Iwo Jima

-One Man Remembers-

By: George W. Nations

U.S. Marine Corps

WWII

351 Vaughn Dr

Satsuma, AL 36572

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following notes are some of my experiences in combat on Iwo Jima. This is not intended to sound like a novel. All events are true and accurate as best as I can remember after forty years. I feel it important to put in writing my feelings and some of the things that happened to me when I was a young Marine, 18 years of age. Perhaps someday my grand children might be interested in what I did as a young man.

 

My first impression of combat started very early in the morning February 19, 1945. At 0300 hours we awakened to a steak and eggs breakfast. Most of us had slept very little that night in anticipation of going into combat. We are already close enough to see the flashes of gunfire on the horizon, although we are still several miles away. Some of the men spent the night topside watching the flashes of gunfire, knowing we would soon be involved and perhaps some of us would not return. I went below early to write letters home and try to get some sleep, the uncertainty of tomorrow always on our minds. The steak and eggs breakfast was unusually good. It would be a long time before we would eat good food like that again.

After breakfast we went above deck to our tank and started checking our equipment again for the thousandth time since leaving Hawaii 45 days ago. The flashes of gunfire are now getting much closer. We could now see the outline of ships on the horizon from the tremendous flashes lighting up the sky. Some ships are much larger than others. There are battleships, cruisers and destroyers, hundreds of ships everywhere.

The excitement of going ashore grew as we slowly moved closer toward the beaches of Iwo Jima. We are soon running our engines, turning on the radios and going over and over our equipment. Some Marines are still sharpening their combat knives after 45 days at sea. As it became daylight we could see hundreds of ships in all directions. At 0800 hours the heaviest bombardment in history per square mile was fired upon Iwo, every ship within firing range opened up with all guns firing. It was a fireworks display Iíll never forget. The island was now totally obscured from view by the dust from the bombardment.

Promptly at 0900 hours the firing stopped and the first wave of amphibious tractors went ashore. At this time we are still about three or four miles offshore, our tanks, "B-Company" is landing in reserve. It was very exciting now sitting on top of our tank turret watching through field glasses as the Marines go ashore in wave after wave. First, armored amphibious tractors shell the beach, then amphibious personnel carriers land with men, then Higgins Boats, all putting large numbers of Marines ashore into the hostile environment of Iwosí volcanic ash beaches. About 1000 hours we saw our first tanks slowly making their way up the beach. It seemed like forever before they moved up from the beach and out of sight. All this time our landing craft, LSM-141 was moving closer to the line of departure that was about 2,000 yards off the beach. The old battleship New York is only a hundred yards or so from us, firing broadside into the island. The noise was unreal. We are now inside the tank. Lt. Steiner gives us the word to button-up. We know we are now very near the beach. The only thing we can now hear is our tank engine running. Since I am a crew member in the Platoon Leadersí tank, we are first in line to disembark. At last we feel the surge as the LSM slams ashore at about 7 to 8 knots putting us high and dry on the beach. Our bow doors opened and the ramp fell. Straight ahead of us is Iwo Jima, Red Beach One, the time is about 1330 hours.

Iíll never forget the first thing I saw as the ramp fell, giving us a clear view. The first terrace was only 30 to 40 feet in front of us. Marines were dug into this terrace or trying to dig in. The foxholes would cave in before the hole was large enough for a man to get his body below the surface. Their faces were covered with black volcanic ash form trying to take cover. They looked much like an ostrich putting his head into the sand, only to find his body still exposed. Their faces were very young and showing unashamed fear. At first I did not understand why they were so afraid but as our tank turned right on the beach I began to realize why. The beach was littered with Jeeps, trucks, amphibious tractors, Higgins Boats, men and equipment in various degrees of destruction. We were able to go only a short distance before we had to stop because of a Jeep stuck in the narrow stretch of beach between the terrace and the surf. We were contemplating driving over the Jeep when a Marine jumped in, started the engine and because he was unable to drive forward, put it in reverse and backed into the surf, giving our tank clear passage. To my right was an amphibious tractor. A large shell had blown its armored turret inward. Itís name in bold yellow letters, ĎLena Horní. Every time I hear her name or see her picture, my mind sees this amphibious tractor in the surf with its turret twisted in an awkward fashion from the explosion of this shell, the surf splashing over her. The crew must still be inside, all dead.

We continue up the beach for about two-hundred yards dodging the various obstacles and looking for our guide who was supposed to meet us. We finally reach the location where the guide was supposed to be and stop. We know minefields are ahead. Before coming ashore, we had discussed removing the waterproof stacks mounted on our exhaust and intake manifold at the first opportunity. The exhaust re-circulates through the intake causing the engine to overheat in approximately forty-five minutes. We are getting close to that time, so I told Lt. Steiner this pause was our opportunity for getting rid of these stacks. With his okay, I opened my hatch and quickly leaped out onto the engine compartment just behind the turret. The terrific noise of gunfire and shells landing was a real shocker. Never had I heard so much incoming and outgoing fire in all my life and Iím outside the tank, not inside. I scratched and clawed with my fingers and finally pealed away the waterproof tape so that the latches could be released enabling me to push the stacks off the tank. Iím now sitting behind the turret for cover thinking about climbing on top of the turret to get back inside. Iím looking out to sea. We are about 30 yards from the surf. A Higgins Boat is just reaching the beach loaded with Marines when a shell lands on the starboard side near the stern. Marines are running from the boat as the ramp falls. They leave about one-third of their men inside. After forty years I can still see their lifeless forms hanging over the sides of this Higgins Boat. The boat sinks and becomes part of the destructive scene as it washes back and forth in the surf. There was nothing anyone could do for the men inside the boat. Without thinking of my own safety, I slowly climbed inside our tank, almost in shock from this experience. This was to be only one of many such incidents that sometimes keep me awake at night.

