This month is the 77th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima. I know, crazy right?
Originally this post was going to be something entirely different than what it is now. An incredible documentary on the struggle for Iwo Jima though, changed its course.
Iwo Jima — the bloodiest battle in the pacific theatre of war.
A lot of things come to mind when someone says the name Iwo Jima. Probably the most common thing being the iconic image of the marines raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi. We have all seen it many times, it was one of the most famous photographs of WWII, and it is now a monument in our nation’s capital.
But have you ever wondered what was behind this photograph? If you could jump through the photo and into the scene that was unfolding around those men, what would it be?
Sometimes, we see these amazing photographs and read the stories of incredible men who did amazing things, and all we see is the victory — the moment on top of the mountain, if you will. My journey of research on Iwo Jima though, gave me a very different view.
I realized that we should never have won the struggle for Iwo Jima. Everything was standing against us. The island was eight square miles of fortified strongholds and the Japanese were determined to hold onto it. A foreigner had never stepped foot on the island before, and they wanted to keep it that way. The defense of Iwo consisted of two main things according to General Tadamichi Kuribayashi.
1. Every Japanese soldier was to kill at least ten marines before being killed himself.
2. Every soldier was to fight to the death.
Going into the battle, our troops didn’t know that this was what the enemy had been ordered to accomplish. They also didn’t know that there were sixteen miles of tunnel that had been hand-dug as fortifications by the Japanese.
Corporal “Woody” Williams, who would later be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Iwo Jima, summed it up when he said,
Iwo Jima was a vital island for America to capture. It would provide the much needed airstrips for our planes who were bombing the mainland of Japan. If we wanted to win the war, we had to take Iwo Jima. However, not only was the island well fortified, but the Japanese soldiers on the island were determined to fight to the death. Their religion taught them that it was more honorable to die for the empire than it was to live — even if that meant committing suicide to avoid capture. Surrender was not an option to the 21,000 Japanese soldiers on the island.
There was nothing pretty about this battle. One-third of ALL marine corps casualties during WWII were during the battle for Iwo Jima. Nicknames like “The Meat Grinder” and “Bloody Gorge” were given to some of the battle’s fiercest fighting locations for a reason. The fighting was unlike anything these men had seen up to that point. It was a blood bath. It was a battle where flamethrowers were the most effective and used weapons. Statistically the average life span of an American flamethrower operator during Iwo Jima was five minutes — or less. Hand grenades would be thrown back and forth between lines in a deadly game of who could throw it the most times before detonating. Everything that I have read about Iwo Jima points to the same fact. It was by far the bloodiest battle we faced in the Pacific and the odds were really against us.
Even the terrain was working against us. The black volcanic ash that covers the island made it difficult for our men to get ashore. Some described it like trying to walk on BBs. It would shift under them, but it wouldn’t compact like sand would. Running on it was not an option. There was little-to-no cover for our troops because of the barrenness of the island. They had to try and dig foxholes in the strange “black sand” which was nearly impossible. Meanwhile the enemy was safely inside their tunnels with clear shots of our troops.
Admiral Chester Nimitz said of the battle, “Among those who served on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.” I have to say that I completely agree. They faced a formidable foe and everything working against them, but they did what their country needed them to do.
We look at the battle and see that the odds were astounding. Yet somehow, thirty-six days after its start, the battle ended in American victory. After researching the battle and how much of a cost we paid for it, I wondered the same question that others have. Was it 100% worth it?
Was it worth the nearly 7,000 Americans who were killed or the 20,000 wounded that we suffered just for a little island in the pacific shaped like a pork chop?
It is the same question that someone asked some of the Iwo Jima marines in an interview. Their answer blew me out of the water. They pointed out that after the war ended, a statistic was brought to attention that showed that over 2,200 B29 bombers made emergency landings on Iwo Jima after we had taken it. That means that over 24,000 American airmen’s lives were saved because Iwo Jima was captured. If we had never taken the island, like the odds stacked against us said, all of those men would have been condemned to die in a watery grave.
Is it coincidence that we somehow managed to capture the island? That by some odd chance we kept our flag flying over Mt. Suribachi — a place that had never before had a foreign flag flown over it?
You can call it coincidence if you want, but I personally don’t believe in coincidence. I believe that all things happen for a purpose. I believe that God governs in the affairs of men.
The capture of Iwo Jima was not a simple coincidence. I believe full heartedly that it was God’s hand moving on our behalf. We were fighting against terrible evils during WWII, and because of that, I believe that God was blessing us for it. That he was guiding us through the storms of war, granting us victory.
I believe that the purpose for the battle was made very clear. It was a battle that would save lives that otherwise would have been lost.
What are your thoughts on it? Have you ever studied or read about Iwo Jima? Do you believe God’s hand was moving on our behalf? I would love to hear in the comments!