At this time seventy years ago – Feb 19 to March 26, 1945 – one of the bloodiest and deadliest battles of the Pacific war took place on the volcanic island of Iwo Jima (Sulfur Island). A mere speck in the vast Pacific, Iwo Jima is only 4.5 miles long and at its broadest point just 2.5 miles wide. Nevertheless, securing this tiny island proved to have vast strategic importance for the outcome of the war. Capturing Iwo Jima kept the new huge B-29 “Superfortress” bombers, which had a range capable of reaching the Japanese homeland, from being intercepted by Japanese fighter aircraft on the island.
U.S. Marines invaded Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945, after 70 days of aerial bombardment, 3 days of naval bombardment, and hours of pre-invasion bombardment which turned nearly every inch of dirt on the island upside down. But the Marines discovered the Japanese defenders were not on the island - they were in it - dug into bunkers deep within the volcanic rocks. Approximately 70,000 Marines and 18,000 Japanese took part in the battle. In thirty-six days of fighting, nearly 7,000 U.S. Marines were killed. Another 20,000 were wounded. Only 216 Japanese soldiers were captured; the rest were killed in action. The island was finally declared secured on March 16, 1945. Over 1/4 of the Medals of Honor awarded to Marines in World War II were given for conduct in the invasion of Iwo Jima.
The World War II San Diego State College Servicemen's Correspondence Collection contains several letters pertaining to the battle of Iwo Jima, eight of which are reproduced here. On March 8, 1945 Chuck Ables wrote “Ordinarily this island wouldn’t be worth two cents but as it is we’re paying a terrible price for it. This place could very easily be described as “Hells Last Acre.” Ables concludes by writing “once we secure this “hole” we’ll really have one foot on Tokyo’s front porch.” In May, George Bergman wrote to geography professor Dr. Lauren Post “I am enclosing a small dash of dirt. It is genuine Iwo Jima sand, picked up on the original invasion beach. You might like to add it to your collection, if any, of terra-not-so-firma from out of the way places.” In an undated letter from John Chandler to his parents, “Jack” writes “Am here on Iwo Jima and have been on the line. It is the toughest yet. This is a funny fight. I have been under quite a bit of fire, but have seen only one live Nip. They are around though ..” On April 17, Louie Lepore of “the 27th Marines up front on Iwo Jima” wrote “I was up there for three weeks, as fighting continued for some time after the official securing of that island. During that time I saw enough to satisfy me for some time. It’s something better forgotten.” In June, Charles Richard St. John wrote to Dr. Post about meeting Louis Lepore, who “gave me quite a story on Iwo Jima – seems like the platoon he led really had a rough go; guess they all did for that matter. It amazed me at the extremes to which two fellows can go.” Earlier in the letter, Dick wrote about the death of fellow Stater John Nolan in another battle: “It’s almost impossible to imagine a laughing, happy-go-lucky kid like him as being one of those to go. Lord, how many millions of us are praying for this awful mess to be over?!” In March, 1945 Bill Stoll wrote “Landed on Iwo Jima a few days ago. This is one heck of a place to be stranded. The going is tough. We have to dig them out and it isn’t any fun. One consolation – there are no mosquitoes.”
San Diego State Aztecs who fought in the battle for Iwo Jima and did not survive the War were:
• John Isaac Beck
• George Robert Dall
• Donald C. Owen
Aztecs who were wounded at Iwo Jima were:
• Joseph W. Rogers
• Theodore Thomey
• Harry Muns
• George "Cotton" Gilliland
After the battle, Iwo Jima served as an emergency landing site for more than 2,200 B-29 bombers, saving the lives of 24,000 U.S. airmen. Securing Iwo Jima prepared the way for the last and largest battle in the Pacific: the invasion of Okinawa.