A Marine walks out in front of our tank and motions for us to follow him. He stands upright as if there was no danger within a thousand miles. He guides us to a minefield marked with ribbon, gives us a sign to stop, walks up to the drivers hatch and bangs on it. McIntyre opens up and they talk for a few moments. Of course we could not hear a word of what was being said. Then Mac tells Lt. Steiner, on the intercom, we will be passing through a minefield and must not skew the tank since we have only six inches clearance on each side. The mines are buried Horn Mines which are designed to sink ships. You can imagine what they would do to a tank. Needless to say, this caused us some concern but we made it without any trouble.

We continued on to the front lines near Airfield #1. Our first shots were fired to destroy stored drums of fuel located off the side of the landing strip. We soon began leading an infantry unit around the airstrip toward the west beaches. Someone gets on the field telephone, which is mounted on the rear of each tank. He tells us he has a target for us and talks us into firing position. The target is an observation post, directing mortar and artillery fire down on the area. One round from our 75MM tank gun loaded with a high explosive shell and the O.P. is no more. This was our first kill, the first of countless others. We refuse to think of them as human beings, only targets. Our first night on the island was fairly quiet but we were never sure of what to expect. Our tanks were stopped at our most forward position near Airfield #1 on the west side. The infantry formed a line on either side of our tanks and there we stayed for the night.

Scott and I had the 2nd guard shift, midnight to dawn. We had a 30cal. Machine gun and a Thompson Sub Machine-gun under our tank. The other three men slept inside. Just as it was getting daylight we saw something move a few yards in front of us. Scott raised the sub machine-gun to fire. I caught him by the arm and motioned him to wait, I wanted to be sure if it was a Jap. In a few moments we could make out the form of a Marine standing to urinate. They had moved up from the beach earlier in the night and no one told us they were there. Scott shouted at him, "get back in your foxhole before you get it shot off".

Guard duty is very rough on us after being in the tanks all day. Lt. Steiner doesnít do a guard shift but he almost never sleeps and stays on guard from inside the tank. He was always looking, listening on the radio, and keeping up with everything going on. We were so tired we tried to sleep at least three to four hours a night.

The second day we started to lead an attack, continuing north along the side of Airfield #1. Shortly after moving out we were hit by an anti-tank gun firing directly down on us from about 100 yards. Our tank filled with smoke, sparks flew around inside and we all thought this was the end for us. We backed down from that position as fast as possible. Lt. Steiner immediately got on the radio to report this to Capt. Sands, our Company Commander. We looked for damage but found none. The loader of the anti-tank gun had placed a high explosive shell in the gun, if it had been an armor piercing-high explosive shell as it should have been I would not be writing this today. Later, we found the shell was perfectly placed, just under our gun shield directly in front of where Iím sitting. This is the most perfect place to penetrate a Sherman Tank from the frontal area. This was a new 47MM high-velocity anti-tank gun, which had never been used against us in the Pacific.

After calming our nerves for a few minutes we decided to try something we learned while in training at Camp Pendleton. We put our H.E. shells on time delay. The time-delayed shell would travel about 20 to 30 feet after contact before exploding. We carefully moved into a firing position and ricocheted five rounds off the small rise of ground a few yards in front of the anti-tank gun position. Then our infantry advanced to the position while we gave them cover fire. They reported the position secure and found fifteen dead Japs in trenches around the gun. Col. Collins had the 47MM gun brought back to Hawaii. It was placed in front of Gen. Rochealís Headquarters at Camp Tarawa in Hawaii. About the same time we are having problems with the 47MM anti-tank gun, our 4th platoon is having other problems. They are located to our left a few yard but at this time the bushes are still dense in this area and we canít see them. A Jap threw a satchel charge under Lt. Jarvis tank and blew the right track off. The assistant driver is severely injured since the charge is under his position. His leg was broken and his face cut very bad. Lt. Jarvis opens the hatch to get out and a Jap runs out along side his tank and raised his rifle but Lt. Jarvis has his cocked 45 in hand and kills the Jap first. The other crew members get out and take cover along side the tank, now four Japs charge them with fixed bayonets. Again Lt. Jarvis is quick on the trigger and kills al four of them with his 45 automatic. Sgt. Unger by this time has moved into a position to cover the crew while they get their injured man out to safety.

Lt. Jarvis was very nervous after this and was never forced to go back into tanks. Sgt. Unger took over the 4th platoon and did such a good job that he was given a field promotion to 2nd Lt.. Then he did such an outstanding job he was awarded the Navy Cross along with Capt. Sands later in Hawaii. Now "B" Company, 5th Tank Battalion has two Navy Cross recipients.

