander in his service. Down below the bunker were miles of interlocking tunnels extending five levels under the surface and reaching over the entire island. The general’s private quarters were seventy feet underground. The tunnel system beneath the surface of Suribachi was seven stories deep. The Japanese had prepared a meat grinder to chew the Americans into hamburger. On Monday, February 19, 1945, a date now revered in Marine Corps History, the landing on Iwo Jima got under way—presaging an action that some historians referred to as the bloodiest battle involving American troops since Gettysburg. After the heaviest pre-invasion bombardment in modern warfare, "amtracs" loaded with Marines left their circling formation to form at the line of departure and then to head at full speed for the beach. Despite huge naval guns being brought to bear on every square yard of the island, flights of B-24’s dropping ton upon ton of bombs, destroyers and gunboats traveling back and forth pouring direct fire on the landing areas, despite the most intense softening-up attack in the history of warfare, one which compelled veteran correspondent Robert Sherrod to write, “though I’ve seen this many times, I can’t help thinking, ‘nobody can live through this.’” Few Japanese defenders were affected. Safely insulated in their underground fortress, the garrison patiently waited to engage the American Marines who would attempt to capture this tiny speck of land only 600 miles from downtown Tokyo. Casualties on the beach numbered in the thousands. A terrible price in American lives was exacted for the meager advances made. The advantage was to the defenders. The Marines had been through arduous and bloody landings before—Guadalcanal and Tarawa—but here the enemy was so well concealed that the landing forces faced a withering hail of bullets poured into them from all directions, even from bunkers long blasted out of action but now re-manned and resupplied from underground tunnels. This campaign was unique in the annals of modern warfare. One hundred thousand armed men doing battle on a tiny piece of land only eight square miles in size. Every individual square foot of surface on the little island was well within the range of the thousands of cannon and mortars being aimed or fired randomly. Thus every single person ashore was in imminent danger of being blown to bits. At times, the distance between the front lines and the rear medical aid stations was less than half a football field. To be ashore at all was to be close to death. The enemy was always just a few feet beneath the ground, ready to reach out and kill. Weeks after the planting of the Stars and Stripes on Mt. Suribachi, Japanese troops were still killing Marines in random attacks from their concealed caves in the mountain. At the end of the first week, the invading force of over sixty thousand Americans had taken little more than one square mile of Iwo’s total of eight. The Japanese were too well dug in. Kuribayashi’s island was, indeed, superbly defended. There seemed to be growing panic among the Marine staff officers. General Graves Erskine, with the usual attitude of indifference toward death that comes from being too long in the heady position of high rank, intoned the old, timeworn chant spoken by people of power in all walks of life: “Don’t give me excuses—give me results.” On March 6, an attempt was made to finally bring the defenders to their knees. One hundred and thirty-two pieces of field artillery, joined by the heavy naval guns offshore and the carrier dive-bombers, began the greatest fire mission in the history of the Marine Corps. Within seconds after the first shells landed, the resulting cloud of dust covered the whole northern end of the island and blocked from view the entire area still occupied by the Japanese. It was assumed by those who reasoned with the mindset of obsolete strategy, predicated on past experience, that such a barrage would surely crush every living thing beneath that enormous cloud of dust. Normally it would. But on Iwo Jima, General Kuribayashi had anticipated the most devastating of assaults and had carefully prepared to deflect them. The most any Japanese soldier suffered in the massive bombardment was a headache or a nosebleed. Since the first day of the landing, most ordinary Marines soon reached the conclusion that heavy artillery and naval bombardment was not the solution to the problem of conquering this tiny island. I personally thought we should have withdrawn, set up a naval blockade and kept firing from the sea and air. Hunger, frustration and fear would have conquered the enemy; however time would not allow that. Perhaps we could have used some type of nonlethal gas. Just pump it into an opening in the labyrinth of interconnecting tunnels and wait for the Japanese soldiers to come up for air. But then, I did not have all the facts at hand. Those of high rank and great experience were calling the shots. When it dawned on the command staff that artillery was serving as nothing more than a wake-up call, and an announcement of our intended attack, the wide use of heavy guns was limited. The American commanders, now in total disbelief, fearing that no traditional fighting method could succeed, decided