by Norman G. Casteel
I want to give you the story of my 36 days and nights on Iwo Jima, in June of 1944.
I took my Boot Camp at San Diego. The hardest thing was to qualify at swimming. On the rifle range, I got seven out of eight at the 500 yard line. The rest of bootcamp I took in stride, then a 10-day leave to go home, back to Clarinda, Iowa.
I went back to Camp Pendelton at Oceanside, Calf., and I was put in the 27th replacement Daft, about 900 men. We trained at the old Seabees Camp, and the group I trained with had lot of hours on the light machine gun. Others trained on weapons. we still had a lot of close order drill and
From this time on I never seen any of the Boot Camp squad, I knew. They went into the 5th Divison somewhere.
In the middle of November we went aboard an old Dutch cargo ship the Kota Gowin converted to a troop ship, it hurt it to do eight knots an hour. We hit a storm, about halfway to Hawaii, and I got my first taste of sea sickness. I was glad to see Hawaii.
We unloaded at Hilo, a short distance out of Hilo, in a small tent camp. We were kept busy loading LSTs with all kinds of cargo, pulling guard duty, and we took a couple of over night hikes with full gear.
They started loading us on the U.S.S Lubbock, one of the newer Kaiser troop ships. On January 16, we were transferred to LST 929, and soon after, we started on the four thousand mile trip.
We were out on the deck, in the open, with our sleeping bags on cots and our ponchos to keep our bedding dry. We only went below for chow and restrooms, all the four thousand miles to Siapan. At Sipian we were transferred back to the USS Lubbock.
The waters were pretty rough as we went down the rope webbing with full packs and rifles into landing crafts, several guys got feet and legs hurt. Going down was the worst, the ship was moving up and down about six feet, and you only had a second or two, in while moving in either direction, to grab on or jump coming down.
After we got settled, we were told our target was the island of Iwo Jima, about four days away
On February 18, we got a view of Iwo Jima. It was nothing but a mass of smoke and fire. On the 19th, we were up at four o'clock for a steak and egg breakfast, then back to our area to stand by for when and where our debarking orders would be announced... you better be ready.
The first wave hit the beach at nine thirty. My landing craft hit the beach about ten thirty. By this time several thousand Marines had already landed, and that's about the time the Japanese decided to stop the invasion with heavy artillery fire and coastal guns firing on the convoy, up to this time they had been using small and large mortars, large and small artillery, grenade and
Being as I was with the 27th replacement Bn, I would stay on the beach until my name was called, those four days on the beach was a lot of hard work. During the daylight hours, most of the time, we were wet up to our waist. I had a hole under a blown up Duk where I slept with my poncho every night, as much as possible. The noise was constant day and night.
On the 23rd, they had just raised the second flag on Mt, Suribachi. A sergeant in the shore duty called my name. I was to get what gear I had and follow a Pfc up to the front line where I was put in Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment. Captain Naylor of Fox Co. visited for a few minutes, and I told him about my training in light machine guns. He said I would get a gun and a new crew of three ammo carriers. At this time the 28th Reg. was off the front line and was being put back to full
The 1st man I got was James A Bylski. I made him my assistant gunner, not knowing that we would be together the next 31 days. I was given a Colt 45 to wear, as I had a machine gun to carry.
On D-day plus 10, the 28th Reg. went on an attack of hill 362. The attack started at seven o'clock, and by one o'clock the attack came to a halt, heavy casualties with four tanks disabled. Just before the attack stopped, while moving our gun up, I got a piece shrapnel in my left calf about the size of a nickel. It was bleeding pretty bad, so while we were in a big bomb hole, Bylski help me put a dressing on it from first aid kit. A corpsman showed up about dark and put a new dressing on it, and gave me a shot and a small bottle of brandy. I made it through that night very comfortable. About daylight, a man slipped in to our hole and asked if any of us were wounded? He was a Lieutenant, and asked if I wanted to be evacuated. I told him no. It was safer, in the hole, than having someone trying to move you back to the rear passed all the caves.
It was three days before the unit moved on the attack again. I lost one of my ammo carriers, we had hardly got acquainted.
By D-day plus 14 the first and second air fields had been secured and the first crippled B29 landed, also a squad of P51s, to give ground forces close air protection. When they flew overhead, their hot 50 caliber casings would hurt bad.