The only thing I can remember about the third day was about our 1st platoon of tanks heading a squad of infantry across the East-West runway on Airfield #1 to attack high ground to the North. I was so busy I remember very little of what happened. I do remember how sorry I felt for the Marines outside, trying to huddle up very close behind the tanks using us as shields against the relentless fire coming from the higher ground on the other side of the runway. The air was literally full of tracers streaking in both directions. They somehow managed to follow us across the open runway through such heavy machine gun fire it would seem impossible for anyone to live though it.

As mentioned previously, the first few days on Iwo we slept in our tanks. Not because they were comfortable, but because they were the safest place around. At least a small mortar shell could not hurt you inside a Sherman Tank. After a few days of this we were anxious to get outside where we could get some fresh air and move around a bit more. So Scott and I decided to enlarge a small shell hole and move in for the night. This just happened to

be the first night our tank battalion personnel other than tank crew were ashore. The people were truck drivers, mechanics, etc. They also took over the guard duty we had been doing at night. Our first foxhole was just in front of our tank, along side Airfield #1. The runway was a built up area creating an embankment a few yards from us about ten feet high. On the edge of this runway were old Jap airplanes, wrecked and pushed aside. As the wind blew that night the wrecked planes made all kinds of noise. Being the first night ashore, the guys on guard duty were a bit nervous. Iím told they fired off and on with machine guns into the airplanes all night long. The tracers were going directly over our foxhole about four or five feet. The reason I had to be told about this the next morning was because of this being my first night outside the tank where I could stretch out and was sleeping on soft sand rather than hard steel, I didnít wake up or hear a thing until daylight. We had been in tanks every day from just after daylight until almost dark, then doing guard duty for half the night, I was exhausted and slept so sound it didn't matter what was going on around me. It is very dangerous to get this tired and not be able to wake up.

About ten days later our tank battalion established a permanent bivouac area a short distance further North still along side Airfield #1 but near a large sulfur blow hole. Scott and I found some old boards and a small shell crater and built us a first class foxhole. The entrance was just large enough for a slim person to get through. The top was covered with about three feet of sand. The boards were not strong enough to support any more weight. We could stretch out and sleep inside, one of us always slept with our head near the entrance. If during the night we heard a strange sound, it was easy to look up using the sky as a lighted background and see anyone outside. We spent many hours with a cocked 45 waiting for anything to come between us and the sky. Nothing ever did. The Navy fired star shells over our area every night. This light up the sky and helped to prevent a sneak attack. These were fired by a destroyer a few hundred yards off the beach from a five inch gun. Each time they fired this five inch gun the ground would shake causing sand to fall through our boards, usually into my face. If it wasnít the gun fire it was sand crabs digging around causing the same problem. We would still rather have a covered foxhole than one with no cover.

One night some one walked over our foxhole causing sand to fall all over us. Scott and I slipped out side with 45ís in hand, our corpsman was going back to his foxhole late at night. He had been out helping a wounded Marine. Every time he walked near a foxhole, his own life was in danger. We never go outside at night, your best friend might shoot you thinking you were the enemy.

Heavy gun fire on the beach had made it almost impossible for ships to unload supplies. Some of our ammunition dumps had been hit and destroyed. We are now getting very low on machine gun and 75MM tank ammo. One afternoon someone came up from the beach and unloaded ammo near us. He only had 81MM mortar ammo. The units around us divided it. They only got five rounds each. The only tank ammo we could get was 75MM for Pack Howitzers. This was very poor ammo for use in tanks because of the low velocity.

On the 4th day planes from Saipan came over and dropped parachutes. At first we thought they were dropping mail. We later learned it was much needed ammo and blood plasma. We were able to re-arm and were ready to go again on the 5th day. Since I did not keep a diary the events are no longer separated in my mind as to the day they happened. All the days and events seem to sun together. Only a few special things happened that I remember the day on which they occurred. After the 5th day itís very difficult to remember.

I do remember the 5th day very well because of several things. We have a fresh supply of ammo and start out heading a drive north on the west side toward Airfield #2 and Hill #362. The infantry starts out with us as planned but the mortar and artillery fire is so intense they are unable to continue. Our tanks, "B Company" move out together without infantry support. We find targets everywhere, bunkers and gun emplacements were built then covered with sand to look like natural terrain. I heard someone on the radio say, "Look for sand dunes with slots in them." We had already found them. We would drive right up to a bunker and fire point blank into the slot with a high-explosive shell, then move on looking for others. Sometimes we had to move quickly because heavy artillery shells were bracketing us. If a shell fell in front of us a few yards then behind us a few yards, we would move quickly to the fight of left. There were so many shells and bomb crates it was sometimes difficult to move in the direction we wanted to.

