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Thread: Iwo Marines visit depot
03-21-05, 11:29 AM #31
February 12, 2005
Iwo Jima was the ultimate test of leathernecks’ mettle
By Phillip Thompson
Times staff writer
It’s OK to say 60 years later: Iwo Jima was it. There’s never been anything like it. Hopefully, there never will be again.
No battle says “Marine Corps” like Iwo Jima — not Inchon or Khe Sanh, Hue, Beirut or Fallujah. Not even Tarawa or Guadalcanal. In the bloody chapters of the Marine Corps’ story, Iwo Jima stands alone.
Sure, you’ve seen the picture. You might even remember the quotes you learned to repeat from memory in boot camp or Officer Candidates School, the one about uncommon valor being a common virtue and, if you really paid attention, the one about the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi ensuring the existence of the Marine Corps for the next 500 years (and you’ve still got 440 years to go).
But what exactly was Iwo Jima? And, for today’s Marines, caught in a nasty, smash-mouth throw-down in Iraq and a complicated insurgency in Afghanistan, what difference does it make?
For starters, Iwo Jima and its horrors and glory and élan, are the Corps. As one bumper sticker says: “When we do our job, people shoot at us.”
Iwo Jima is the Corps, and the Corps is Iwo Jima.
Today, in a world of media saturation and short attention spans, the story of Iwo Jima gets lost, or worse, diminished. Television pundits and newspaper columnists call Fallujah the Iwo Jima of today’s generation.
Granted, it’s meant as a compliment, and nothing can deny the ferocity and valor of the Marines who ripped through that city, proving that the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction just might be a lance corporal with a bad attitude and an M16. But in an era when hyperbole is used to make a point, that same hyperbole also insults.
By way of comparison, look at Fallujah against Iwo Jima.
•.Fallujah covers about seven square miles of urban terrain, indisputably the most difficult in warfare; Iwo Jima is eight square miles of barren rock and ash.
•.Six battalions of American troops — four Marine, two Army — assaulted Fallujah, roughly 10,000 troops. Three divisions of Marines hit the beach at Iwo — upward of 80,000 troops.
•.It took U.S. forces 10 days to “subdue” Fallujah, with less than 40 killed in action. Marines — and a Navy corpsman — raised the flag on Mount Suribachi after four days of fighting and about a thousand killed. It took another four weeks on Iwo to end the fighting. And when it was done, only 212 men from a garrison of 22,000 Japanese soldiers were left alive. American casualties numbered 6,821 killed or missing; 19,217 wounded; and 2,648 lost to combat fatigue.
•.Twenty-seven Marines and sailors received the Medal of Honor for heroism on that piece of sulfuric rock, nearly the number of dead suffered during the assault on Fallujah.
Iwo Jima wasn’t just another battle in Marine Corps history. It was the battle.
No worthless rock
Iwo was viewed by the troops as just another amphibious assault, another chance to get your head blown off if you were a salt or a chance to finally see some action if you were a boot.
The Corps had leapfrogged across the azure Pacific for three years, starting with Guadalcanal in 1942. Along the way, Tarawa proved the fragility of American doctrine, Saipan and Peleliu showed how hard the Japanese would fight, and Roi-Namur proved the Navy and Marine Corps could get it right.
But none of that really mattered on Iwo.
For one, it was the first direct assault on what Japanese considered sovereign territory. They owned Iwo; they didn’t steal it. For another, it was a god-awful place to fight.
Marines are used to drawing the worst hellhole of the world’s hellholes, but Iwo might beat them all. A black chunk of lava and ash thrust out of the ocean like an offending taste in the throat, Iwo stunk of sulfur. With no vegetation and little relief in the terrain, the island was a shooting gallery for Japanese gunners — and they zeroed in on every inch of the gritty black sand.
But the island was an obstacle to Allied forces carving a path toward mainland Japan from the south. Within 1,000 miles of the home islands and halfway between Tokyo and an American airstrip on Saipan, Iwo sat along a critical bomber route. The island served as an outpost for the Imperial Army headquarters, and its numerous radar arrays gave Tokyo two hours’ warning of approaching attacks. Iwo-based Japanese fighters scrambled to intercept our B-29 bombers, either coming or going, or both.
Also, taking the island would put American fighter planes within range to escort bombers to the home islands.
Maj. Gen. Harry Schmidt commanded V Amphibious Corps, the largest force of Marines ever committed to a single battle — more than 80,000. More than half had combat experience.
The assault plan was classic Marine Corps: two up, one back. The 4th and 5th divisions would send ashore two regiments each, abreast of each other — 5th on the left, 4th on the right. 3rd Division held two regiments in corps reserve.
The plan: Cut the island in half across its waist, securing the airfield in the process, then wheel left, or southwest, and subdue Mount Suribachi, the extinct volcano that anchored the island and gave thousands of Japanese a line of fire onto the beaches below.
The assault began at 6:45 a.m., Feb. 19, 1945, after weeks of air and naval bombardment. Following another thunderous barrage courtesy of Navy warships, Marines splashed ashore and encountered their first enemy: the island’s soil.
The crusty black sand clung to seemingly everything. More than 6,000 Marines moved ashore within minutes, and about 30,000 would land the first day.
The lead elements cleared the beach itself, but men and equipment lurched to a halt in the deep, loose grit.
Then, the Japanese opened up.
What started as light resistance swelled into a steady stream of fire that enveloped the Marines struggling through the sand. Mortar rounds dropped among Marine positions like rain, and machine-gun fire cut down anyone careless or reckless enough to stand up.
Not every unit was pinned down at first. 1st Battalion, 28th Marines, reached the western shore of the island, some 700 yards distant, within an hour and a half of landing. But such gains were the exception, not the rule.
On the right flank, Japanese fire chopped up the 25th Marine Regiment as it clawed its way forward, advancing only 300 yards in the first half hour.
And it wasn’t even noon.
