View Full Version : Fierce struggles on Iwo Jima

10-12-06, 07:47 AM
Fierce struggles on Iwo Jima

October 12, 2006

Charles Kovel took a walk on the beach 62 years ago. And his life was the never the same.

On Feb. 19, 1944, Kovel was part of the first wave of U.S. Marines to land at a little known strip of coastland designated as "Green Beach" on the little known island Iwo Jima.

Over the next 11 days he would learn a lot about life, and a lot about death, as well.

Kovel of Shorewood was a private in the Marine Corps. He was trained to handle a Browning Automatic Rifle as part of an assault unit.

During Kovel's first night on the beach, a Japanese soldier jumped into his fox hole. Kovel fought with him and killed him. The next morning, he found a flag among the enemy soldier's belongings. Kovel carried it with him the rest of the war. Once he got home, Kovel found a Japanese student to interpret the writing on the flag, which included the soldier's name, rank and family history.

"That was cool to see," Kovel said.

On the island, the Marine's mission the next morning was to capture Mount Suribachi, the 550-foot volcanic cone at the island's southern tip. Suribachi dominated both possible landing beaches. From there, Japanese gunners could zero in on every inch of the landing zones, which were also flanked by blockhouses, a sort of above-ground bunker, and pillboxes, usually concrete, dug-in guard posts.

"Every Marine, everywhere on the island was always in range of Japanese guns," said Kovel.

During this battle, Kovel said it was rare to see the enemy.

"They were buried under the ground and they could see us, but we couldn't see them," he said. "Sometimes you could hear them talking below ground."

Because their opponents were so well dug in, rifle fire had a limited effect.

"To fight the Japanese, we used bulldozers to bury them ... dynamite, liquid gas, napalm and hand grenades, which were more useful against them," Kovel said.

During the fighting, Kovel was struck in the chest by a bullet. It ricocheted off a loaded magazine he was carrying in his top shirt pocket, saving his life.

"I didn't eat or sleep for 11 days during the battle. You couldn't call on your mom and dad to help you, just the Lord," he said.

On Feb. 23, in what has become one of the most famous images of the war, the Marines raised the flag on Mount Suribachi.

"The flag being raised on the hill was a sight to see," Kovel said.

But the fighting didn't stop with the raising of the flag. The next day, Kovel's company turned north to clear the rest of the island.

Wounded in action

On May 1, Kovel was walking directly behind a tank when he was hit in the buttocks by a sniper's bullet. He was transported to a hospital in Guam for treatment, followed by transfers to Hawaii; Oakland, Calif.; and a hospital near the Great Lakes.

Once Kovel was fully recuperated, he worked as an Operating Engineer with Local 150. He has since retired, after working for 35 years.

Kovel says 40 Iwo Jima vets and their wives used to hold a reunion every five years at the White House, celebrating with the then-current president. This lasted until other armed forces found out about it and wanted to do the same, Kovel said. It was President George H.W. Bush who had to end it, he said, because there was no way to get clearances for every soldier who wanted to meet with him.

Kovel is proud to have fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima, and he has since built a statue of the soldiers raising the flag and placed it in his front yard.

I must say, it's the most wonderful thing to see. I am proud of Kovel and all other soldiers who have served our country and have done it well.

• Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class

Kayla A. Glasgow

, daughter of Wayne H. Glasgow of Plainfield, and her fellow shipmates assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan made a port visit to Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates, while on a scheduled deployment as part of Carrier Strike Group 7.

• Navy Fireman

Patrick R. Norton

, son of Caroline J. Norton of Minooka and Patrick A. Norton of Joliet, and his fellow shipmates returned from a scheduled deployment while assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, homeported in Norfolk, Va.

Know a current or retired soldier who would like to talk about his or her experiences in the U.S. armed forces? Contact Jean Edwards, staff writer, at (815) 729-6049 or at jedwards@scn1.com.


Charles Kovel created this sculpture, which stands in his yard on River Road in rural Shorewood, after returning from serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. The sculpture depicts the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima, a scene familiar to most from Joe Rosenthal's famous photograph.

10-12-06, 08:10 AM
WWII vet doesn't need movie; he lived it
LA Daily News
Article Last Updated: 10/11/2006 09:48:35 PM PDT

The former coach has never seen a war movie. When you've seen the real thing, why would you want to?

He doesn't need to sit in a darkened movie theater to be reminded of the buddies he lost in World War II and Korea, Jack McCaffrey says.

Guys who never got to raise a family, have a career, retire and go fishing. Guys who never got the chance to grow old.

No, when you've seen the real thing, you don't need to see a war movie.

"But I'm thinking about going to see this one," the 83-year-old Woodland Hills resident said Wednesday. "I've read excerpts from the book. This one is different."

The movie he's talking about is "Flags of Our Fathers," a best-selling book that has been made into a movie directed by Oscar-winner Clint Eastwood.

It depicts the lives of the six Marines who raised the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima, a moment captured by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal and recorded forever in history.

From what he's read, the movie is not so much about death and war as it is about life and the curse of forced fame, McCaffrey says.

Not exactly a war movie. More a human tragedy.

He was there that day in 1945 - a 21-year-old 2nd lieutenant sitting in a foxhole, a quarter-mile from where Easy Company erected the flag on Mount Suribachi.

"You could feel everyone's spirits rise, and a surge of pride come out of every foxhole," says McCaffrey, who coached football and track at Van Nuys, Canoga Park and Taft High schools before he retired in 1980.

"Everyone cheered, and the battleships at sea blew their horns. We were all filled with pride, but none of us thought it would be such a monumental moment in history."

During his 30-year career as an educator, he never talked about war with the boys he coached, McCaffrey said. He just couldn't.

"What was to talk about?" McCaffrey asked. "How you survived and your friends didn't? How you got lucky, and they didn't? A lot of us have carried that guilt around."

The history books say that more than 6,800 Americans died in the 36-day battle for that eight-square-mile island in February and March 1945.

In less than a week on Iwo Jima, McCaffrey went from a rookie replacement officer to commander of Dog Company, 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines. It wasn't that he was so good. It was that he was still alive.

"There were nine or 10 officers in the company," he says. "I was the last one who hadn't been killed or wounded. My command lasted exactly one day."

With his gunnery sergeant standing next to him, company commander McCaffrey looked through a pair of binoculars on a dark night when a shell exploded in the sky above, silhouetting his body to a sniper.

"The bullet went through my hand, shattered the binoculars, and it went into my left eye," McCaffrey says.

At dawn, he was airlifted to a hospital on Guam before being sent home to a naval hospital in Long Beach. World War II was over for McCaffrey, but he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves and was later sent to Korea for a year.

Two wars in a span of eight years. McCaffrey had seen enough of the real thing. He didn't need to see the movie.

Dennis McCarthy's column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.



10-24-06, 07:37 AM
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The island, veterans remember, &quot;lived up to its name,&quot; which in Japanese means &quot;sulfur island.&quot; An extinct volcano created it, so it smelled bad. It didn't have...