About noon Capt. Sands called on the radio to tell us a flag has been placed on Mt. Suribachi. We turned the turret south in order to see, there was a tiny flag flying and it was ours. This pause took only a few seconds then we were back looking for targets. By mid-afternoon I remember felling sick from all the fumes put out by the machine guns and 75MM tank gun. The next thing I remember, Lt. Steiner is giving me smelling salts. I had passed out and fallen into the breach of the tank gun. As the gun was fired the recoil of the breach hit me above my left eye. Lucky Iím wearing a crash helmet. It gave me a big lump above my eye and a slight cut. I fell into the ammo rack burning my left arm on a hot brass case and cracked a couple of teeth. Iím very lucky I wasnít hurt more. Since Iím in no condition to continue, Lt. Steiner had Marvin Ness come over to relieve me. Their tank has thrown a track and is now stalled in a bomb crater. Scott drops the escape hatch which is located behind his seat and I get out under the tank and meet Marvin there. He tells me over and over, "Go to the right and rear." I must still have been in a dazed condition because this is all I remember. The next thing I know Iím climbing up their tank and going inside. They tell me I walked as if Iím in no hurry, just slowly walked over as shells fall all around, again I didnít get a scratch. I guess the reason the Japs didnít bother Marvin and me was because we had three tanks with plenty of firepower guarding us as we traded places. I still think I was very lucky not to get hit by shrapnel from all the mortar shells falling around.

Iím now in Sgt. Tuttles tank, it is disabled and an air strike and Naval gun fire has been called for in this area. All tanks have been ordered to leave immediately. Iíve never understood why Lt. Steiner has withdrawn leaving us behind. We are not talking to Capt. Sands on the radio, giving him our position and directions to find us. He arrives with only 10 to 15 minutes left before time for the air strike and Naval bombardment to start. While sitting in this disabled tank we have been hit or near hits many times with mortar and artillery shells. Thank God for the thick skin of this Sherman, we were not hurt only scared to death.

Capt. Sands stops just a few feet behind us. Sgt. Tuttle gives me a carbine rifle and tells me to shove off first. He didnít have to tell me a second time. Iím anxious to get out of there. I crawled under Capt. Sands tank and waited for the escape hatch to drop. When I entered, the first face I saw was big ugly J.C. Razor, Capt. Sands driver and one of my best friends. Red instrument panel lights exaggerated his unforgettable features. His greeting was, "Howdy Pog." He called Scott and me Pog, short for Poggie Bait, Marine Corps slang for candy. Anyone caught eating candy very often is likely to be called Poggie. He may not have been good looking but he sure looked good to me under these conditions. We all get into this tank and make our way back to our camp as the Navy began their bombardment of the West side of the island near Hill #362. A corpsman bandaged my arm and eye, otherwise Iím okay. Capt. Sands talked to me about this incident and his concern for me, much like a father would have. Later in Hawaii Capt. Sands was awarded the Navy Cross for this action. The award goes into detail about his rescue of the five of us in the face of an Air Strike and Naval Bombardment as well as the terrific fire being received from the Japs. The Navy Cross is 2nd only to the Congressional Medal of Honor. Needless to say, all of us were very proud of him.

Since we now have only two tanks in the First Platoon, I did not go back to the front for several days. The following morning just at daylight our remaining tanks leave for the front as usual. I along with Sgt. Tuttles crew are left behind. The tanks were hardly out of sight when mortar and artillery fire starts. We are now in the open foxholes with no tank above us for the first time since arriving on Iwo Jima. Now I know how the men on the beach felt on D-day. For the first time Iím really afraid, you feel so helpless, just sitting n a foxhole with heavy artillery air burst going off above and all around. I could hear the shrapnel hitting in the sand all around me. This lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes, but to me it seemed like hours. I could hear the wounded calling for corpsman. Later a truck came through the area picking up the dead.

During the time of not being in a crew, I have several experiences worth writing about. One morning as the tanks leave, I went to our Battalion Communications Post to listen to our ranks in action on the radio. A friend of mine was the radio operator and needed company. We were watching our last tanks go out of sight when a sniper fired a rifle at us hitting a sandbag between me and my friend, no more than 12 inches from either of us. We ducked below the sandbags and continued to listen to our tanks on the radio. Next a mortar shell falls about 100 feet in front of this position, a few seconds later another shell falls just behind us about the same distance away. This appears to be a bracket of mortar fire on our position, so I decided it was time to leave for safer grounds. Lucky the radio operator did not get hit, but he had to stay there alone since I did not like being a target.

A couple of days later a Marine with a war dog walks down the trail past our area. His dog smells something and wants to leave the tail. He pulls on the leash but does not bark. I could not see them in the bushes but heard a single shot. There was a Jap playing dead, now he really is dead. The Marine with the dog walks past us in a casual manner. We had to ask what happened. He tells us the Jap was wounded and playing dead.

Scott and I also went souvenir hunting during this time. Being in a tank all the souvenirs are taken before we get a chance to look around. So we decided this was our opportunity to look for them. We walked about a mile to the front lines. During this walk we almost step on a booby trap (trip wire with explosives) and get shot at by a Jap so close the blast hurt my ears. He was in a cave above us and we could not see him. We dove into a bomb crater with a dead Jap. We waited for a few minutes then got the hell out of there. The only thing I found was a Jap helmet with the back of his head still in it. Someone had shot him almost perfectly between the eyes. He was also the only Jap I ever saw shot only once. Usually they are shot many times. I carried this helmet back to Hawaii but got tired of being reminded of this poor fellows misfortune and threw it into a garbage can. We had heard that Japs had lots of gold teeth but we never found a single one. We did find a few with missing teeth. This one day of souvenir hunting was enough for us, we never went back.