For all the intensity of their initial response, the Japanese guns hadn’t even warmed up. Sometime around 10 a.m., the Japanese swung into action the heavy guns, hidden and embedded in the labyrinthine face of Suribachi and the island’s countless crags.
Huge coastal defense guns, heavy artillery, anti-aircraft guns and machine-gun fire poured on the Marines. Those who survived remembered it as the bloodiest episode they’d encountered.
Marines fell in numbers too great to count, often too many for corpsmen to handle.
Commanders screamed for tanks, naval gunfire — anything to quell the murderous barrage. Combat vets kept the boots from panicking and noncommissioned officers worked to get the job done.
Officers dropped at an appalling rate; no one was immune. A mortar round felled Gunnery Sgt. “Manila John” Basilone, a living legend who’d received the Medal of Honor on Guadalcanal. Basilone died doing what he did best — leading his machine-gun platoon against the enemy.
Schmidt committed his reserves before noon.
The island was a meat grinder, killing Marines in waves and degenerating the simple, carefully scripted battle plan into chaos. By the end of the first day, 3/25 alone lost 22 officers and 500 troops.
Cyril P. Zurlinden, a salty lieutenant and combat correspondent, described the first night ashore: “At Tarawa, Saipan, and Tinian, I saw Marines killed and wounded in a shocking manner, but I saw nothing like the ghastliness that hung over the Iwo beachhead. Nothing any of us had ever known could compare with the utter anguish, frustration and constant inner battle to maintain some semblance of sanity.”
The first day’s cost: 2,420 men — 501 killed; 1,755 wounded; 47 dead of wounds; 18 missing and 99 lost to combat fatigue.
The first flag
Four days later, as the battle raged on, a group of Marines was assigned a mission that must have made it flinch. Lt. Col. Chandler Johnson ordered a lieutenant to take a 40-man patrol to the top of Suribachi and seize the crest.
Before 1st Lt. Harold Schrier stepped off, Johnson handed him a small flag brought ashore by the battalion adjutant. Johnson instructed Schrier to hoist the flag when he reached the summit.
Schrier’s patrol reached the rim of Suribachi’s crater about 10:15 a.m., encountering a group of Japanese. Even as a firefight erupted, a few Marines scrambled to find something with which to raise the flag. They found a length of steel pipe, to which they affixed the tiny flag, then raised it at 10:20 a.m.
Far below, thousands of weary and wounded sailors and Marines broke into cheers. Some wept.
The men who raised that flag often have been overlooked in the shadow of Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal’s iconic image of the second flag raising, which came later that day when Johnson decided the first flag was too small to be seen from a distance.
The men who made it to the top with that small flag were Sgt. Louis Lowery — a Leatherneck magazine photographer, Schrier, Cpl. Charles W. Lindberg, Platoon Sgt. Ernest I. Thomas Jr., Sgt. Henry O. Hansen, Pfc. Louis C. Charlo and Pfc. James Michels. Lowery photographed the event.
Back to the fight
The flag raisings didn’t signal the end of battle. Marines would fight another month through some of the war’s most savage combat. In fact, after the flags were raised, nearly 4,000 Marines were killed in action.
The island wasn’t declared secure until March 26.
On April 7, 1945, American fighters based on Iwo Jima took off from the runway, refurbished by Seabees.
The fighters accompanied B-29s as they made their bombing run to Japan. For the remainder of the war, the island was a place of salvation for crippled and shot-up bombers limping home from Japan.
By the end of the war, some 2,200 B-29s — 27,000 crewmen — used the island’s runway.
Phillip Thompson is Lifelines editor.
03-21-05, 11:30 AM #32
February 12, 2005
Fighting, casualties and cigars
By C. Mark Brinkley
Times staff writer
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — It was a “smoke ’em if you got ’em” kind of day, except that Pfc. Richard Geary didn’t have any.
Sitting in a black-sand foxhole on a flyspeck island somewhere in the Pacific brought a kind of loneliness that only poets and blues singers can truly put to words. And when living to see tomorrow is your main objective, thinking about such luxuries as fine cigars is best reserved for bouts of brief, restless sleep.
Look around, nothing but sand and ocean — and thousands of angry Japanese defenders. One might as well wish for a million dollars as wish for a good smoke. It’s not like they were going to fall from the sky.
Nope, there would be no daydreaming about cigars. But sitting in that hole on Iwo Jima offered its own distractions. The dirt itself was hot enough to cook a C-ration in its can, no stove required. Just punch a hole in the top and wait.
Then, there was the enemy — Japanese fighters hellbent on killing as many Americans as possible before taking one for the emperor.
Geary and his friends could hear them moving and talking just below, in tunnel mazes burrowed deep into the island underneath the Marines’ crude fighting holes.
That any enemies had survived the pounding Iwo Jima took prior to his arrival still struck Geary as a miracle. The Navy destroyers and American bombers tried to pave the way for the ground forces, but their attempts at vanquishing the dug-in enemy were mostly fruitless.
“I had the half-impression that we would hit the beach and walk on it like Hawaii,” said Geary, 79, who retired as a master gunnery sergeant. “I was too young to realize that anyone could live through that.”
But thousands of them did, unleashing a blistering attack on Geary and his buddies from Company A, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, as they stormed the beach with the first assault wave.
“We advanced as well as we could,” Geary said. “That whole day, we didn’t advance 50 feet.”
Geary was a runner for Company A, a dangerous job that required moving from foxhole to foxhole to pass messages and instructions. It wasn’t long before the 370-strong company dwindled to just a handful of men — the rest dead or evacuated with wounds — so Geary and his friends were reassigned to Company C.
In this new unit, he was simply a grunt. He was a guy daydreaming about cigars.
It was then that a P-51 Mustang — the single-prop fighter planes that helped American forces out of more than one jam — flew low overhead. The pilot’s canopy slid back, and a small box flew out, tied to a small parachute.