on an unorthodox scheme, a long shot. We would sneak up on the enemy in the dark. Imagine this: the Japanese are so well dug in that we cannot dislodge them, we cannot even locate them. So Division Command devises a plan for three infantry battalions to move up in the early morning, under cover of darkness, and tiptoe past the Japanese defense perimeter—then, once in an advantageous position on the high ground, attack and destroy them from the rear. This plan was actually put into play, even though every one of us who went out that morning knew that, even if we should by some stretch of the imagination succeed in getting to our assigned positions without being detected, there was not a hell of a lot we could do to the enemy if we still could not see him, smell him or hear him. We would be on a hill but we would still be out in the open and he would continue to murder us. Each battalion and company had a particular target. Our objective was to take “Hill 362C” somewhere out there in the dark morning. We and Fox Company jumped off together that morning. Easy and Fox had landed with a combined total of over three hundred and fifty men. We were decimated, down to less than fifty men in each company. We were part of a larger force assigned the task of taking “Hill 362C.” MARCH 12, 1945 Early morning is a time of mystery. In the pure blackness of the dark, time seems to hang suspended between night and day as the lowering gloom spawns a sensation of apprehension. Death and pain lie waiting “out there”—this we know. But in this time of early morning, in this beginning of another black day, an essence of impending danger, separate and distinct, is created by the infinite abyss of the black night. A new plan is extended. Move out under the cover of the morning darkness to reach a small hill in one of the numbered squares on the map. We must be silent, stealthy. Packs, mess kits, canteen cups are left behind; their metal whispers could betray us. Each man takes one canteen of water secured in a padded canvas cover and a few “D” bars. Otherwise, we carry only ordnance, all that is needed to kill him if we catch him off guard. In the cold dark we sit, weapons ready, ammo checked, grenades attached. Dressed to kill. We wait anxiously to move forward silently and slowly, under cover of darkness, toward the unseen enemy out there somewhere. When we came ashore I carried a small, lightweight pack with arm straps I handcrafted to keep the load riding high on my shoulders. The harness and suspenders of the standard issue, two-piece knapsack and haversack had long since been tossed. I need to move out with speed and agility so I worked long and hard designing this pack. It contained the barest of necessities: An extra pair of boondockers with new shoelaces, “D” Bars, “K” rations, socks, paper and pencil, a book, a photo of my one true love and the ashtray I “borrowed” from the Paxton Hotel dining room on our last date. I carried no excess clothing. Anything I need I could borrow on-site from a dead Marine. One advantage for the little guy is that most other men’s dungarees can always be made to fit by rolling up pant legs or sleeves. One size fits all, except for shoes, so I tote an extra pair. This morning I only carry ordnance and water. I leave no opportunity to be caught short. I have a Thompson fitted with a thirty-round clip and two spares. An old dispatch case contains two fifty-round drums. I also have an M1 carbine strapped across my back. The cartridge belt around my waist is a standard-issue rifleman’s belt but I have removed a lower row of stitching to deepen each of the ten pouches so as to accommodate 15-round clips of carbine ammunition. I carry two deadly weapons and 340 rounds of ammunition. I am a walking arsenal. To my right, I can make out Lou Hocksin, deep in thought, staring off into the darkness. Lou does not carry a standard issue “Ka-Bar” fighting knife. Instead he always wears a sheath with the meanest looking knife I have ever seen. Below a curved handle is a twelve-inch shaft with a razor sharp blade slightly curved to a raised tip with a hollowed bleeder running its entire length. It looked like it may have been made from an old Civil War saber. His proud, smiling mother gave him the weapon, gift wrapped, when he shipped overseas. Lou is a ridge-runner from the hills of Kentucky. The men on either side of me are just vague figures in the gloom. Rumor tells us we total about seventy-five men. So many people nearby, yet I feel alone in the dark. Can this many slip by unnoticed and unheard in the black of the early day? Cold and damp, I wait. I lie on my back to look up at the sky and I see only darkness. Were I alone, I would soon lose direction in the night. I sense the presence of the men around me. A quiet rustle of leather or fabric, a muted cough, a muttered word. What is in their minds as they wait? Are they as afraid as I? Close friends are not close by. They are here somewhere but I cannot see them. Fighting in bright daylight brings danger and death, but you see it coming. You see all that threatens you. It stares in your eye and you have choices. Move or stay, run or crawl, look or shoot—swift, small decisions that determine whether you live or