Battle of Iwo Jima
USS Iwo JIma (LHD 7) is named for the epic battle of February 1945, in which three divisions of the United States Marine Corps took control of the tiny island of Iwo Jima from 22,000 determined Japanese defenders.
The United States had recovered from the disastrous attack on Pearl Harbor, to the point where routine air attacks on Japanese cities could be made by heavy bombers launched from the Marianas. The successful outcome of the war seemed inevitable, but victory over the Japanese would come only at a high price. The Japanese considered Iwo Jima a part of mainland Japan, and an invader had not set foot on Japanese soil for 4,000 years.
Iwo Jima was a thorn in the side of the U.S. heavy bomber crews. Air attacks on the Marianas bomber bases, and bombers enroute to and from Japan, were launched from Iwo Jima. An assault on the island was necessary to eliminate these air attacks and to provide a haven for damaged American aircraft returning from Japan.
Amphibious forces of the U.S. Pacific Fleet attacked the fortress of Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945, with a formidable force, totaling 495 ships, including 17 aircraft carriers, 1170 planes, and 110,308 troops. Before the amphibious assault, elements of the Air Force and Army Air Corps pounded the island in the longest sustained aerial offensive of the war. Incredibly, this ferocious bombardment had little effect. Hardly any of the Japanese underground fortresses were touched.
The Japanese defenders devised a unique and deadly strategy to defend Iwo Jima from an American assault. Instead of building a barrier to stop the Americans at the beach, they fortified the interior of the island, creating a defense that could not be breached in a day.
On Feb. 19, 1945, the first wave of Marines were launched after an hour-long bombardment by the Navy’s “big guns.” The Americans planned to capture, isolate and fortify Mt. Suribachi. The success of the entire assault depended upon the early capture of the mountain.
After an hour of calm, the Japanese defenders, hiding in their network of caves and underground bunkers, unleashed a hail of gunfire. Mortars, machine guns and heavy artillery rained down from scores of machine gun nests atop Suribachi. After the first day of fighting, 566 American men were killed and 1,755 more were wounded. For the next several days, some of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific were fought on the isle of Iwo Jima.
It was a battle of attrition on terrain that had no front lines; where the attackers were exposed and the defenders fortified.
The battle for Iwo was fought desperately until March 26, when the island was finally secured by U.S. forces. In the struggle, nearly 7,000 Americans and more than 20,000 Japanese were killed. It was one of the most savage and costly battles in the history of the Marine Corps. As Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz observed, “Among the Americans who served on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
PFC Jack Lucas was 17 when he earned the Medal of Honor, the youngest awardee in our nation’s history. He leapt on two live grenades, saving countless brother Marines. A doctor aboard the hospital ship on which Lucas was treated said he was, “too damned young and too damned tough to die.” When asked, 53 years later, why he jumped on the grenades, Jack simply said, “to save my buddies.” He and his lovely wife, Ruby, are honorary crew and family members of USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7).