When the 17-year-old private retrieved the gift from above, he discovered it was a box of cigars, tied to a man’s handkerchief.
“You talk about being the most popular guy on that island,” Geary said, laughing. “It gave us a great joy we never expected.”
It’s his fondest memory of his time on Iwo Jima, weeks that don’t offer many happy recollections. Geary was one of only 17 men from his company to return to the ship after the fighting, where more than 350 others were either killed or evacuated.
Thinking about it still brings tears to his eyes, six decades later, for reasons he doesn’t understand and can’t explain.
“I never did find that pilot,” Geary said. “If I had, I’d have given him a hug.”
03-21-05, 11:30 AM #33
February 12, 2005
‘We buried most of our heroes’
By C. Mark Brinkley
Times staff writer
HAVELOCK, N.C. — It looked like bad luck for Pfc. Dick Gandy and Cpl. Bob Odom.
Gandy almost died leaving his boat for the assault, when he nearly fell overboard wearing a full combat load.
“I said ‘let me go’ or something stupid like that,” said the former mortarman, who hit Iwo Jima with Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 21st Marines. “Thank goodness they didn’t. I’d have sank like a rock.”
Odom was carrying a used blanket stenciled with the word “Coffin,” the previous owner’s last name.
“I thought ‘I’m going on this island with a coffin on my back,’.” said the former radioman, who landed with Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 26th Marines. “It gave me a bad feeling.”
Gandy was a combat replacement, the last person in line selected for duty with his company on Iwo. The guy standing in front of him ducked out when he heard what was happening.
“He was a crook anyway,” he said, laughing. “He cheated at cards every time.”
Their good luck must have held, as the two went on to retire as master gunnery sergeants and now call Havelock home.
Gandy’s pack got snagged on the boat as they hit the beach, and he couldn’t get free. The boat crew threatened to shoot him if he didn’t storm the beach. “They said, ‘We can’t take you back alive,’.” he recalled. Eventually, he pulled free, but lost his unit in the confusion and ended up spending his first night on Iwo with a signal company.
The next morning he wandered up to the first officer he saw barking orders and inquired about his unit’s location. The officer turned out to be none other than Lt. Gen. Holland M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith, the senior Marine on the island.
“He said ‘that way’ and pointed over his left shoulder,” the 79-year-old said, laughing because the direction was straight up the hotly contested Mount Suribachi. “I eventually found them.”
They each had their share of close calls and scares. Gandy was blown in the air by an explosion and recalls being parallel with the ground before slamming face-first into the dirt. Odom had his legs knocked out from beneath him by a mortar round and thought he lost a foot. Instead, he’d lost only a boot heel.
Gandy was digging a fighting hole when the shovel was snagged out of his hand by a bullet with his name on it. Odom tripped over some barbed wire and was lying down when a mortar exploded nearby. He stood up to find a piece of shrapnel lodged in his canteen, rather than his belly.
Gandy remembers seeing the steam rising from a cluster of fighting holes, and in the twilight, how it looked like ghosts hovering over a group of graves.
Odom remembers the panic he felt at seeing a crusty old sergeant major blown over a hill by an incoming rocket, and the joy he felt when that same salty Marine came walking back over the hill, cursing but uninjured, minutes later.
Gandy and Odom didn’t know each other back then — their relationship has been forged by years of Iwo Jima survivor reunions — but both arrived at the same conclusion: They were damn lucky.
“We buried most of our heroes on Iwo Jima,” Odom said. “The rest of us just did our jobs and tried to stay alive.”
03-21-05, 10:41 PM #34
February 12, 2005
A Marine’s 4 days in hell
By Laura Bailey
Times staff writer
Sixty years after fighting on Iwo Jima, retired 1st Sgt. Herb Newman still wears the marks of the famous Marine Corps battle.
In a room filled with decades worth of Marine Corps memorabilia, the 79–year-old points with a weathered hand to a dime-sized scar on his calf muscle that marks a bullet’s entry point and recalls the battle that put it there.
“I haven’t talked about this stuff for probably 20 years,” said Newman, whose forearm bears a blurred eagle, globe and anchor tattoo penned there in 1943.
That was the same year Newman joined the Corps at the age of 17, following in his father’s footsteps.
A year and a half later, Marines would add Iwo Jima to Marine Corps lore, but for Newman, by that time already wounded once in combat, the island was just one more name on a list of brutal fights he would see in the Pacific.
At age 19, the young sergeant with B Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, already had fought in three combat landings in the Pacific islands; the worst was Saipan, where more than two thirds of B Company’s men were killed. Newman was wounded in the arm by rifle fire.
After Saipan, Newman thought he had seen the worst of the war. He had no clue what awaited his unit on Iwo.
“We thought this is going to be an easy one compared to Saipan. What a joke that was,” he said.
On the morning of Feb. 19, 1945, Newman was one of thousands of Marines who piled on to the island’s barren, inhospitable shores.
In the hours leading up to the landing, Newman’s lieutenant predicted it would be “a cakewalk,” as the Navy had bombarded the island for weeks in preparation for the landing. What the Marines didn’t know was how well prepared the Japanese were. They had carved out extensive underground compounds, protecting them from the gunfire.
As part of the 4th Marine Division, Newman’s unit was to seize the northernmost portion of the beach, then help secure the island’s critical airfield. It wasn’t until well after B Company waded ashore that it realized the ferocity of the island’s defenders.
“We landed on the beach and nothing happened for a half hour or so. Then all of a sudden, they opened up with everything they had,” Newman recalled.
One of the company’s first casualties was Newman’s lieutenant, who just hours earlier joked that if his fellow Marines saw liquid dripping from his back, they better hope it was blood rather than the precious alcohol packed in his rucksack.
Unable to dig fighting holes in Iwo’s powder-fine black sand, the men knew they would have to fight their way off the beach or remain trapped under a storm of Japanese fire.
