Iwo Jima is eight miles long, runs North South and is a mere three hours B-29 flight to mainland Japan. The South is dominated by Mt.
Suribachi where after the first four days of battle, the American Flag was raised. (Thereafter the horrendous bloody battle raged for another hellish 35 days). The landing beaches denoted by color, were directly below Mt. Suribachi. The prized targets, three airfields, lays mid island.

In the summer of 1942, Smoky got himself reclassified One A, having originally been classified Two B because of his expertise as a chemical engineer, thus deemed more valuable to the nation’s efforts away from any battlefield. With his new status he immediately enlisted as a Marine private, the lowest enlisted rank, and shipped out to Parris Island, PI, the Marine’s renown training facility in swampy, humid South Carolina.

Today a pretty healthy 95 Smoky must be one of the few remaining Marines who saw action there. His experiences are something my generation who has not been under fire cannot contemplate. Smoky’s recollections of his Iwo experience in the spring of 1945 are as vivid as if it took place last week.

 Smokey grew up following his father’s international assignments with General motors from Sao Paulo Brazil to Havana Cuba. When he fetched up briefly in Bronxville New York, Smoky attended Roosevelt High School in Yonkers and was admitted in 1939 to Princeton’s class of 1942. College admissions tests existed then, but Smokey’s grades and those of two other classmates were so outstanding that they took no tests. Tell that to a college student today!

Smoky grew up “Mansfield”. But in his sophomore year a visiting friend mistook a paper filled waste basket for an ashtray, thus starting a frightening fire in their dorm room. Mansfield became a one-man bucket brigade and extinguished the fire. His proctors immediately dubbed him “Smokey Joe the Fireman”. It’s been Smokey ever since.

 Smoky and three classmates were playing bridge on the morning of December 8 when the bombing of Pearl Harbor was announced. He recalls he and two friends exclaiming the Japanese would be trounced quickly.
The third turned ashen knowing his military family was stationed there.

Upon graduation in 1942 Smokey saw most his classmates enlisting  or being taken into the various services from ROTC type programs. His B 2 status sent him to a US Rubber plant in Naugatuck Connecticut. He soon realized that a bright high schooler could perform his duties just as well and became itchy to join his friends in defending their country.

He persuaded his Princeton draft board at a self-arranged special meeting to reclassify him One A. The next morning, he enlisted at the
90 Church Street New York Marine recruiting station and that afternoon boarded a train to PI. Why go to war? Why with the Marines? “First because I realized that I had been given a great gift-America- and the freedoms which it stood for and feeling I was responsible for that
freedom.   Also because I was aware of the Marines role at Guadalcanal
and finally I had a keen desire to get the war over, serving with the best” he says.

Smoky’s parents were living in Havana in 1942. Responding to hearing from him what he had done, they wrote a blistering letter of admonishment, telling him he was certifiably crazy! Shortly thereafter his father recanted, writing a letter of admiration and pride for his courage and determination.

He says his two-month of basic training was pretty routine; maneuvers, physical training, the rife range, (where he was a mediocre shot) and a minimum of sleep. Fortunately, he and several others were considered officer material and were selected to go to Officer Training School, OCS, in Quantico, Virginia, another less than ideal vacation spot. He graduated a second lieutenant with the rifle range record. Recalling with amusement the speech by The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Hoyt Vandenberg, their graduation speaker, he and his classmates were welcomed into “the second oldest profession in the world.”

After six months at Camp Pendleton in California he along with his regiment headed west for more training in Hawaii with the newly formed 5th Marine Division.  One might think that a voyage on a troop ship would be hot claustrophobic, boring and offering dreadful chow. Smokey says it wasn’t that bad “but it wasn’t a venue for selling tourist tickets”. The Hawaii stopover lasted several weeks. Then it was onto troop transports again, only destination Iwo Jima.

Many of us have seen pictures of Marines disembarking from LSTs, slogging ashore in the face of withering fire.  At the same time all the highly organized supplies for a campaign must come ashore too.
That was the job of pioneer companies. Smokey’s initial assignment was to coordinate the unloading of supplies on a beach totally exposed to enemy fire from Mt. Suribachi.

When asked how he and other Marines felt as they went ashore, his answer typified the man we know today. Many were afraid, he said, and he probably was too. But, he had to concentrate on his assignment, knowing that others counting on him for ammunition, food and other items needed. His training had produced the ideal Marine Corps platoon leader, knowledgeable, dedicated, sensible, sensitive and humble.

Thereafter he joined his fellow Marines as a rifle platoon in the thick of battle, sleeping in fox holes on or under a thin rubber poncho and eating anything that came out a can.

Near the end of the campaign his platoon was pinned down by a well camouflaged sniper well hidden behind thick cover. Smokey speculated he might be firing from the mouth of cave which could be of the rabbit warren of tunnels dug by the enemy.  Smokey, realizing improved fire power was urgently needed, ordered his senior NCO to get a bazooka.

The first blast, whoosh, kapow only chipped off some rock. The second, whoosh and a muted explosion, kerplunk, took out the sniper then penetrated a tunnel behind. At first several puffs of smoke appeared, then more, and suddenly, kaboom, the entire hilltop was blown off in a massive explosion, set off by a large cache of ammunition there to resupply the entire island. Smokey believes that explosion probably shortened the battle by several weeks, again crediting lady luck for the result.

His last assignment was to clean out a pocket at the North end of the Island at Kitano point from a point inland to the beach.  Luck again was on his side. He got sloppy, stood up, and saw machine gun bullets going between his legs. When he radioed that his assignment was complete a doubting senior officer asked him if could stand in the water. “Sir I am standing above a sheer 100-foot cliff”. Still unsure of his real position, the senior officer asked him to call out the numbers on the Navy ships off shore. And so he satisfied his CO who had promised he and his men they would be put on a troop ship that night and was told to pack his sea bag and to board a troop ship where all their personal belongings including clean clothes. That was the night of March 26th, the last day of battle for the Marines. That night he saw a wild fire fight break on in the area he had just left and felt he and his team should be there. Subsequently he learned his closest Marine buddy, Harry Martin, had been killed organizing a team to repulse the banzai charge. Martin received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic efforts. Their assignment completed the Marines turned Iwo over to the Army.

 Smoky boarded his troop transport expecting some pleasant rest and relaxation in Hawaii. Instead there was intense and merciless training for several months in preparation for an invasion of the Japanese mainland code named Operation Olympic.

He was in Hawaii loading ships for the invasion when the Japanese surrendered and served the rest of his tour with the occupation forces dealing with the destruction, shame and despair of a conquered nation.

The brief but the action-packed WWII tour of a dedicated chemical engineer ended before the end of 1945. He returned home to further his education and count his blessings. 35 % of the Marines who fought at Iwo were either killed or wounded in action. Rife platoons experienced by far the highest casualty rates. Something of Napoleon’s wish for luck for his men somehow adhered itself to him.

 He seems to bear no malice for the enemy today and willingly and without amplification is comfortable relating his time on Iwo. He doesn’t recall suffering either CSR-combat stress disorder or worse, PTSD-post traumatic stress disorder, both seen as common for today’s soldiers. There should have been a lot of it then, but it’s difficult to find documentation.

Someone said it’s better to be lucky than smart. Maybe it was Napoleon who told his generals above all they needed to be lucky. Smoky was truly one of the lucky men who survived Iwo unscratched physically and mentally. Thanks, Smokey, for an incredible job well done! America and the free nations of the world are in your debt!