I remember the tenth day because we received some Red Cross supplies, toothbrush, soap and things like that. There was only water for drinking and brushing teeth, no bathing. We were also issued some clothes, blankets and socks. Our packs were strapped to the outside of our tanks and did not survive. We had no supplies at all until now. I took off my shoes, changed my socks and put them back on. The next time I took them off was two days before leaving the island.

Finally Lt. Steiner asked me if I wanted to go back in his tank crew. Of course I said yes, he didnít know how glad I was to get back in a tank crew and stop dodging mortar and artillery shells. We now have our original crew together again. We stay together for the remainder of our tour on Iwo Jima, a total of 36 days.

Company ĎAí and Company ĎBí tanks leave very early one morning for the front. Lt. Anderson of ĎAí Company was the lead tank passing on a road between Airfield #1 and Airfield #2. His tank hit a mine setting off the ammunition inside his tank. The explosion blew the tank apart. The turret was blown completely off and landed about 50 feet away from the chassis. All were killed instantly except for one man. Pfc. Plummer was blown clear of the vehicle. All of his clothing was blown away, he was badly burned but lived. A friend of his in a following tank jumped out and pulled him to safety. He later joined our company in Hawaii. This was certainly a miracle if there ever was one.

A few days later, Scott and I were given the task of trying to clean up the cupola hatch from this tank. It was badly needed to repair one of ours. In the ball bearings of the hatch we found Lt. Andersonís flesh and hair. This was the tank commanderís hatch located directly above him. We became sick and could not finish the job, someone else took over to finish it. We were always having tanks knocked out or put out of commission. Even if they burn, parts were salvaged and used to repair other tanks.

Our tank was hit one day by a huge shell that started a fire in the engine compartment. We left in a big hurry only to find it didnít burn too badly, but would still not run. Scott was sent back in to place a Thermit-grenade in the gun breach, it rolled out and instead burned my jacket. I later got my pipe from the ashes of the jacket. Our tank was repaired in a couple of days and we are back in the front lines again.

On our way in we pass two Sherman Tanks which are burning. The crews managed to walk out safely. We moved into position and led an attack that gained about 400 yards. For the first time I saw Japs running. We had bypassed their positions and now they had to try and slip past us in order to join their forces ahead. They were coming from behind us to our right in a gully. I saw four Japs and fired the machine gun at them as they ran. One jumped behind a rock just big enough to hid behind while the others disappeared. We fired a 75MM round into the rock he was hiding behind. There is now so much dust we donít see them again. We advance slowly for a few yards to about where the Japs were last seen. As our tank maneuvered around a large boulder we saw a Jap sitting down with no clothes on, he appears to be blind and is crying. We fire a burst from the machine gun at him just as we do our tank turns slightly to the right. The burst misses his chest and takes his left arm off at the elbow. His lifeís blood is now leaping our in great spurts and in rhythm with his heart beat. Our next burst hits him in the chest and his body slams back against the ground with a great invisible force. Iím not proud of this, but it happened forty years ago. We had a different outlook on these things.

We had lost so many young Marines we couldnít let a Jap live even when trying to surrender. At this late stage of the battle our feelings will not let us take a prisoner. The Fifth Marine Division takes a total of only about 150 prisoners. I saw 6 prisoners taken. One of them was wounded. The wounded Jap had been hit during the night and left laying there. We were outside our tank taking a break just a few yards from where this happened. Two Marines with a stretcher came by and stopped to talk with us. They had already gone in to pick up the wounded Jap, but the Marines nearby would not let them. They wanted him to lay there and slowly die. Iím sure they had good reasons to feel like this. The stretcher bearers were worried because they had been ordered to not come back without this Jap prisoner. They now have to go and beg the Marines to allow them to take this wounded Jap prisoner. The wounded Jap is needed for questioning. In about 20 minutes they come back and again stopped to talk and take a break. They were glad to have this over. Snipers were shooting at them as they picked up the prisoner. The Marines were hoping the prisoner would get shot instead of themselves.

One of our tanks in ĎCí Company had a Jap trying to pry open a hatch, a second tank shot him. Thinking he was dead he was left lying there over the engine compartment. As they cleared from the front lines, the tank commander, a Sgt., opened his hatch and stood up to look around. The Jap was not dead as thought. He shot the Sgt. Through the head with a pistol killing him instantly. The following tank now chops the Jap to pieces with their machine gun. We therefore always make sure the Japs are dead. They never get shot once but many times.

Everyday now, we are going into a sector of the line where tanks are needed most. Usually a different place each day. Our infantry has suffered terrible casualties. We pick up a guide to point our targets for us, a Pfc. Acting Platoon Leader. He is the senior most man left. A platoon leader should be a Lieutenant. The terrain in our sector is so rough we have to use a bulldozer to make roads so tanks can get in. We now have a bulldozer blade fitted to Sgt. Tuttles tank. We always work in pairs, at least two tanks to protect each other. The Japs would wait behind rocks or in a place they know tanks have to pass. They would try to get close enough to throw explosives under the tank to blow it up. To prevent this we would position ourselves along side of the tank working on the roads. A Jap jumped from behind a rock with a satchel charge and ran toward the tank we are guarding. He ran directly into our machine gun fire and fell just short of getting the charge under our bulldozer tank before the charge exploded. We fire our 75MM in addition to the machine gun on either side of the bulldozer tank. There is so much dust we canít see for a few seconds. He now is backing out of the dust as fast as possible. With all this fire close around hem he thought he was a goner. To us this was very funny, we later had many laughs about this incident.