It took Newman’s company the entire first day to move up an embankment to higher ground, under fire from Japanese soldiers hidden in pillboxes and caves carved into the harsh volcanic landscape.
“They were coming from someplace, we just didn’t know where. You never saw them,” Newman said. “It was like being in hell, the sulfuric acid, the steam coming off the ground. It smelt like rotten eggs and looked like hell.”
Newman was in the fight just four days before becoming one of the more than 19,000 leathernecks wounded in combat. Shot in the leg, Newman had a ticket off the island, but not before braving the treacherous stretcher journey back to the beach.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it because the [Japanese] were still bombing the heck out of the beach,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘I’m getting out of here and I’m not going to make it to the damn hospital ship.’.”
At war’s end, Newman stayed on in the service and would dedicate two more decades to the Corps, seeing combat again in the Korean War before retiring.
03-21-05, 10:41 PM #35
February 12, 2005
1 stop in 27 years of service
By Gordon Lubold
Times staff writer
The flag raising on Iwo Jima seems almost unreal to those who came after, an iconic event in the midst of a legendary battle. To Fred Karch, it was so real he could hear it.
A newly minted lieutenant colonel, Karch was operations officer for an artillery regiment when his men landed on the small island some described as “hell with the fire out.” Karch spent long, exhausting days and nights working in the command post, planning his battalions’ every move. The Naval Academy graduate worked with little or no sleep those first few days as Japanese defenses pummeled U.S. forces.
Then, one clear day, a triumphant roar brought him outside. He looked up at Mount Suribachi about a thousand yards away to witness what would become one of the Corps’ most cherished moments as men hoisted an American flag. It was the sound that he remembers most.
“It was like being at the Super Bowl when someone scored,” said Karch, who retired as a brigadier general in 1967. “That was a shot in the arm like nothing else could be.”
Sixty years later, Karch recalls his days on Iwo while sitting in an upholstered armchair in his 7th-floor condominium in Arlington, Va., not far from where the flag raising is commemorated at the Marine Corps War Memorial. Karch, 87, sports the same mustache he had years ago, one that even now conforms to Marine Corps regs.
His job kept him in the relative safety of the command post during his month on “Sulfur Island,” but Karch said he will always remember the overwhelming despair he and others felt seeing bodies carried out of battle at the end of each day.
“We saw replacements coming and moving up to take their positions,” he said slowly. “It was the most disheartening and discouraging situation you could ever imagine.”
He could see it on the men’s faces.
“It was unbelievable the way these troops would attack with the casualties falling around them, and you’d think that there is no way in the world that you could go on with this, but there was nothing the Marines could do.”
Karch remembers the Japanese cave network and how no American intelligence could have foreseen how effective it could be.
“It was a network almost impossible to fathom until you killed all of them and you could get a look at it,” Karch said.
Unlike some, Karch doesn’t have a shrine to the Corps in his home.
But he does take pride in an imposing portrait of himself that hangs over a dark wooden cabinet in his tidy living room. It portrays Karch beside a montage of images from his service to the Corps — a drawing of him in front of Bancroft Hall at the Naval Academy, a depiction of the landing at Da Nang, Vietnam, and above his right shoulder, an impression of the flag raising at Iwo — all the things that were most important to him during his career.
“I think it makes the portrait much more meaningful,” he said.
03-21-05, 10:42 PM #36
February 12, 2005
‘We didn’t know we were making history’
By Gidget Fuentes
Times staff writer
SAN DIEGO — The first look that Jim “Gunner” Carroll had of Iwo Jima came before sunrise.
Carroll, then 19, knew nothing about that long, thin spit of land except that it was what he and his tank battalion heard they were going to invade.
In the predawn hours of Feb. 19, 1945, he and his fellow tankers on an Army landing ship watched and listened off Green Beach as 16-inch rounds from Navy battleships and ordnance from Air Force bombers hammered the volcanic island. The men were sure that the heavy barrage would force the Japanese to lay down their weapons and surrender, saving the Marines the trouble of having to go in with bayonets fixed and weapons loaded for in-your-face combat.
“We had already been given the word that we wouldn’t land,” he recalled in an interview just before the 60th anniversary of the assault, adding that “we had mixed emotions” at the prospect of not fighting the Japanese.
But that was not to be. With the Japanese burrowed deep into underground caves, the preparatory fires had little effect. The Marines learned that the hard way as they hit the beach.
“When they opened up, it was bad news,” said Carroll, a retired chief warrant officer 4 who gives museum tours at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
Soon, the calls went out over the radio, “Send in the tanks! Send in the tanks!”
Carroll was gunner on a tank nicknamed “Going Home.” He and his four-man crew — Dwayne “Dutch” Matsen, A.A. Rutkowski, Donald Pratt and Ira Stewart — said little to one another as they rolled down the ship ramp and onto the beach with the rest of the 5th Marine Division. “I could see a lot of packs, 782 gear, floating on the beach,” he recalled, standing next to a display about the Iwo fight on the San Diego museum’s second floor.
But the convoy came to a halt when the lead tank went dead. Carroll, for reasons he can’t explain to this day, volunteered to go forward to find an alternate route around the disabled vehicle and tank traps that lay ahead.
He found a way around the disabled tank and the company soon reached the base of Mount Suribachi.
“It’s imposing,” he recalled. “550 feet, it rises almost straight up. It was full of caves, fighting holes, gun emplacements.” Later they learned the Japanese had carved out a working hospital in its innards, he notes, which helped explain why he and other Marines saw so few Japanese troops. “It was days before we saw a dead Japanese, or barely even a live one,” he said.
Over his five weeks on Iwo Jima, Carroll suffered only mild shrapnel wounds and he later received the Bronze Star. His memory of his time on the island is scattered, but what he does remember is vivid.
One day, as the tanks rolled north from Suribachi toward an airfield to support infantry forces, they came upon a large depression where scores of dead Japanese had been placed. The sight of so many enemy troops — dead or alive — was stunning. “We realized, of course, that that is what they had to be doing, because we had been killing them,” he said.
