U.S. aggressors attack Japanese island …

A personal story included

By George Miller

… That’s how today’s media might have portrayed it. Well, the U.S. Marine Corps 4th/5th Divisions sure were aggressive in their navy-supported attack, but the original aggressors were the Japanese military industrial complex which started that war, which we won’t get into the details of right now.  The battle of Iwo Jima has near-legendary significance to the Marine Corps and the nation as a whole. It was made immortal in the media via the iconic photo of the flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi, done while hostilities were still in progress. Today is the 70th anniversary of that event.

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Marines from the 28th Regiment, 5th Division raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, on Feb. 23, 1945. Located 660 miles from Tokyo, the Pacific island became the site of one of the bloodiest, most famous battles of World War II. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal)

 More photos

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Aerial photo of attack- (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive/Wikimedia Commons)

The island had strategic value as another steppingstone to reach Japan and deny the Japanese a defensive point along the way. The Allied high command had adopted an “island-hopping” strategy to reach the home islands and then beat them into submission or strangle them. The Japanese were very fierce fighters and rarely surrendered. Next steps might have been a much bloodier battle for Okinawa and main home islands. But that became unnecessary after two nuclear bombs were dropped and convinced the Japanese that further resistance was an exceedingly poor idea, ultimately saving far more lives. Of course in today’s nuclear age, that strategy might work out quite differently.

This iconic battle has more special significance for me than most people because my father was in the second wave of that attack. It had an indirect affect on me, not only because the battle was won, but because my father survived it, or there would be no me and because it forever changed him, in ways that profoundly affected our family.  This included such things as strong conditioning on self-defense, sometimes harsh discipline, training and more. It made for a very tough family.

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USMC PFC George W. Miller’s awards, service ribbons, 4th Div. patch. Yes, he was a sniper. (Photo: CitizensJournal.us)

Like most red-blooded Americans of the day, my father supported the war effort and even wanted to get into the fight. War propaganda portrayed the Japanese and even the Germans as inhuman barbarians (My family has German roots).  Both of my Grandfathers fought in WWI in France- against the Germans.  I only heard some details of my father’s experience and remember still fewer, so bear with me here.

Even the army wasn’t good enough for my father. He quit high school in Jackson Heights, NY after the tenth grade and joined the Marines. I guess he didn’t know about the various elite units or he would likely have gone after one of them instead. He went off to the infamous Parris Island Boot camp, in SC.  From what he told me about it, movie and book depictions were not really exaggerations. He described his experiences there in a combination of awe and horror. The physical feats and abuse as well as psychological harrassment they endured was considerable and believed to toughen them up for the horrors of war which awaited them. One that always made him shake his head in wonder is his description of he and two Marine buddies being forced to scrub the entire latrine area- with toothbrushes, on their knees.

His unit later trained on the mountains and beaches of Maui, Hawaii, which were thought to be very similar to the geography of Iwo Jima and other places they might have to invade. Ultimately, he ended up on a troop ship, which seemed to take forever to get to its destination and longer still before everything was staged and ready to attack. During the long wait, they couldn’t maintain their regular full training regimen, due to lack of space/facilities.  They played cards, smoked, talked, entertained themselves, listened to lectures and did calisthenics, etc. During his tenure, he was promoted and demoted multiple times, for exceptional achievements and insubordinate or immature infractions. These were boy-men being sent off to one of the most brutal battles of the war.

The troops were put onto a variety of types of landing craft and taken to the beach, where they landed under fire. As I understood it, the Japanese force waited until the first wave troops were on the beaches to try to destroy them, but by the time the second wave arrived, the fight was on. The navy had attempted to soften up resistance beforehand via intense naval gunfire and air bombardment, but the opposition was very well dug in and organized.  

My father told me that he never actually saw a “Jap” during the battle, but could see and hear firing- no Audie Murphy exploits.  They were shooting where the fire was coming from, but spending most of their efforts trying not to get killed, taking cover, digging foxholes, advancing in coordinated movements. He was wounded three times (but only got credit for two), via shrapnel from exploding shells/bombs.  One night a bomb fell right next to his foxhole and caved it in on top of him and a buddy. The next morning, they were dismayed to see the bomb sitting right next to them. No bomb squad on call, so the Sergeant ordered a team to throw it off a cliff and it still didn’t explode.

A tragic thing is that many of his close friendhips ended with their death or terible maiming. He said he lost half of his friends in one terrible day. After the battle, most lost touch with each other. I remember that he had contact with only a very few, although he was with numerous USN/USMC veterans in his many years with the Navy League and VFW (Vetarans of Foreign Wars).

His third wounding left him with a torn up arm, shoulder and torso flesh, peppered with shrapnel, along with a debilitating blast concussion, which put him out of action. He thought that some of the troops were hit by “friendly fire”- hard to avoid that. He didn’t remember a lot, except hurting, being groggy and very thirsty. He did recall, however, that there was no water for days and when it did come it was in 5 gallon gas cans and tasted like gasoline. Eventually he was brought back down to the beach and evacuated with the lucky ones who survived (thousands died that week on both sides), via landing craft. The story was unclear, but he might have been brought to a larger vessel, then transferred to a ship- maybe a transport, maybe a hospital ship.

He ended up at a naval hospital in San Francisco. After treatment and stabilization, my father was transported via train to Newport Naval Hospital, RI.  His nurse on the train became his girlfriend, wife and later my mother. They were married right after VJ (Victory Japan) Day. You just can’t keep a good Marine down.

He went on to apprentice with his father as an operating engineer (heavy construction) and eventually started his own construction business in NYC. He had a contract to help renovate the Lincoln Tunnel, where I worked in the Summer of ’67 to help pay for college. He also was involved with the World Trade Center, Chemical Bank HQ and other iconic NYC skyline buildings. He was so proud when the terrorists failed to take down “my” tower in 1993, but didn’t live to see 9/11. 

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8/17/45 marriage of USMC Pfc. George W. Miller and USN WAVES Pharmacist Mate Marie Miller, Newport Naval hospital, RI.

 

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George Miller is Publisher of Citizensjournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant, active in civic affairs, living in Oxnard.

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