die. You have a feeling that your life is held in your own hands. In the pitch black of this day, my life dangles on the decisions of others. Why are we here on this tiny island of Hades? We have been told of the magnitude of its importance, but our tremendous efforts to capture Iwo Jima and the enemy’s resolute defiance fail to justify the value of eight square miles of ash and rock. How can its worth match the cost we are paying? I lie on my side leaning on one elbow. The ground under me is ash, volcanic ash that runs through my fingers like soft powder. Footsteps are muffled on it just as if walking in black flour. I smell the ash and it has the scent of the sulphur still smoldering far below the surface. The stench of sulfur is carried into the air by steam that spurts from volatile fissures in the ground and rocks. Melancholy reflection is interrupted by a whispered command. The word is passed and we begin to move out. Slowly the men step forward, crouched and expectant, each moving cautiously and deliberately, quiet and wary. No words are spoken. The unanswered questions remain in each man’s mind. Why are we doing this? What will happen if we fail? Do we have a fallback position? How far is this “Hill 362C”? What will we find when we get there? If we get there! After ten or fifteen minutes we begin to sense a feeling of triumph, a perception of actually getting away with this harebrained scheme. Tension and doubt begin to fall away. We have already moved a greater distance this morning than we would in three or four days of daytime advance. This strategy may work after all. The Japs can’t hear us or see us and we will soon be on “Hill 362C” there to dig in and challenge from the high ground. This is a brilliant move. My compliments to the brain trust at Division. We are twenty minutes into the surreptitious advance but we do not arrive at “Hill 362C”. We should be there by now. The time was carefully calculated before jump-off. Where is it? We should be close. The worry and tension return. Concern turns to panic when the first star shell erupts. Both sides use magnesium parachute flares. Ours are bright white and light up the area like high noon. The Japanese flares burn with a yellowish glow and are not as intense but they burn longer. This morning the light from their flares finds us in the open and at their mercy. They begin firing into us and young boys begin to die. The enemy knew we were moving all the time. They were watching us and listening as we crept along. We thought we were silent, they heard movement every step of the way. Now we are in the open and the yellow flares light up the dark. Firing begins. We fight back, shooting at anything that moves, firing at the muzzle flashes of rifles and machine guns. We are trapped in a small, enclosed, area with rock walls on three sides. The wall on our left was over twenty feet high. The fourth side, the way we came in, is still open. The Japanese allowed us to move into this location like animals being funneled in for slaughter. The star shells light up the dark as small arms fire and grenades begin to rain on us. We were supposed to reach a hill—take the high ground—instead we are led into a trap, indefensible and untenable. This place would be later named “Cushman’s Pocket” after our Battalion C.O., Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Cushman, Jr. Within this pocket of stone there is no place to hide, no real cover, just a few scattered clumps of rocks. We keep moving and firing, trying to be an elusive target, trying to survive. I find a protected place crouching down behind some rocks with four other guys. The flares go out and the shooting stops. The reprieve is temporary. We will soon be exposed and vulnerable once again. There is little we can do except to anticipate the battle and keep trying to fight our way out. The shooting and dying continue. The whole day becomes a montage of death and horror. No time to stop and plan. Just keep moving and shooting, stay down low—thank God I have extra ammunition—we fire continually to disrupt their aim and keep them from overrunning our position. Some gutsy kid tries to make a break for it. He runs zigzag from one defilade to another trying to get out and go back for help. He moves four times before he is killed. We keep shooting and moving. We dig in and fight. Rifle and machine gun fire continues incessantly. The Japanese positions are so near on all sides they taunt us between bursts. Their shouts rise above the noise of the gunfire with cries of “Hey stupid Marine, you die now,” “Banzai,” “Charge!” We cannot see anything from our cover and to rise up and look is to die. Why they do not overrun us is a mystery. We move and fire, crouch and hide, dig in again. Most of the men are lost before the long day passes slowly into night. I have not stopped to eat or drink or urinate. I have been hiding and moving and firing for twelve hours. I am exhausted yet I am alive and alert. I know that I probably will soon die but for the moment I am more alive than I have ever been in my life. I hear every sound, smell every scent, the furious action continues but I see it in slow motion. I see and feel all that is around me and by God I am still alive! Near the end of