My final operation and the climactic event of my forty years in the Marine Corps was Iwo Jima, the last fortress barring our path to Tokyo. Okinawa still had to be captured before we possessed a staging area large enough to mount forces for the proposed invasion of Japan, but Iwo Jima was the seal placed on the complete and utter defeat of Japan, which started when we broke through the Marianas defense chain and seized Saipan.
[Iwo Jima--Part I]
When I look back at the Iwo Jima battle, fought on the barren, volcanic island only eight square miles in area, among caves, pillboxes, bunkers and blockhouses comprising the most ingenious, elaborate and indestructible system of underground fortifications ever devised, I ask myself the question many people have asked me: Did we have to take Iwo Jima?
Iwo Jima was the most savage and the most costly battle in the history of the Marine Corps. Indeed, it has few parallels in military annals. In the first five days we suffered casualties at an average of more than 1,200 a day. One out of every three Marines who set foot on the island was killed or wounded. In the first 50 hours, our casualties were more than 3,000, and in a campaign lasting 26 days, with many more days of mopping up, our total casualties were 21,558, of whom 5,521 were killed or died of wounds. Divisions ended the battle with less than 50 percent combat efficiency.
Yet my answer to the question, tremendous as was the price of victory, if definitely in the affirmative, In fighting a war to win, you cannot evaluate the attainment of an objective in terms of lives, of money, or material lost. I said "Yes" to this
question before we laid plans to take Iwo Jima, and I say "Yes" today.
Occupation of the island was a military necessity for several reasons, as I shall indicate. The conditions of its capture were dictated by the Japanese, not ourselves, and we took it the only possible way--by frontal attack, by interposing our own flesh and blood whenever armament did not suffice.
Japanese defense plans for Iwo Jima, using fortifications constructed in its black volcanic ash, among the ridges and cliffs and ravines, torn from Dürer engravings of the Inferno, were based upon a simple proposition. It was this: if the Marines ever landed on the island and attempted to take it, the enemy would exact every possible American life. He would compel us to use the utmost effort to gain our objective, and he would make victory a thing of frightening proportions, even if the entire Japanese garrison perished, which it did. This would be a manifestation of the Japanese will to die.
To accomplish our task on Iwo Jima, we had to produce men who were tougher than the Japanese, who could beat them at their own game, who patriotism transcended that of the enemy, who also could reach the heights of Bushido, but in the American way, which is based on cool reason and methodical efficiency instead of blind obedience to the dictates of fanaticism.
The boys we took from the farm, the factory, the school, and the office became the best amphibious troops in the world. We put them ashore on an island where every yard of terrain was the front line and supplied them with the best weapons; we gave them all the naval and air support we could obtain. They landed to discover that eight months of intermittent bombardment, 72 days of daily land-based air raids, and three days of stepped-up shelling had hardly scratched the fortifications the Japanese had prepared against us.
So they took Iwo Jima the hard way, the Marine way, the way we had trained them to take it when everything else failed. The combination of Marine training and overwhelming matériel told. Even the Japanese realized that willingness to die for their
Emperor was not equal to better troops, superior firepower, and equipment. The little brown supermen proved a myth against our boys. Despite all the things we had read or learned about the physical endurance of the Japanese, they fell short in comparison with the Marines.
The Marines were trained amphibious troops, but it wasn't amphibious war that they fought on Iwo Jima. Nor was the island a Cannae or a Waterloo. The field was too small. eighty thousand troops, American and Japanese, battled on eight square miles of island--10,000 men per square mile. Fighting among subterranean defenses, it was troglodyte war on a primitive level, with modern refinements that burned men to ashes, blasted through concrete masses, split the earth with seismic effect, and entombed thousands alive.
In my report I wrote; "The entire operation was fought on what was virtually the enemy's own terms." He paid the piper and called the tune. But we enjoyed a superiority derived form the experience of three years of successful campaigning, plus complete sea and air superiority. In the end, the roles were reversed. We called the tune for a macabre dance. A message left by four Japanese found dead in a cave on Iwo Jima read: "To the Americans: We have fortified this island for over a year, but we cannot win this war along, with just the Yamato (warrior) spirit. We cannot match your superiority. There is no other road for us to follow but to die."