At one point, an enemy mortar round exploded near his tank, shaking the vehicle and knocking out Matsen. Carroll recalls that he helped evacuate the sergeant, whose nose was bleeding, noting the sergeant later died on a hospital ship of what he thinks was a severe concussion.
After Iwo, Carroll and his crew returned to Hawaii, only to be sent to the Japanese mainland for occupation duty.
Upon his return in March 1946, Carroll, a reservist, went back to college and began a long teaching career. In 1966, he volunteered to return to active duty for the Vietnam War and he deployed as a warrant officer with 1st Tank Battalion. He landed in South Vietnam in June 1967 and served a yearlong tour there; he was wounded outside of Hue days before his tour ended when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded nearby. He retired from the Reserve in 1987.
Among the more vivid memories he has is of the Feb. 23 flag raising on Suribachi, though it didn’t seem as significant at the time.
What caught Carroll’s attention was the simultaneous sounding of horns and whistles from the dozens of ships offshore. “We could hear everyone say, ‘What’s going on?’ ”
They saw handful of silhouettes atop the mountain. “We knew they were Americans, because if they were Japanese, they would have been blown to bits,” he said. The distant sight of the flag, he adds, told them, “Hey, we’re making some headway over there.”
Like that flag-raising, his actions on the island didn’t seem significant, he recalled. “We didn’t know we were making history, either,” he said, noting that for him, “it was a long, awful experience.”
Gidget Fuentes is the San Diego bureau chief for Marine Corps Times.
03-22-05, 10:31 PM #37
March 28, 2005
Iwo Jima revisited
Vets return to the site of the bloodiest battle in Marine history
By Phillip Thompson
Times staff writer
IWO JIMA, Japan — One machine gunner’s dream is another machine gunner’s nightmare.
Adrian Minch, who landed on Iwo Jima 60 years ago as a machine gunner, was on the nightmare end, with one of the most difficult jobs imaginable: taking out Japanese machine guns that covered every inch of the island, including those he occupied at any given moment.
Minch was one of about 50 Iwo Jima veterans, most of whom are now in their 80s, who returned March 12 to this 8-square-mile volcanic chunk of rock to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Marine Corps’ bloodiest battle. Ceremonies were conducted on a ridge above Yellow Beach, where elements of the 23rd Marines landed. In attendance were Commandant Gen. Mike Hagee and retired Lt. Gen. Larry Snowden, an Iwo vet.
While dignitaries spoke and laid wreaths, Minch made his way through the scrub grass that now covers much of the island toward the imposing cliffs that served as the end of the Marine assault beaches during the battle.
Then a private first class, he came ashore near these cliffs with 25th Marines. Japanese machine gunners housed in reinforced concrete bunkers — a machine gunner’s dream — had a clear field of fire along the broad beach, and they mowed down hundreds of Marines in the opening hours on Feb. 19, 1945.
Minch made his way off the beach and was ordered to recon an area ahead. He found a hasty bit of defilade — a rut cut into the soft sand by a tracked vehicle — and was able to move inland until an artillery shell landed nearby.
The concussion blew him clear of his hole, and the shell’s shrapnel killed all those around him. He injured his back, but not badly, and believes he still suffers hearing damage as a result of the blast. But he considers himself lucky. Of the 16 men he came ashore with via landing craft, he was the only one left alive, he said.
“One of my best friends saved my life,” he said. “Then, two days later, the last time I saw him, he was lying practically in pieces. His guts were scattered all over the place. He was trying to put his guts back in his body cavity, and we were ordered, ‘Move out, move out,’ because they’ll get us all. That’s the last I saw of him.”
Minch was one of the very few Marines who landed on Feb. 19 still standing at the end of the campaign, and — more remarkable, he was never wounded
“Never got a Purple Heart, never got a decoration in 36 days,” he said. “I’m the luckiest guy alive.”
Raymond Beadle wasn’t as lucky. A 19-year-old private first class at the time, he had the misfortune of being a “feather merchant,” an old Corps expression for a man small in stature.
“We were supposed to be in the reserve,” he said, “but I don’t think anybody ever told my outfit.” Instead of landing with the reserve, he went in the first wave.
“I was one of the first guys to get off the boat ’cause I was in the front,” Beadle said. “I was a little bitty man, and they told me, ‘Get your little you-know-what outta here, or we’ll walk on you.’ And they could ’cause they was all big guys. So, you run out toward the beach. I mean, you couldn’t get up, but that’s what you did.
“We were there for 30 to 40 minutes before they opened up on us,” he said of the initial landings. “Cannons, machine guns, mortars, everything else. They had it all clued in where we were. They knew we was coming, and they knew where we were coming from. They started dropping mortars in there and killing everybody, and snipers and machine guns and everything. They knew where we were, but we didn’t know where they were. We couldn’t see them. ... They was all underground, in the pillboxes. There was nothing to see.”
Beadle had never been in combat, so he did the only thing he knew to do: pay attention to his noncommissioned officers.
“Those experienced guys we had with our outfit from Guadalcanal, Peleliu and Saipan, they all knew what was going on,” he said. “They took care of us recruits. I call us recruits ’cause that’s all I was. And they watched over us like mother hens. But I thank God for that. I never could remember their ranks or names or anything. Only ones I remember are my sergeant, Pappy, and my squad leader was Nick Hernandez. But I think Nick got killed in the same explosion that I got blew up in. I seen later on that he was killed in action. He was talking to me when that explosion happened.”
The explosion he referred to occurred on D-Day-plus 16, when a shell lit off a Marine ammo dump. Beadle was wounded by shrapnel.