day a young boy, unknown to me, decides to make a run for it. The hours of digging and fighting have forced him to a precarious position of reasoning. He is about twenty yards out ahead of us when he disappears in the roar of an explosion that hurls ash and dirt into the air. When the dust settles we see him. He looks like he is standing in a hole. His legs have been blown away. The boy is confused and frightened as he attempts to stay upright on bloody stumps. He shouts and waves one arm and steadies himself with the other. He yells and shouts to somebody, anybody. He is delirious and panic-stricken. I cannot understand his words. Blood spurts from his femoral arteries and soaks into the ashen soil. Soon the young boy slumps to one side. He rolls over on his back as death comes. The fight continues as we hunker down. hold for a while, then move and grab ground again. Darkness mercifully falls and I lie back to rest for just a moment. I force myself to think about where I am and what is happening. I know I have not eaten but I feel no hunger. My mind and senses are still racing. I take a “D” bar from my pocket and chew on it; I must have sustenance to see me through the hours ahead. The “D” bar is dry and tasteless but promises needed nutrition. I indulge myself with a full mouthful of water. I need to urinate but I dare not move so I deliberately wet myself. Pride goeth before a fall. Sporadic flares continue during the night and occasional small arms fire persists. We stay down to wait the rising sun of another day. I think to myself the rising sun is our enemy in more ways than one. The early morning brings more death and hurt. The shooting is incessant. A young boy I knew only as “Frenchie”, in his first and last battle, jumps out in front to sweep the top of the high wall with his sub-machine gun. He fires up into an enemy position and kills three of them. Fragments of a grenade shred his left shoulder before he can take cover. Hardly faltering from his wounds he runs along firing up at the top of the ridge. He turns to motion for others to join him. At that instant three, maybe four or five, rounds rip into his body and slam him backward to the ground. I wish I had known him better. My God, he was brave. Somehow a few of us manage to hang on until tanks fight their way in. Some of the survivors are rescued by the tanks in an unusual and innovative way. On the narrow path into the pocket is a small shell hole and following radio instructions from the tank, three or four men at a time, under covering fire from the tank, make a run for the shell hole and jump in. Hunched down, the tank rolls over them, a track on either side, and they are lifted through the hatch in the tank bottom. The tank pivots and carries them to a safe area where they climb out of the turret. After more tanks arrive they give us cover as we all scramble to safety. We were in Cushman’s Pocket for 36 hours. Of all the men in Easy Company who jumped off that morning only eleven are left. I don’t know how many from Fox Company got out, but it had to be damn few. We return to the beach: our war is over for now. Later we learn that the early morning move was actually a success. While some units were being ripped apart others made it through to the high ground to the north and were in position to begin the final conquest of Iwo Jima. The cost of taking “Hill 362C” was nearly six hundred men killed or wounded. Its eventual capture had removed the last obstacle to a final breakthrough to the northern shoreline. Graves Erskine’s plan worked, the price extracted was a terrible cost in the lives of young men, but the end of the battle is near. A few days later the island is officially declared secured. We observe the combat man’s tradition and visit the cemetery before going back to the beach to wait for a ride to an offshore ship bound for Guam. I have never been so tired and worn in my life. I am grateful that I am still alive, yet I feel guilty that I am alive when so many are dead. I am so weary I don’t really care anymore if I live or die. My mind, my sense of reason, my total attitude toward life is so melancholy and hollow that I feel I am losing interest in being part of the human race. This experience has been too frightening and too debilitating. This time it went too far. While boarding the troopship a young sailor asks me if my weapon is a real “Tommy” gun. I give it to the crewman. I don’t know why, I just know I don’t want it any longer. I begin to wonder if I am becoming deranged. The teenage seaman is elated, smiling and happily pulling the bolt back and forth, slapping in an empty clip. To him it seems a wonderful toy. Late in the afternoon we sail away toward our home base on Guam. The events of Iwo Jima have popped in and out of my conscious thought on a daily basis over the past sixty-plus years. Few know of the dreadful suffering and death, fewer still seem to care. So many bright young boys were killed and wounded in that terrible battle. Many more will bear the unseen and irreparable scars of psychological wounds that resulted from days of horror. This abomination, this outrage, will be forever indelibly etched in their memories. I pray for all of them, God grant them peace and serenity.