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Fifth Marine Cemetery - Iwo Jima

Iwo Jima - An Island of Cemeteries

On 27 May, our crew (P-5) was ordered to Iwo Jima for a period of DS (Detached Service). The purpose of the assignment was two-fold: to participate in search missions for downed B-29 airmen along the Japanese coast; and to serve as navigational escort for P-51's in a forthcoming strike against the seaport of Yokohama. These 1500-mile round trip flights for the P-51's would be the longest in fighter aircraft history.

As we peered down the tiny five and one-half mile long island, certain features stood out conspicuously. The over all view of pork-chop shaped Iwo was one of ugliness and desolation; it's black volcanic ash much like the surface of the moon. Rising 556-feet at its southern tip stood historic Mount Suribachi, an inactive volcano. It was here that the valiant Fifth Marine Division had bitterly fought its way to the top. In perhaps the most memorable scene of World War II, they planted the American Flag on the brim of its deep crater.

Highly visible, too, were the island's three air fields situated atop a flat ridge and simply known as Motoyama # 1, # 2, # 3.

The most inspiring sight of all, though were Iwo's three cemeteries, each with its long symmetrical rows of white crosses. They stood in stark contrast against the island's black sandy background - the final resting places for over 6,800 Americans lost in the struggle for Iwo. Add to this about 19,000 injured, and it ranked as one of the bloodiest of all battles in American History. Out of an estimated 21,000 Japanese troops, only 1000 had been taken prisoner. The others died in combat, were incinerated or sealed in caves, or chose to die by committing suicide.

Iwo Jima Right Shore Line
Looking from Mt. Suribachi

There were 353 Congressional Medals of Honor bestowed during the fours of World War II, both in Europe and the Pacific. Of this number 27 of them went to veterans of Iwo in an operation lasting just over a month. Iwo Jima was taken solely to provide sanctuary for battle damaged and fuel short B-29's returning from Japan. Located halfway between the Marianas and Tokyo, it would substantially reduce the many hazardous, even life-taking, ditches at sea.

Though the island's cost in lives had been horrendous, its value to the B-29 crew became increasingly obvious. The first landing of a B-29 on Iwo Jima occurred on 4 March 1945. It was the "Dinah Might," piloted by Captain Raymond Malo. From this day forward, the significance of Iwo's acquisition could never be questioned. It's safe to say that nearly every Superfort sought refuge there at least once in an emergency situation. As result, countless crews and airmen survived to fly another day. Of further importance, long-range American fighters were now able to strike Japan - only 750 miles away. Moreover, it also made it possible to provide much needed fighter escort protection for B-29s.

Unquestionably, this tiny obscure and God forsaken dot of volcanic residue became the most important life and plane saver for the 21st Bomber Command - one that altered dramatically the direction and conduct of the Pacific air war.

On the next page are photos that we believe are scenes from the Marine's fight
Courtesy of Dorothy Hughes, daughter of William F. Brown, 60th BS
Click here
This page was created on 28 November 2000
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