They voiced the recurrent theme of the operation and I stress it because without this background it is impossible to comprehend events on the island. Despite massive planning and preparation and the greatest display and employment of armed might the Pacific had seen, it was, reduced to its essence, the man on the beach with his rifle who won this island for us.
Although Iwo Jima was seldom mentioned on prewar maps, preparations for its conquest caused repercussions throughout the entire American global command. The expedition was mounted in the Central Pacific, at Hawaii and at our new Marianas bases, but nearly every theater was alerted and cooperated. Naval vessels were withdrawn from the European theater to
support the operation: the Philippines and China commands provided support: as far away as India, American and Allied forces undertook air and anti-submarine missions integrated with the general plan.
From the United States came the most modern ships. Many of the vessels in the fleet of 800 that appeared off Iwo Jima at dawn on February 19, 1945, were being built or had not been commissioned six months before D-day. All but one of the transports that carried the Fourth and Fifth Divisions from Hawaii were brand new. Some of the smaller units were only in the blue print stage when we started our planning. For the reduction of this tiny, pear-shaped island, the call went out "Come the four corners of the world in arms," American arms, that is. And they came.
The Navy paid is first visit to Iwo Jima simultaneously with our landing on Saipan on June 15, 1944. In the great ocean-wide sweep to neutralize Japanese air and naval bases, Vice Admiral Mitscher took Task Force 58 and gave the Japanese a taste of what was coming to them, although at that time the Joint Chiefs of Staff had not definitely decided on the capture of the island. Even in June, 1944, Pete Mitscher commanded a great task force: seven battleships, 15 carriers, 21 cruisers, and 78 destroyers. In making a combined surface and air strike on Iwo Jima, our naval forces ventured closer to the shores of Japan than ever before that time.
With the Marianas in our possession, our strategy was oriented towards a direct assault on the home islands of Japan. We now had bases which brought the greater part of Japan within bombing range of our B-29's and the construction of big airfields, especially at Tinian, enabled us to carry the war to nearly every Japanese city. Up to the Marianas invasion, B-29's operated only from bases of the 20th Bomber Command in China and their range was restricted to the island of Kyushu, in Western Japan.
The initial study of Iwo Jima was made only in the light of its strategical importance, which far outranked its size. It is the main island in the Volcanos, part of the larger Bonin Islands.
which in turn belong to a chain called Nanpo Shoto by the Japanese. These islands extend 700 miles in a north-south line from the entrance to Tokyo Bay almost to the Northern Marianas. The Japanese had fortified a number of them, principally in the southern part of the chain, and Iwo Jima, 670 miles from Tokyo, together with neighboring Chichi Jima, was the key to the entire defense system.
Any attempt to invade Japan would run afoul of this island, which had two excellent airfields, to which the Japanese ferried new planes as fast as we destroyed them, and a third field under construction. Iwo Jima lay there blocking our path. Its seizure was a necessary preliminary to any direct assault on Japan and it threatened our occupation of Okinawa, to the northwest, which, by 1945, was part of our grand strategy for closing in on Japan.
On November 24, 1944, B-29's from the newly established 21st Bomber Command in the Marianas made their first raid on Tokyo and, as the tempo of these raids increased, another conception developed regarding the importance of taking Iwo Jima. This island lay almost midway in the air path to Tokyo, and our flyers, on their long return missions to Japan, began to experience enemy interference from Iwo Jima. Planes from the island harassed them both coming and going, and radar on Iwo warned Tokyo in advance that the B-29's were coming.
It was a 16-hour round trip to Japan and, all things being equal, B-29's were able to make the flight comfortably. Despite their size and their gasoline capacity, if the B-29's carried a useful bomb load, they had little margin of flight. Our losses from anti-aircraft and fighter interception began to mount and Iwo Jima became the thorn in the side of our flyers.