One job is also to guard flame thrower tanks. Almost every major target is burned our by flame throwers. Sometimes the Japs would run from their cover when they saw a flame tank light up. Of course itís already too late for them to run now. The carnage goes on in endless days, all of our daylight hours are spent in tanks, day after day. Only once after getting back in our crew did I miss a day going into the lines. After a very rough time I was so sick I could not get up the next morning. The fumes and exhaust got the best of me. By the following day I had recovered and was back in our tank again.

We had thrown out our water cans and everything else inside to make room for more ammunition. We only carried a canteen of water each and a C-ration each. We store 45 boxes of 30Cal. Machine Gun ammo inside, fill the ammo rack with 110 rounds of 75MM and strap another 8 to 10 rounds to the deck under the loaders feet. These are used first. We also carry two complete spare machine guns. We usually burn out the barrels on two of these each day. The would get white hot from so much rapid fire, the tracers would explode a few feet in front of our tank. The barrel was so hot the lead bullet was melting as it passed through the barrel. This caused the tracers to go up in one poof. Of course you canít hit a target with guns in this condition, so they must be replaced. At first we only carried spare barrels but soon found out it was almost impossible to change them out when they are this hot. We managed to get complete spare machine guns. There are 250 rounds in each box of 30Cal. Machine Gun ammo. We still run out of ammo sometimes before the day is over and have to get other tanks to relieve us.

That is over 11,000 rounds through two machine gun positions in our tank in one day, plus over a hundred rounds of 75MM ammo. Before pulling out of the front lines we would give the infantry our remaining 30Cal. ammo and all hand grenades. These were passed out through a port in the turret. After being in tanks for 12 to 14 hours a day we were exhausted. Sometime I could not hear well enough to talk or understand people talking to me from all the noise inside, including the radio earphones we had to wear in order to follow instructions from the tank commander. My hearing is still bad from this.

Our cooks are now fixing hot C-rations for us in the evenings. At least it is hot. This is much better than cold K-rations. One day we were sitting in our tank near the front lines waiting for a guide to point out targets in that sector. Lt. Steiner decided that if we were going to have time to eat our K-ration lunch that day, we had better do it now. When he mentioned this I complained about the smell and wanted to wait for awhile before eating. He said there would not be time to eat later and if I wanted to know where the awful smell was coming from, just look in the road a few yards in front of us. I turned the turret so I could see. A Jap had been killed in the road and had been run over by tanks. He looked perfectly flat just like a paper doll. This was the first time I had ever seen a human being in this condition. I did not enjoy my lunch. We only eat to have the strength to continue.

Since Iím thinking about eating, I have one other story on this subject. Scott and I with three other Marines from another tank crew were heating C-rations which had just been brought up from the beach. They had been unloaded in a huge bomb crater next to where we were parked. This was our first time to have C-rations and we wanted a hot lunch. Using Sterno, we were trying to heat meat balls and spaghetti. We had just started eating when an artillery shell hit just a few yards from where we were sitting, so close that dirt and dust went all over us ruining or food. We dove under our tank for cover. As the dust cleared, I could see one of the guys still sitting there trying to keep dirt and dust out of his food. He was calling the Japs all kinds of names for ruining his lunch. He had not moved an inch, just sitting in the same place trying to fan the dust away. The shell had fallen in the bomb crater where the C-rations were stored. A Marine had just gone there to get a case of food and was killed. Death was everywhere, there is no safe place on this island. Only the lucky ones escape unhurt. I had been in the very spot to get rations a few minutes before. Only god knows why it wasnít me.

After loading up with all the ammo we could possibly carry, we move out for a sector of the lines held by the 26th Marines. They had not been able to move forward very much in several days. We are on the North side of a place called Bloody Gorge. General Kuribayashi's headquarters are believed to be located there. There are many heavy fortifications here, some with 10 feet thick walls. These are usually burned out by flame tanks then sealed by our bulldozer tanks. The cover and pillboxes get the same treatment. The terrain is so rough our bulldozer has to make roads for every advance. When our troops first fought into this area, the word was passed that tanks were through since the terrain was impossible. Our infantry did not have the manpower to move without our support. We had to get tanks in somehow. The only way was to make passable roads as we moved in. We manage to advance several hundred yards to a point where we either have to stop or go into the gorge itself. We guard the bulldozer tank for hours as he makes a path into this gorge. This requires cutting and filling an area where there is about a 20 foot vertical drop into onto the gorge floor. Finally, we are able to drive our tanks directly into the gorge. Our two tanks are now alone inside a walled area several hundred yards long and about a hundred yards wide. We drive in circles shooting up everything in sight. After about 45 minutes of this, the infantry moves in to consolidate this position. This is the last large stronghold left on Iwo Jima. We are now overlooking a rocky area that drops off into the sea. The remaining Japs are holed up in this area and will have to be annihilated by foot soldiers, the terrain in now impossible, even with bulldozer tanks. We stay in the gorge with our infantry as long as possible to give them added firepower and did not leave until almost dark. Earlier I saw a Marine get shot through the right side of his chest. I happened to be looking at him because he was walking up behind Sgt. Tuttles tank. There was a streak of light from the top of the gorge angling down to the Marine. This reflection of light was from the sun on the bullet as it passed through the air going to the Marine. We turned the turret at full speed to the rim of the gorge following the path of this streak of light. The Jap saw us just as we were in position to fire, he jumped and ran, our tracers only inches behind him. I'm sorry we missed this one. The wounded Marine had a corpsman attending his wound in a matter of minutes. We watched as the corpsman takes a roll of gauze and twist it into the hole in his chest and his back. They sit him up and lean him against the boggie wheels of Sgt. Tuttles tank. He is given a cigarette, he smokes sitting there until stretcher bearers come to carry him away.

