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Detroit Lakes man dodged death at Iwo Jima

We were up early on this eventful day, Feb. 19, 1945. First off, we were treated to a steak and eggs breakfast. Then we readied our packs and equipment for our departure from this Landing Ship Tank (LST).

We then proceeded to the hold and got into our respective amphibious tractors. This was around 7 a.m.. Sometime thereafter they started all these amphibious tractors and before long, the hold was so filled with exhaust fumes that I was afraid to breathe such heavily contaminated air.

Even with the bow doors open on this LST, the air was very heavy with exhaust pollutants. We then motored over the ramp (single file), exited between the two open front doors, and dipped into the ocean.

When all of the amphibious tractors were out of the LST, we stayed in single file while edging closer to The shoreline. At about 8:45 a.m., the amphibious tractors formed a line, all abreast, and headed for the beach.

B Company would land on the extreme south end of Green Beach No. 1, which made us the unit closest to Mt. Surabachi.

When the amphibious tractors motored up on the beach, we were to disembark out the back door ramp, which, when released, dropped to ground level.

However, we had a huge problem. The rear door would not disengage and go down. We tried everything, but to no avail. Finally, we had to go over the side, but there was no ladder or step-rungs on the inside to step up and over.

Capt. Mears and I then hoisted each man over the side. Each of us would cup our hands and then have the man step into our cupped hands so we could hoist them over, one by one. We finally got them all out, and then I helped Capt. Mears out, and then there I was, all alone in the troop carrying compartment. I then had to get one of the drivers out to help me over the side.

Most of these amphibious tractors were brand new, so that probably explains why this one wouldn't disengage its rear ramp. Too bad we didn't have time for a new vehicle recall!

Our objective for this first day was to cross this part of the island to the west side ASAP.

We first confronted two terraces (each 7 feet high), which were difficult to get over. This coarse volcanic ash was like trying to run in a granary full of wheat, and then to go uphill a little made one feel like you were running in place and making no headway.

Once I got on top of the second terrace the under footing was more firm, so I took off like a track star.

I went somewhat over 50 yards and the small arms fire was very heavy. Somehow I was untouched, along with some others. Men were falling everywhere, and Capt. Mears was severely wounded. We kept going in 20 to 30 yard dashes, while resting a little after each dash.

Casualties were extremely heavy from 10 a.m. on, and I later learned that the 28th Regiment suffered 1,300 casualties on this first day.

Having landed with the first wave, we of course proceeded across the island almost immediately, so I didn't see all the devastation that took place behind us, but so many were missing when we reached the west side.

B Company lost five out of their six officers. It was difficult to realize how many men were lost on this first day.

In retrospect it seemed strange that I saw so few of the enemy soldiers. I never saw any unit-to-unit confrontations. They had pillboxes and blockhouses that we took out with flamethrowers and frontal attacks.

Their troops outside their fortifications were well camouflaged and were able to deliver a hailstorm of rifle and machine gun fire.

This bears out the strategy of Gen. Kurybiashi, the Japanese commander. He believed that with the right early defensive strategy, he could decimate the Marine units so severely as to make them ineffective, and then counterattack and drive them off the island. He had a dogged belief in this strategy, and thank God it didn't work.

We did complete our goal for the first day, and we then had to prepare for the all-out assault on Mt. Surabachi.

With close to a three-battalion front, plus artillery, airplane-delivered rockets and naval gunfire into the mountain, the capture of Mt. Surabachi was completed by Feb. 23. The flag-raising on Feb. 23 gave us all such a great sense of accomplishment, and a grandiose feeling of pride and patriotism for our country and the U.S. Marine Corps.

God Bless America.

Author's note: A few years back, the Library of Congress made a plea for World War II veterans to submit stories about their experiences, as they were dying at the rate of about 30,000 a month. This is a portion of what I submitted to them for their historical archives.

These stories should help the general public to understand the horrendous experiences of some of our veterans. -- Paul Ceynowa, Detroit Lakes