Crews of the B-29's, subjected to flights at very high altitudes, to long hours, in the air, and to bad weather, began to crack under the strain. It was bad enough to escape enemy fighter attacks and anti-aircraft over the target, but the knowledge that having dropped their bombs and strained their fuel to the utmost, the enemy was waiting for them halfway back to their base, started to tell on our flyers. It was recognized that Army Air Force morale on Tinian and Saipan was sagging badly.
No organization can stand inordinate losses over a prolonged period, and these conditions threatened the success of our bombing program.
Accordingly, the capture of Iwo Jim assumed new importance. It was imperative for us to remove the threat to our B-29's, acquire an advance base from which we could operate fighter protection for our planes flying over Japan, and also emergency landing fields for crippled B-29's on their homeward flight. Hitherto, damaged planes or those suffering engine or fuel trouble had only one resort if they failed to make their base: ditch in the sea. Many flyers and planes were lost this way.
We met all these conditions when we captured Iwo Jima. We removed the obstacle to our capture of Okinawa and our advance on Japan. We destroyed the Iwo Jima garrison, taking only 217 prisoners, most of whom were badly wounded. We started building up the island as an air base from the day we captured the first of its three airfields. Two weeks after D-day, while we were fighting for our lives through the central belt of Japanese defenses, the first disabled B-29 landed on Motoyama Airfield Number One, which the Seabees had repaired and lengthened.
Before the fighting was over and while we were still killing Japanese in their caves at the northern end of the island, 40 B-29's had landed. According to Army figures, in a few months 1,449 B-29's with crews totalling 15,938 men, had fallen back on emergency facilities at Iwo. By the end of the war, Air Force estimates declared, more than 20,000 U.S. lives had been saved because Iwo was ours. Possession of this base meant another 5,000 pounds of weight per plane, which could be taken on in bomb load or fuel, but more valuable was the inestimable safety factor added to B-29 flights.
Simultaneously, Iwo Jima was developed as a fighter base. long before the last shot was fired on the island, Army P-51 Mustangs were based there and were flying escort missions, greatly imp[roving the efficiency of our heavy bombers. Later, the Mustangs were making fighter sweeps over Japan. Iwo Jima was a base beyond compare in our gigantic raids that wrecked Japan's
cities, knocked out her war potential, and helped bring the enemy to her knees. Twenty-one thousand dead and wounded Marines made these things possible.
Planning for the operation started on a top echelon plane early in October, 1944, before the first B-29 raid on Japan. Admiral Nimitz issued a directive again designating Admiral Spruance overall commander, with Kelly Turner as commander, Amphibious Force, and myself as commander of Expeditionary Troops. Under Major General Harry Schmidt, troops belonging to the V Amphibious Corps were assigned to the operation. These were the Fourth Division, under Major General Clifton B. Cates, and the Fifth Division, under Major General Keller E. Rockey. The Third Division, under Major General Graves B. Erskine, was to be held in reserve. The Iwo Jima operation was to be completely Naval in the assault phase, with the Marines turning over the island to the Army after its capture.
Immediately following the Nimitz directive, I received the Joint Staff study and on October 14, as Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, I issued a directive to Harry Schmidt designating him Landing Force Commander and directing him to prepare plans. It was two months before they were completed, because alterations had to be made in the original Joint Staff study in the light of intelligence we were receiving from constant air reconnaissance of the objective.
One of the changes concerned the Third Division. It had been proposed to hold the division in reserve, alerted at Guam. On further study, I considered it much sounder for this division to arrive with the other troops in the target area on D-day, available as a floating reserve. This decision proved sound because we ran into a larger garrison and far stronger defenses than we had anticipated. Instead of 14,000 Japanese we then believed to be holding the island, the enemy garrison totalled 22,000.
Meanwhile, a softening-up process of unparalleled intensity was proceeding. Starting with Pete Mitscher's strike on June 15, naval units made frequent surface and air strikes. Our newly arrived B-29's made Iwo Jima their target long before they started work on Tokyo. From the Marianas, planes of the Seventh Air
Force and the Strategic Air Force furnished most of the final 72 days' bombing. Every type of bomber, escorted by fighters, made the daily journey to Iwo Jima. All Army air bases were alerted to the task. Sometimes two or three raids a day, plus harassing attacks at night, were made, and these were interspersed with surface and carrier attacks. When Navy guns and Navy and Army bombers finished their task, a Marine Air Group went in with rockets. The Japanese, who didn't have a minute's peace, day or night, nevertheless built while we bombed. At the beginning of the aerial "softening" we could count 450 major defensive installations on Iwo: three days before we landed there were 750.