The gunner in Sgt. Tuttles tank started firing into an area where we had just seen Marines move into. They had moved into this area from behind his tank, he didnít see them go in. He apparently saw movement in this area and thought it was Japs. Lt. Steiner could not get them on the radio for some unknown reason. He tried everything but they would not answer us or stop firing. Iím so concerned about our tank firing into an area occupied by Marines, I volunteer to go outside and get on their field telephone and try to stop them. Lt. Steiner was hesitant in allowing me to get outside under such heavy fire, although I was able to do so on the beach. He opened his hatch to check on the amount of fire around us. Japs started shooting at his hatch when he opened it, so much that he was afraid to put his arm our to reach the handle and close it. We could hear the bullets going through the air above us and sometimes hitting around the open hatch. Lucky for me I didnít try going out first. I would never have made it. The Marines soon set off a smoke grenade for identification and the tank stopped firing. We never know if anyone got hit. All of us try to be careful and not fire on our people, but in situations like this it does sometimes happen. The distance between the Marines and the Japs is often only a few yards.

The sun was going down when we finally got out of the gorge. We passed out our few boxes of 30 Cal ammo and all but 4 or 5 rounds of our 75MM ammo. We have no idea how many targets destroyed or how many Japs killed. Judging from the number of caves and gun emplacements we had fired into there must have been many. Our people are all above ground in the attack. The Japs are all below ground. Sometimes we spend all day on the lines and never see a live Jap.

The last Japanese strong hold has fallen. We were in our tank about 100 yards away when a bunker believed to contain the Japanese General Staff was blown up with thousands of pounds of explosives. The ground and tank shook as if an earthquake had hit. If there had been another major area to take, I doubt if the 5th Marine Division would have been able to find the manpower to take it. Everyone was exhausted and to the breaking point, none of us could go on much longer.

The next morning about 400 Japs from this area launched a counter attack up the West beach. They started before daylight, we could see the machine gun fire and mortar fir from sitting on top of our tank. It wasnít long before Sgt. Tuttle came over to inform us we had been selected to go up and help clean up the Japs. Our 1st Platoon had cleaned out our tanks the night before and were unarmed in preparation for leaving the island. We complained bitterly so another Platoon of ĎBí Company was selected to go. With field glasses we watched as our tanks fired into the Japs position. Soon everything was quiet again. This was one of the few times on Iwo Jima that the Japs left their cover and emplacements and came out into the open to fight. Perhaps this was their way of getting it over with in a hurry. They were the remains of over 20,000 Japanese troops on this island 36 days ago. By noon they were all dead or wounded. Again our tanks played an important part in this action.

The area where this attack took place was occupied

by non-combat troops and there were many casualties among them. While we were standing around our tanks watching, an Army soldier came up and started talking to us about what was going on up there. He was a black soldier and obviously very scared. He told us about the Japs cutting peoples throats while they were sleeping and lots of people getting killed. He said, "There is hell and destruction man, hell and destruction. Them Japs are mad at you white boys. They ainít mad at us black boys." He was very serious but we thought he was very funny. After finding out our tanks were disarmed in preparation for leaving the island, he took off at a fast walk toward Mt. Suribachi while all of us had our only good laugh since arriving on Iwo. Not many things were funny here but this black soldier certainly was.

The next day was spent cleaning up the area. Would you believe we had to pick up trash or anything else laying around and try to make this place look presentable. Scott and I threw our few damaged rounds of tank ammo into our foxhole and filled it with sand. We werenít about to carry this damaged ammo a hundred yards to an ammo dump and stack it as instructed. Funny how the Sgt. doesnít argue with a couple of tired and desperate Marines wearing 45ís. Even Lt. Steiner looks the other way when we have a disagreement. We also took our first shower since arriving here, changed clothes and socks, throwing the old clothes away in the nearest foxhole of course.

At last we are departing Iwo Jima. Sgt. Tuttle, McIntyre, Sgt. Itson and his driver are taking our two tanks back aboard a Navy landing ship dock. The rest of us are going back on board an APA, the USS Golden City. We walk to the West beach and go aboard an LSM which takes us out to the large troop transports off shore. We tie up along side and have to climb a cargo net to reach the deck level of the transport which must be about 25 feet up. As I approach the deck two sailors get me under each arm and lift me aboard as if I didnít weigh 100 lbs. Come to think of it, I probably didnít weigh very much more. Since going ashore we had only K-rations and C-rations to eat, this is 36 days later.