“When they dug me out of the ground ... they said, ‘Where’s your pack, feather merchant?’ I had two straps, and I pulled ’em off ... and all I had was two straps. I said, ‘Oh my God, where’s my pack?’ and I reached back and my hands hit where my wound was, where the shrapnel was still in my body, and I passed out. Next thing I remember, I was on a gurney on a jeep going back to a field hospital. That was it. That was the end of me fighting on Iwo Jima.”
Les Carlyle was one of the old salts. A private first class in Headquarters and Service Company, 24th Marines, he came ashore late in the afternoon on D-Day, across Blue Beach, the same beach Minch traversed in the morning.
“It was our fourth [landing] in 13 months,” he said. “I was at Saipan and Tinian and Roi-Namur before that.”
That first evening, he said, was “probably the worst night of my life. Aside from being scared and everything, it was raining, it was cold, and they fired airbursts at us all night, so there was no sleeping, and nobody had any concept of what the hell was going on.”
By morning, he’d found his bearings.
“It kinda leveled out,” he said. “Once you get going, you’re so damn tired because you never get to sleep right, so you kinda get numb after a while.”
Of the four landings, he said Iwo was by far the worst.
“Casualties on Saipan were kinda comparable, like 70 percent or so of what happened here,” he said. “But here, it just never stopped. Not even for an hour.”
He fought across the island until about a week before the end, when his unit was sent back to a ship to begin planning for the invasion of the Japanese home islands, he said.
“We were very, very relieved to be back aboard ship,” he said.
Minch, the machine gunner, said he spent years trying to forget his experience here, until about 30 years ago.
“I spent 30-something years forgetting,” he said as he stood next to a bashed Japanese bunker, empty except for a rusted steel machine-gun mount. “Don’t want to think about it. Then, I started thinking, ‘Well, here’s a generation that thinks we’re a bunch of damn fools.’ Then, I started thinking about it and evaluating things, and then I started to get a little proud of what I did, and now I’m damn proud of what I did.
“I think [that’s] the progression of many of these people that you see on this return to Iwo trip,” he said.
“A lot of them would want to say nothing about it up until about 20 years ago, and now here they are rejoicing in what they did and honoring their fellow comrades for what they did.”
Phillip Thompson is Lifelines editor.
03-23-05, 06:50 AM #38
March 28, 2005
A tale of tactics
By Phillip Thompson
Times staff writer
IWO JIMA, Japan — It’s been 60 years, but Adrian Minch still knows his tactics.
Minch, who landed here Feb. 19, 1945, was a machine gunner with the 25th Marines at the time. The regiment faced sheer cliffs on the right, a killing field of soft, open sand to the front and a deadly picket of Japanese bunkers nestled into the shoulder of a ridge above them. The bunkers were the most difficult.
Standing near a blown-out bunker pocked with bullet holes and empty except for a single, rusty steel machine-gun mount, Minch described the ordeal of subduing such a position.
“It’s tough,” he said. “You hope you can find somebody who can put a round into the firing aperture. You can’t do that. So, you try to keep it under fire, and the machine gunners were a part of that whole process. You set up your machine gun just so you can peek just over the top of the hill, and you keep up continuous fire on the pillbox. So that they’re a little bit tenuous about sticking their nose out.
“You get a couple of them firing; you get them hunkered down; they figure they’re safe and can come back out and start fighting later. So then you have people coming up with satchel charges, so you have to coordinate things. You’re firing heavy fire, then you stop and give this guy with the satchel charge — one lone man — running ... up there and putting the satchel charge on the top or over the front into the aperture and that would detonate.
“Of course, he had to get the heck off of there, and we had to resume the fire to protect him coming back. That was more or less the standard method. But it didn’t always work out. Flamethrowers were the best thing, if you could get one up there.”
If that didn’t work, he said, there were the big guns from the Navy ships offshore.
“Naval gunfire was something that I enjoyed,” he said with a chuckle. “The battleships would be out there with their 16-inch guns pointed up here, and kaboom, you’d see this ring of fire coming up here and this terrible concussion — which I loved — and if you were quick enough you could see the shell going overhead.
“If there was anything about the battle I enjoyed,” he said, “it was the concussion of the battleships.”
03-23-05, 04:30 PM #39
March 28, 2005
‘One big museum’
By Phillip Thompson
Times staff writer
IWO JIMA, Japan — Not all the Marines who came to Iwo Jima on March 12 for the 60th anniversary of the Corps’ bloodiest battle fought here.
Some came to realize a lifelong dream of visiting the place they’d only read about — and to bring back some of the famous sand of Iwo Jima.
Fred Corral, a retired Marine first sergeant and Vietnam vet, strolled along the breathtaking black beaches with fellow Marine Corps and Vietnam vet Arthur Bustamonte, paying his respects in his own way. The pair stuck three small Marine Corps flags into the soft, deep sand, then knelt for a moment to reflect and, Corral said, to pay honor to the Marines who crawled, bled and died across the beaches.
With the worn visage of Mount Suribachi looming in the distance, Corral, a retired Los Angeles homicide detective, appeared awestruck.
“It’s a lifelong dream to come down here,” he said over the sound of the surf and the flags snapping in the brisk morning breeze. “And not just come here, but to meet the Marines who were here and honor them. It’s something we’ll always remember.”
“It’s hard to imagine,” Bustamonte said. “In the first hour, over a thousand Marines died. Normandy takes a lot of the glory. Of course, Normandy wasn’t a cakewalk either. But the amount of people who died here, nearly 7,000 Marines, that’s a lot of people.
“This is history,” he added, gesturing toward the serene beach. “I consider this place to be one big museum.”
03-25-05, 09:34 PM #40
IWO JIMA VETS FIND BOND -- THEN AND NOW
Scranton Times Tribune
"I wasn't going to let him just lay there. I ran out there and picked him up and carried him back ... he was crying and asking for his mother. He said his belly was on fire and I gave him some water. A few minutes later he was dead right on my lap," said Mr. Hughes, of South Canaan. "I never knew his name."
But the wounded soldier was a Marine -- all the reasoning Sgt. Hughes needed to risk his own life in an act of valor.