Chichi Jima and Haha Jima, two neighboring islands converted into air bases by the Japanese, also were attacked, but the focal point was always Iwo Jima. In our first big raid on December 8, 82 B-29's, 102 B-24's (*Liberators), and 28 P-38's (Lightnings) dropped 800 tons of bombs. The Seventh Air Force dropped 5,800 tons in 2,700 in 2,700 sorties. In one square mile of Iwo Jima, a photograph showed 5,000 bomb craters.
All this added up to a terrific total of destructive effort, which the uninitiated might expect to blast any island off the military map, level every defense, no matter how strong, and wipe out the garrison. But nothing of the kind happened. Like the worm which becomes stronger the more you cut it up, Iwo Jima thrived on our bombardment. The airfields were kept inactive by our attacks and some installations were destroyed but the main body of defenses not only remained practically intact but strengthened markedly.
The closer we got to D-day, the greater was the anti-aircraft coming from the island. It seemed impossible that our bombing and shelling could be having so little effect. But that is what happened. Colonel Dudley S. Brown, my Chief of Staff, observed in his report on the operation: "The prolonged aerial bombardment of Iwo Jima, which was a daily occurrence for over 70 days, had no appreciable effect in the reduction of the enemy's well prepared and heavily fortified defensive installations."
My own study of early air photographs indicated that a situation of an incredible nature existed on the island. It was plain
that Iwo Jima had fortifications the like and extent of which we had never encountered. Mindful of Tarawa, where most of the fortifications were above ground and were still standing when the Marines landed, my opinion was that far more naval gunfire was needed on an island five times the size of Tarawa, with many more times the number of defenses, most of them deep underground.
I could not forget the sight of Marines floating in the lagoon or lying on the beaches at Tarawa, men who died assaulting defenses which should have been taken out by naval gunfire. At Iwo Jima, the problem was far more difficult. If naval guns could not knock out visible defenses, how could they smash invisible defenses except by sheer superabundance of fire?
My staff, my division commanders and I agreed unanimously that in spite of considerable naval and air preparation, an additional long period of intense naval gunfire was needed as a prerequisite to our landing at Iwo Jima. The original provision was for eight days' fire by a cruiser division, plus three days by old battleships. A request from Harry Schmidt, which I transmitted to Kelly Turner on October 24, was for ten days' bombardment by a cruiser division and three battleships. This, we had decided, would prepare the beaches adequately for our landing.
Turner replied that this was impossible because of "limitation on the availability of ships, difficulties of ammunition replacement, and the loss of surprise." By the last remark I inferred he meant that we would be giving the Japanese advance notice of our intentions. Turner also informed us that the original eight days' cruiser bombardment had been abandoned and, instead, the division would bombard Iwo Jima at irregular intervals, starting December 15, and we would receive only three days' bombardment by heavy ships.
On November 8, I forwarded to Turner another proposal from Schmidt that the Navy should provide nine days' bombardment. Two weeks later he replied, not only completely rejecting our request but definitely confirming that there would be only three days. However, he promised that the bombardment would
be the best possible, taking into account factors of ammunition supply, time and subsequent fire requirements.
We appeared to have run up against an irrevocable decision. Three days were totally inadequate but the decision was out of our hands, although we had presented all conceivable evidence, backed by photographic evidence of the island's defenses. The lack of naval gunfire, so vital to the success of a landing, struck at the very heart of our enterprise. Therefore, we made one last effort to alleviate a shocking situation. We had to haggle like horse traders, balancing irreplaceable lives against replaceable ammunition. I was never so depressed in my life.
