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thedrifter
03-16-07, 08:44 AM
WWII Veteran Reflects on Iwo Jima
Jim Mendoza - jmendoza@kgmb9.com

According to the United States, taking Iwo Jima was strategic to winning World War II. Today, ex-Marines and former Japanese soldiers returned to the island for the 62nd commemoration ceremony. The select group includes a Hawaii man who shared his war story with KGMB9.

The movie "Flags of our Fathers" brought the battle of Iwo Jima to life on the big screen. But in retired Marine Tom Kalus's theater of the mind, scenes from the real Iwo Jima play out on demand.

"When I first hit the sand, first thing you see is a dead Marine," Kalus said.

Kalus was a 17-year-old private in a sea of young faces when his assault vehicle landed on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. That day his 3rd Battalion stormed the beach.

"There's about two tiers on that beach where we landed," he said, "and the flat part is where they were zeroed in."

Iwo Jima was just eight square miles of battleground and Japanese soldiers weren't giving an inch. The enemy seemed to be everywhere.

"Their defenses were so thorough that every little bush was a potential camouflage cover for a machine gun nest," Kalus said.

The first three days on Iwo Jima, Kalus and his comrades were under constant attack. His group had to run ahead, stringing radio wires for ground to air communications. They were moving targets, they were sitting ducks. His closest buddy was killed.

"A mortar came in right in his foxhole," he said. "Floyd was his name. He was from Nebraska, big, good looking kid."

About 7,000 Marines died on Iwo Jima. Fighting lasted for 35 days before America claimed victory.

On Wednesday, a handful of ex-Marines and former Japanese soldiers returned to Iwo Jima to commemorate the 62nd anniversary of the fight for the tiny island. Kalus was among them.

After 27 years in the Marine Corps, Kalus retired as a Lt. Colonel. Now he tells young Marines about the three wars he fought: World War II, the Korean conflict and the war in Vietnam. He says war is hell and Iwo Jima was hell's kitchen.

Ellie