71 years ago today Mother and I were clustered around our radio in Philadelphia seeking the latest news of the war that was raging in the Pacific. Dad of course was the object of our anxiety. He was on duty as the commanding officer of an evacuation hospital within the Fifth Division of the US Marines and was currently in the midst of the frightful fight on Iwo Jima. He had contacted us immediately about his whereabouts, long hand (no email), so we knew that every report from the front was a status report. He wrote me from the dugout where he reported having to step over the bodies of our men and theirs on the way to breakfast. There was no front line. Everywhere was the front. Flamethrowers, suicide bombers, tunnels every were the spotty bits of news that Mother and I scavenged.
In three weeks of the ferocity we lost 8,000 Marines, the Japanese lost 25,000 of their men, 33,000 men fallen in three weeks on that tiny island, that's 1,400 per day. This of course is but a fraction of the 405,000 total casualties in World War II, but this in turn was three times the total killed in World War I. Still only a small fraction of the Civil War dead of 750,000. War truly is hell.
Dad had been in the Naval Reserve for years, so he showed up for duty shortly after Pearl Harbor and was generally installed as commanding officer of the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. I recall meeting Helen Keller who had come to visit while he was there.
As the conflict in the Pacific picked up he received orders to report for duty with the Marines in N.C. He learned to shoot during this era, but I doubt that he ever fired during combat. Eventually he was transferred to Hawaii where his outfit boarded ship for the invasion of Iwo. Iwo Jima was a critical target in that it provided much more proximity for our B 29 bombers who were targeting Tokyo. Precious in my possession is a letter that he wrote on ship board two days after the beachhead was established. He recalled seeing the stars and stripes flying proudly on the top of Mount Surabachi the dominating landmark. On my piano today is a glorious photo of Dad and the famous Iwo flag.
After the battle his group returned to Hawaii to train for the upcoming invasion of Japan that was expected momentarily, however Truman's brave decision to drop the two bombs settled the issue and saved millions of casualties on all sides.
Subsequently Dad landed in Japan and surveyed the radiation damage in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He returned to Mom and me in two more months. What a reunion!
My armed service record pales in comparison. I was a Capt. In the Army Medical Corps with the 25th division at Schofield barracks awaiting momentary summons to Korea which thankfully never came.
So, on this Memorial Day we pause to honor the lives and sacrifice of the young people who gave their all to protect our freedoms.
Above all I am proud to be an American.