On November 24, Harry Schmidt asked for just one more day's bombardment, making four instead of three. I favorably endorsed his request and forwarded the letter to Turner, who approved to a limited degree, and forwarded the letter to Spruance. Turner favored the new suggestion, provided there was no objection based on the general strategical situation.
Spruance rejected this plea on these very grounds. Part of the overall plan was a fast carrier strike by Task Force 58 on the Tokyo area, to coincide with the three days' bombardment of Iwo Jima, and Spruance had set his heart on making this strike the most impressive naval effort of the war. After the strike, Task Force 58 was to return to Iwo Jima to provide support for our landing and then leave for another strike at Japan, to neutralize any enemy air interference that might have developed.
The reasons adduced by Spruance for his rejection were:
That the initial surface bombardment must be simultaneous with the initial carrier attack on the Tokyo area, and that, if continuation of the carrier strikes beyond two days were neither desirable nor necessary, the enemy could then recover early enough to initiate threatening air attacks at the objectives on D-day.
That the shore-based air attack to be provided could be considered at least as effective as the recommended additional day of surface ship bombardment.
That there would be no opportunity for replacement of naval ammunition, and that there was therefore a limit to the amount of ammunition that could be made available for preliminary bombardment, allowing sufficient ammunition for D-day.
To me, naval insistence upon the priority of the strike against Japan at the cost of fire support for our assault on Iwo Jima was incomprehensible. To take the better part of the fleet away ignored the principal aims of our mission. It simply weakened the power we could use at Iwo Jima. To my way of thinking--and I an sure I was right--the operation was planned for the capture of Iwo Jima, but Spruance permitted the attack on Japan to overshadow the real objective.
While danger from the air did exist, there was no Japanese naval threat great enough to require him to send so many heavy ships with Task Force 58. The naval threat, which was so vivid when we started planning for Iwo Jima, vanished before we exchanged messages dealing with more gunfire. The Japanese Fleet was practically destroyed int he Battle of Leyte Gulf fought from October 23 to 26.
Limited, against our better judgment, to only three days' preliminary bombardment, there seemed nothing to do but make the best of the situation. However, in a final effort to utilize the proffered gunfire to the best advantage, Harry Schmidt forwarded to me a final proposal based on a careful study of the bombardment plan. Dated January 2, 1945, it stated that he believed the preliminary gunfire to be inadequate for destroying targets flanking and at the rear of the landing beaches. He suggested that either the time for preliminary bombardment be increased or that fire be concentrated on the main landing beaches, generally ignoring the other parts of the island.
In other words, if he couldn't have all the fire power he wanted, he preferred it in the place where he needed it most. Fore poured on the landing beaches and on the airfield behind (Motoyama Number One) would be the most efficient way of using the limited amount allowed for our landing.
In his reply, Turner reiterated Spruance's reasons for disapproving of Schmidt's proposal. He said that he did not consider concentration of fire on the landing beaches a sound plan because other areas would receive too light fire coverage.
Thus were we defeated--a group of trained and experienced land fighters, our full realization of the necessity for naval gunfire
based on may previous island operations--again overridden by the naval mind. Finding ourselves in this dilemma, we had tried our best to enlighten the high command, feeling that our judgment would be respected, but naval expediency won again.
Our troubles were not at an end. Due to a change of plans by Spruance,l the ships allocated to the pre-D-day bombardment were unavailable and substitutions were made. We also were robbed of the services of the USS Washington and the USS North Carolina, two of our 16-inch-gun ships originally assigned to the nigardly allotment of fire, but withdrawn at the last minute to join Task Force 58 and provide anti-aircraft fire. These two battleships were to have supplied one day's pre-landing fire with their powerful guns.
Turner protested to his chief regarding this sudden change. He pointed out to Spruance that fire support already had been seriously diminished and would be reduced dangerously without these two ships. They were much more valuable prior to D-day than later, because only a small amount of battleship fire would be needed after the landing.
Spruance was apologetic for this disruption, but he insisted that the importance of the strike was so great that he must give Task Force 58 all possible assistance to insure a successful outcome.