With that same attitude -- and a lifetime of gratitude -- Mr. Hughes, his wife Elizabeth and more than 100 others packed into the Wayne County Courthouse on Thursday for a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima.
More than 6,800 other U.S. Marines died on that 8-square-mile volcanic island during the bloodiest battle in Marines Corps history.
The picture of six Marines raising an American flag on Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945, is one of the most widely recognized military images.
For the men fighting on that island over a one-month span in 1945, that image was all too vivid.
Now 81 and still able to fit comfortably into his Marine uniform, Mr. Hughes realizes every day how lucky he is to have come away from the battle with just two bullet wounds.
But he is not without his wounds or those horrible memories of war.
Many soldiers don't like to talk about their time during the war. It's a part of their life they're proud to have lived through it but in no mood to relive.
The late Cyril M. O'Hara was 19 when he fought at Iwo Jima. The Pleasant Mount native returned to Wayne County to raise a family of eight children, including Kevin and Maureen.
Those two were in attendance Thursday to represent their father, who died in December of 2003 at age 78.
Kevin O' Hara said his father never talked much about his time in the Marines or the Battle of Iwo Jima.
But that changed when he watched "Saving Private Ryan," the Steven Speilberg epic film depicting D-Day.
"That was a catharsis. He opened up about it. It was doing him good to talk about it. We encouraged him to write his memoirs," Mr. O'Hara said.
The result is nearly 40 pages of war memories and battle stories.
Cyril O' Hara witnessed the flag raising on the island about 700 miles off the coast of Japan. Probably less than 100 yards away, and also viewing the moment etched in time, was Peter P. Biondo.
Mr. Biondo was only 18 years old when he took a shrapnel hit to his head. He lived and returned to America with a silver plate in his head and a Purple Heart on his chest.
When he moved his family from New Jersey to Wayne County in 1958, they settled in Pleasant Mount. And at St. John's Church in that small rural town, Mr. Biondo would meet Mr. O' Hara, a fellow Purple Heart recipient and Iwo Jima survivor.
"They formed a lifelong bond," said Peter Biondo's son, Jim. The two would talk often and see each other in church. They remained astonished that they would go through a hellish battle half a world away and not know each other only to meet in rural Wayne County more than a decade after the war had ended.
Mr. Biondo died at age 56 in 1984.
Other Wayne County residents also fought in the battle. Those that are known include George Stanton, who died in December, William W. Foster and James E. McNulty.
Mr. McNulty, who moved to Wayne County in 1993, was 18 when he arrived on the beaches of Iwo Jima. While on his ship in the Pacific he said a radio broadcast by Tokyo Rose alerted him as to where he was headed.
"They knew we were coming before we knew where we were going," said Mr. McNulty, now 79 and living in Lakeville.
He said he didn't think about death or dying until he stepped foot on that beach.
"When you're 17 or 18 years old you don't really worry about your life. But then when you lose your friends and you see men dying in front of you or next to you, it sinks in," Mr. McNulty said.
03-26-05, 09:00 AM #41
Iwo Jima Facts
Iwo Jima was the first native Japanese soil invaded by Americans in World War II. About 60,000 Americans and 20,000 Japanese participated in the battle.
About a third of all Marines killed in action in World War II were killed at Iwo Jima.
The U.S. government returned the island of Iwo Jima to the Japanese government in 1968, after the bodies of the men in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Division cemeteries were removed to the United States.
The iconic photo of the six Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi was taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal on the fifth day of battle.
03-27-05, 02:04 AM #42
Sixty years later, Iwo Jima recalled
The Japanese strategy was both ominous and straightforward: Each soldier would kill 10 Americans. They rated their own survival as unimportant. None of them expected to survive and, indeed, few of them did.The island was a tiny strip of sulfurous soil dominated by a volcano called Mount Suribachi. Situated off the Japanese mainland, Japan considered the tiny island home soil. To the Allied forces gathering to wrest Iwo Jima from Japanese control, it was a stepping stone to future bombings of Japan. To the Japanese preparing to defend the island, it was a suicide mission that could not fail.
American forces were particularly interested in the three airfields hosted by the island. They needed those airfields to support bombing runs against the Japanese home islands. After Allied forces gained control, they planned to use Iwo Jima both as a staging point for fighters escorting long-range bombers and a place for damaged aircraft to safely land.
Plans to withstand an American assault were developed by Japanese Gen. Kuribayashi, considered a brilliant strategist. His approach was simple: the Japanese would repel the invaders below ground. Over 16 miles of tunnels were built under Iwo Jima's rocky surface, with 1,500 rooms to house the Japanese defenders.
For weeks prior to the battle, the American planes bombed the small island, "softening" the target for ground troops. The Japanese forces, far underground, had no problems withstanding the assault. The stage was set for what would become one of the bloodiest - and most famous - of all battles in World War II.
Offshore, the Navy poured all the firepower of the Pacific Fleet into the tiny island in advance of the American landing. On Feb. 19, 1945, Marines came ashore. It was the beginning of a hellishly brutal campaign that ended with several thousand Marines and sailors dead and the entire Japanese force of defenders nearly wiped out.
The vigorous preparatory shelling and bombing by the Navy and Marines didn't provide the hoped for landing. By the end of the first day of fighting, Marine forces had bisected the island and lost over 2,000 in the process. The invading force next turned its attention to Mount Suribachi. Here the resistance was even more fierce. The fighting went on for three days before Suribachi came under American control and the American flag, depicted by the official Marine memorial, was raised over the island.
Fighting continued for the rest of February and most of March. On March 25, with the battle for Iwo Jima appearing to be winding down, a 300-man Japanese contingent attacked an American-secured airfield. That last real battle on Iwo Jima cost Americans dozens of lives, including Army pilots, Marines and Seabees.