The food onboard was not much better than C-rations, some meals not as good. This ship had left the Philippines after bringing in Army troops and had almost no food onboard. I remember the first bread I had to eat one slice filled me. In fact one of our ĎBí Company tank Battalion Marines got into a hassle with a big sailor about throwing away a small piece of bread into a garbage can. It seems the rule on this ship is, you have to eat everything on your tray and our stomachs were in no condition to put much solid food into. The sailor gave the Marine a very rough time using abusive language. The Marine felt like he had put up with enough the last 36 days and didnít want any rough stuff from a 200 lb sailor. The result was the Marine pulled his 45 and chased the sailor all over the galley. If there had not been so many Marines in the galley, he might have shot the sailor. Some

Of his friends finally stopped him and talked him into putting the pistol away. The nest morning the Ships Captain ordered all Marines to turn in their ammo for all personal weapons. All of us turned in some ammo and hid some. We could not face the feeling of being totally defenseless. Even on our ship, without a loaded weapon we felt defenseless. For awhile I thought I was the only one with this feeling. After talking with my friends I found out they all felt the same way. It took years to get over this feeling, even today when Iím in a strange place where conditions are uncertain, I want the feeling of security, a 45 gives me that feeling.

On our way back to Hawaii the ships stop in Eniwetok and takes on supplies. Now we get much better food. The things we miss most are fresh milk and eggs. Some how I got used to not having fresh vegetables but never used to powdered milk and eggs. This was still no pleasure cruise. Our only showers were salt water while on Iwo. I had one salt water shower in 36 days, now aboard this ship we can take all the fresh water showers we want. You have to try salt water showers for a few days to understand what Iím talking about. The bunks were stacked five high. My best friend Bruce Scott slept under me. Almost every night he would wake me up dreaming. Sometimes he would be pushing on me since Iím above him and shouting. "Let me out." He was dreaming the tank was on fire and he could not get the hatch above him open. We never laugh or joke about these things. I usually have to awake him to quiet him down.

Just a few days before we arrive in Hawaii we hear on the ships radio that President Roosevelt has died. These were indeed sad days. Everyone in the Marine Corps felt the President was a real friend. His oldest son is an officer in the Marine Corps. He had taken time to come to Camp Pendelton and watch our 5th Marine Division in practice landing operations prior to our going to Hawaii.

The 5th Marine Division had suffered such severs casualties, they were able to bring our entire Division back to Hawaii in only 5 or 6 ships. We docked in Hilo and boarded a single train normally used to haul sugar cane to mill. These were open flat cars, the weather was beautiful, the scenery fantastic. As our train gets underway the Marines break out their Jap flags captured on Iwo Jima. There were hundreds of Jap flags flying from on end of the train to the other. This was a beautiful sight. The victors had returned home. Iíve never felt so proud to be a part of anything like this before in my life. There were no spectators, no one watching us, no crowd, no cheering, no band, only the remainder of a proud 5th Marine Division returning home. For some reason I preferred it this way, no one could understand our feelings at this time. Iíve never seen a picture of this return scene published. Apparently no photographers were on hand to record it.

The next day our battle scared tanks returned. They were driven up from the beach to Camp Tarawa. The marines lined the streets watching them drive through camp to our parking area. This was the first time I had seen them all together since we left for Iwo Jima. It was hard to believe how battered and beat up they looked. Every tank had huge marks all over where shells, shrapnel and bullets had hit them.

As mentioned at the beginning, I hope this doesnít sound like I was trying to write a novel. It certainly was not intended to be. I did not try to give a history of the 5th Divisions role in taking Iwo Jima, only what I participated in. My job as a tank gunner allowed me to see and do only limited things. Our world was only what we could see through a gun sight or tank periscope. This is what I was trying to describe, even then Iíve left out many things I felt did not need to be written here. This was not intended to be a horror story, only some of my experiences I felt worth telling and talking about.

One thing Iíve learned from this experience, with proper training, Americans can be some of the worlds best soldiers. The Marine Corps certainly gives young men that training. War is no game, itís a struggle between life and death, the best trained, best equipped men have the best chance to survive. I thank god for my decision to go into the Marine Corps and receive this type of training and fight with people who only knew how to win. Losing was never a consideration. When I volunteered to join the Marine Corps a letter of recommendation was required. A friend of my fathers, a former Marine, at this time a Lt. Colonel in the Alabama National Guard, wrote this letter for me. In his letter he pointed out that I was of the type of

young man who fought in the Marine Corps at Belleau Wood with him in WWI. I never knew what he was talking about until after Iwo Jima and I had time to think about it. He meant that I was of the type who could be trained and disciplined to follow orders, who could be depended on to do what ever was necessary to get the job done regardless of the cost.

All of the men I knew were of this type, Iíve never heard of anyone who refused to do his job because he feared for his life. All of us faced each day knowing it could very well be our last, but this was never allowed to interfere with whatever had to be done. Even if we had known we would be killed it would make no difference.

I still have faith in the youth of this country. If the occasion ever arises again, these same kind of young men will answer their call to duty and defend this country to the death. This was demonstrated just a short time ago in Lebanon. Some how the Marine Corps seems to always find the required numbers of such men. Let us pray this never changes.

 

George Waddell Nations
Born July 23, 1926
Died
March 20, 2002
The
U.S. flag was folded and presented by the United States Marine Corps. Michael Nations, the grandson of George Nations, was in the flag detail and presented the colors. It was a special moment for the entire family.

Semper Fidelis