The Admiral stated he had informed Rear Admiral William H.P. Blandy, commanding the Amphibious Support Force entrusted with the bombardment, that our landing might be deferred if, on the evening prior to D-day, the required reduction of targets on Iwo Jima had not been accomplished. Spruance added, "I regret this confusion caused in your carefully laid plans, but I know you and your people will get away with it."
We appreciated his confidence in our ability to "get away with it" but this pat on the back was cold comfort against the loss of great modern ships, with 16-inch guns we knew could rip apart Japanese pillboxes and tear the heart out of concrete bunkers. I reflected ruefully that naval thinking had not changed in the 25 years since I was at the Naval War College.
Nine days before we landed, the situation produced the
following observation by my Chief of Staff, Colonel Brown, who wrote me:
In view of the fact that the ships . . . are not now available for the pre-D-day support of the landing force, it is the opinion of the undersigned that the naval gunfire support has been so weakened as to jeopardize the success of the operation. Certainly, under the present plan of support, assuming that the initial landings are successful, the cost in Marines killed will be far greater than under the plan agreed upon before our departure from Pearl Harbor.
Brown's assessment was correct: we did lose more men than we had anticipated and one of the reasons was that sufficient neutralizing effect had not been achieved on the island.
My Chief of Staff recommended that D-day be postponed to allow the maximum expenditure of ammunition from the bombarding ships. This postponement also had the approval of Spruance, who passed on the final decision to Blandy. But we could delay no longer. The operation already had suffered two postponements. Originally, the target date was set for January 20. Then it was moved to February 3, because General MacArthur would not release the naval ships we required, which had been supporting his Luzon operation. The General-Admiral clung to the ships, delaying the Iwo Jima operation despite the fact that his campaign was almost completed and the Japanese Combined Fleet no longer existed to harass him.
MacArthur's withholding of these ships and the two postponements of D-day threatened to retard our offensive against Japan. The invasion of Okinawa had been set for March, or at the very latest, April. It was a race against time to reduce Iwo jima. In fact, Kelly Turner, who was to command the Amphibious Force at Okinawa, left Iwo Jima before the island was secured in order to complete final plans for the next objective. Eventually, one ship did arrive from MacArthur's theater to join in the bombardment of Iwo Jima somewhere around D-day, but that is the only one I can recall.
Therefore, it was imperative that we should not deviate from the final target date of February 19, with or without our
desired gunfire support. On the eve of D-day, a study of photographs and reports indicated that the main defenses on and around the astern beaches, where we were to land, had been destroyed or heavily damaged. Blandy, upon whom Spruance had thrust the responsiblity of deciding, informed Kelly Turner that he believed a successful landing could be made the next morning, as planned. Ironically, he admitted that the bad weather had prevented him from expending his full allowance of ammunition and with an additional day of bombardment he could find and destroy many more enemy defenses. But the die was cast and the Marines went ashore.
The forces I commanded in the assault on Iwo Jima were the best equipped hitherto employed in the Pacific. Nothing was lacking in arms, mechanical equipment and supplies, and we were supported--somewhat less than we desired--by the most powerful navy force that ever sailed the seas. All of the latest developments in guns, tanks, amphibious craft and boats were reflected in the operation. We used 650,000 tons of supplies at Iwo Jima and 600 planes were available.
Excluding Task Force 58, which swept the seas, raided the Japanese homeland, and later supported us at Iwo Jima, 485 assault and garrison ships were employed. Altogether 110,000 men, of whom 70,000 were Marine assault troops, were transported to the island from points as far distant as Hawaii, 3,700 miles away. The Third and Fourth Divisions were veterans of many actions in the Central and South Pacific, and the newly organized Fifth Division, from Camp Pendleton, California, was built around veterans of the South Pacific. No troops in any previous operation had been so well rehearsed as these three Marine Divisions, which trained and rehearsed at their Pacific bases, and rehearsed again en route to the target, to make sure that every detail was completely understood.