By D-day plus 20, my wound was healing. I'd had it dressed three times, but the corpsman said it was healing fast. It ached on and off, but it didn't keep me from running. About this time the black flies were getting so thick that you couldn't open your mouth. One morning early a small plane flew over and sprayed 2-4-D. It sure got us a little damp, but it sure took care of the flies.
The terrain the 5th Division was facing was a lot of ridges and gorges, some wider and some deeper, full of caves and different size pillboxes.
D-day plus 20 they started using rocket launchers, they would lay in up to 50 rounds, one after another. They were used for shock and confusion.
By D-day plus 29 the 3rd and 4th Divisions had left the island. The Japanese had been pushed into their last stronghold, a huge gorge on the North end of the island.
On the morning of March 26, the Marines were relieved by the Army. We were moved back down to the base of MT Suribachi. Each outfit took head count of how many men walked off the line.
It turned out that only 25 men, out of the 250 men of Fox Co, 2nd Bn, 28th Reg, had survived. I was one of the replacements. After roll call, we were fed our first hot meal in 36 days. We then we went to the Cemetery for the Ceremony. After the Ceremony, when they played Taps, there was not one dry eye. When I looked at all the white crosses, I was so choked up that I could hardly breath. I was thinking that 70 percent of those young men were only nineteen years old. I was 23. Bylski, who was 19, and I looked at each other, more less wondering how we made it.
To this day, I still get big chills over my body when Taps is played, either live or on television. I'm sending a picture of seven Marines who were in fox holes on either side of mine. One of them had a small Camera. I didn't know any of them at that time. Late in the afternoon, we were aboard ship headed for Hawaii.
Back at Camp Tarawa, after medical checks, the Iwo Marines were put on a thirty day R&R, in that time we were sent up to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for four days.
By mid-June the 5th Division was back to full strength. July and August, we were in live ammunition exercises on the 14th of August when we found out the Japanese had surrendered. We were taken back to camp and given orders to get our gear together and be ready to leave for Japan.
It took a few days to get the forty six ships together that were needed to get the 5th Division to Japan. The 5th Division landed at Sasebo, Kyushu, the southern most island of Japan on Sept. 22nd.
The island of Kyushu is about 350 miles long by 220 miles wide. The day we got into dock at Sasebo, it was raining. We went ashore in full combat gear, that was mid-morning. We marched through the streets of Sasebo and didn't see one soul except some Police dressed in black uniforms.
Around four thirty, we stopped at a big metal building for the night. We were told to open our C-Rations and prepare for the night. It was a relief to get that poncho off. It was OK to make small fires for hot coffee or hot chocolate. We were told to make our selves comfortable. We slept with our clothes on, some guys covered up in their ponchos, and some of us used our pack for pillows. I think most of Fox Co. was in this building.
In the weeks following, they must have got the 5th Div. divided up and spread out all over Kyushu. By the first of October, they had an order to turn in the light machine guns. That was a big relief. I got to keep my side arm and all rifles were limited to a certain number of rounds. I guess by now the Military decided that there wasn't any armed troops around.
All of Oct. and into Nov., we had been issued sleeping bags and still had our C-Rations. We were all over the northern part of Kyushu, mostly mountains, checking out caves and listing contents on maps, so it could be reported and be destroyed. This duty wasn't really hard, we generally had a decent place hold up for the night. No big rush in the mornings, eat our rations and be on the move by eight o'clock. We bathed when ever we found enough safe water. In late Nov, when the 5th Div. went home, the low pointers were transferred to the 2D Division.
We went on moving here and there until March of 1946 around Kumamoto. we were put on overseeing civilian work or guarding supply depots of lend lease materials. We were back on hot meals at the messhall and sleeping on good cots. Limited amount of Liberty, not much to see that wasn't destroyed.
I got home the last part of July of 1946. As you can see, I got too see a lot of what war in the Pacific was like.
I got married May 29, 1949. We've had three sons, six grand children, three great grand children.
Of all the Marines I knew well, there is only one left, Charles Baker of Dayton, Ohio. He was in the 31s replacement Draft. He is 90.
I cherish all my time in the Marine Corps. Making the best of bad moments.
Norman G Casteel