I sailed from Pearl Harbor on the USS Eldorado, Turner's new command ship, which replaced the less modern Rocky Mount, full of confidence in the force I commanded, but acutely aware of the difficulties of the mission. Latest intelligence told of the strength of the island's defenses, which remained somewhat
obscure because our flyers reported few visible targets and few visible Japanese. When flyers did catch a sight of the enemy, he disappeared in the ground like a gopher, indicating that a network of subterranean fortifications existed in the volcanic rock.
My eagerness to come to grips again with the enemy, after the long interval since the Marianas, buoyed up my spirits. During this interval, the Palaus operation had been conducted successfully against bitter opposition and again it was proved that the Japanese were no match for the Marines. A short time before I sailed for Iwo Jima, I went into the hospital at Base 8, Pearl Harbor. A slight hernia was troubling me and the doctors said that a brief hospitalization would put me back in good physical shape for the work ahead.
My stay in the hospital was brightened by a romance, in which I played a part. One of the nurses--an attractive, brown-eyed girl--told me that she was going to marry a Marine officer the following Saturday. I congratulated her and she gave me the officer's name and his outfit. My heart sank. It was Wednesday and I knew that the Marine's outfit was under secret orders to sail for Guam on Friday. The officer obviously had not known that when he made arrangements for the wedding.
Stretched in my bed, watching the ships in the harbor below, I mulled over the problem and decided that th war would go along just the same if that Marine and his nurse were married on Saturday. So I called up the Operations Officer and told him to take the young man's name off the sailing list. "Ops" was a trifle surprised when I called. He probably didn't understand that the Commanding General was at the other end of the line and pointed out that since the young Marine was under orders to go, go he must. I finally convinced the Operations Officer of my identity and the name was taken off the sailing list. On Saturday morning, I gave the bride away at the wedding ceremony. It made me feel so good that the doctors were astonished by my rapid recovery.
At Saipan, the Eldorado took on board a distinguished passenger. Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal was in the Pacific at the time, and he decided to accompany the expedition to Iwo
Jim to see the Marines in action and get first-hand knowledge of combined operations. I believe this was the first time in the history of the Marine Corps that a Secretary of the Navy went to war with his amphibious troops and, after my experience with Secretary Forrestal, I hoped that other civilian members of our Government would see the services under actual wartime conditions, instead of sitting back in Washington, relying upon official dispatches and their service aides to enlighten them. How much sense of reality is lost between a battleground and a glistening Washington desk!
The Secretary's presence was an inspiration to the Navy and the Marines. At first, the news of his arrival among us was not believed. On board ship he wore khaki like a Navy officer and the fact that he had no insignia did not make him conspicuous. Civilian war correspondents on board dressed similarly and the Secretary might have been taken for one of them. When he went ashore, we outfitted him in Marine utility greens--which I inherited when he left. We were proud to have him wear the uniform of the Marine Corps.
Although Mr. Forrestal showed keen interest in all phases of our work, he never intruded. Rather, he quietly fitted himself into ship routine and operation organization, studying details and absorbing information. His four years as Under Secretary and a year as Secretary had given him mastery of the multifarious ramifications of the Navy he controlled. He astonished me with his knowledge of combined operations and his grasp of technical matters.
During the voyage, the Secretary often came to my cabin to discuss some new angle that appealed to him and we talked for hours on end. Sometimes this discussion which, on the basis of knowledge and understanding, progressed on a level of equality rather than form the standpoint of a veteran Marine officer and amphibious expert trying to instruct a civilian Cabinet officer, took place as we walked the Eldorado's decks. From his conversation, it was evident the Secretary had delved deeply into the theory and practice of combined operations.
In discussions in my cabin concerning landing movements,
Mr. Forrestal revealed a perfect comprehension of the value of timing, the spacing of assault waves, and the importance of naval gunfire in the coordinated scheme. He examined with a keen eye the Marine staff lay-out and was constantly in and out of the operations room, reading the action reports after the Iwo Jima battle started. he was fascinated with the communications setup on the Eldorado which, with its radio, teletypes and other equipment, was indeed wondrous to behold.
"Mr. Secretary," I said to him one day, "you missed your calling. You should have been a Marine. You would have had a great career."
"Holland," he replied, "I did once consider that but banking caught me first. Anyhow, thanks for the compliment."
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