Finally, on March 26, Iwo Jima was declared secure. The fierce fighting reduced the Japanese force from around 22,000 to slightly over 200 Japanese left alive. Marines suffered over 6,000 fatalities, with three times that number wounded.
On March 26, 1945, Leathernecks on Iwo Jima were exhausted, war-weary and, no doubt, longing for home.
These young men who entered late in the war and were shipped to some of the worst and most compelling battles ever fought by this country, saw their friends and fellow Marines cut down in front of them. Rather than go quietly into the night, they first had to crawl through hell.
March 26, 2005, is a very different day than the one U.S. Marines experienced in 1945. Both the survivors and those who lost their lives on Iwo Jima should never be forgotten. Their courage, dedication and the sacrifices they made ensured that our freedoms endure.
03-28-05, 04:03 PM #43
State College veteran returns to Iwo Jima
By Chris Rosenblum
STATE COLLEGE -- Gerald Russell kept noticing the flowers.
He had been back to Iwo Jima before, to walk the Pacific isle where he and other Marines fought so bitterly in February and March of 1945. On this trip, however, blossoms decorating small marble statues caught his eye.
The Marine Corps historian on the tour explained: They marked the graves of Japanese soldiers.
"There are many, many who are still buried there," Russell, of State College, said.
Almost 22,000 Japanese troops died during the struggle for the volcanic outpost 700 miles south of Tokyo. To allow U.S. bombers to strike Japan without being spotted first by observers on Iwo Jima or attacked by island-based fighters, 6,821 Marines lost their lives on the black sands.
The 36-day battle produced one of the war's most famous images when Marines hoisted the Stars and Stripes on top of Mount Suribachi. But Iwo Jima remains more legendary to Americans than to Japanese, according to a recent New York Times article about U.S. veterans, including Russell, who returned to the island March 12 for 60th anniversary ceremonies.
For the anniversary of its August surrender, the article said, Japan likely will focus instead on events in which its civilians suffered, such as the Okinawa invasion, the Tokyo fire raids, and the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But Russell, now 88 and a retired colonel, saw evidence that some Japanese still think of their country's fallen soldiers on Iwo Jima.
"Their families have placed the memorials," Russell said.
On more than one occasion during that battle 60 years ago, he almost joined the dead.
It started on Red Beach One, a long, exposed stretch flanked by Suribachi on the left and higher ground to the right. Russell was a major, second in command of the Second Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, arriving 20 minutes after the invasion's first wave.
"When I landed, there were already a lot of casualties," Russell said. "You could see some of them were dead, and some were calling for medical corpsmen."
By the ninth day, two-thirds of his battalion's original 1,200 men had been killed or wounded. Among them was 1st. Lt. Jack Lummus, a New York Giants football player. With his platoon pinned down, Lummus sprang up and charged forward, firing his gun and flinging grenades.
"They were just beginning to advance, and he stepped on a land mine," Russell said.
Posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Lummus spent his last minutes on a stretcher in a gully. Russell placed a cigarette in the lieutenant's mouth.
Even after six decades, Russell immediately recognized that place -- just as he did the ridge where an artillery blast sprayed his face with shrapnel.
It happened above a cut in a road. Russell had pressed ahead of his company to climb up and do some reconnaissance.
"When I got to the top of it, I could see all the way to the end of the island," he said. "Apparently, (the Japanese) had a gun zeroed in on the spot."
He should have been evacuated, but officers were in short supply. Russell, volunteering to stay, returned to the line after medics patched his face as best they could.
"Actually, one of the men sort of led me as we went along," he said. "I was out of it."
Five days later, Russell took over the battalion after its commander was hit. By this time, the Marines were trying to root out defenders dug into a vast network of caves, tunnels and bunkers. Days of naval bombardments and air strikes before the invasion had left the Marines thinking they would be mopping up a shattered opposition.
But most of the Japanese, hunkered down as far as 150 feet underground, survived to contest almost every square yard.
During his recent one-day tour, Russell inspected several of the passageways for the first time. The sight only reinforced his respect for the tenaciousness of his former enemy, now an ally in the ongoing Iraq war.
"My realization was, as military men, they were fighting for their country, and they were doing it as dutifully as they could, just as we were," Russell said.
Recently, unlike his first Iwo Jima pilgrimage, Russell didn't get a chance to meet Japanese veterans. Neither did he see any men from his battalion. He wasn't surprised. At the last regimental reunion in Virginia, only nine members showed up.
"There's just not that many left," he said.
Even fewer are around to tell what it was like to help direct one of the most hallowed assaults in U.S. history. Of the 48 Marines who served as battalion commanders at some point in the invasion, just three are still living.
Russell was the senior officer among the veterans at the March 12 ceremony. As he crossed the mostly unpopulated island again, this time in a Humvee, he thought of those under his command who never stepped off the ashen shores.
Lummus. 1st Lt. Jack Butler, buried in the Honolulu cemetery where Russell gave a speech on the way home. Dozens of other friends sacrificed to hasten the war's end.
"That's the type of thing that really does affect you, to see a fine young individual getting killed," Russell said. "That's what you think about, all the men who are no longer with us. You can't help but speculate about what they would have been."
Gerald Russell, right, of State College, stands with Gen. Michael Hagee on Iwo Jima during recent ceremonies honoring the 60th anniversary of the battle.
04-01-05, 06:14 AM #44
Exhibit plan: Gobs of glory, dash of glitz
Marine Corps museum exhibits will put visitors on Iwo Jima, other battle sites
By PAMELA GOULD
Date published: 3/31/2005
Retired Marine Col. Raymond Hord says the National Museum of the Marine Corps will evoke "a little Disney World, a little glitz."
Hord, vice president of marketing and development for the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, says that's what he's convinced visitors want. That's why the museum will thrust them into boot camp, onto the shores of Iwo Jima and into the frigid clime of Chosin Reservoir.
"I don't care if you're 9 or 90, people want more pizzazz and 'Oh, wow' effect," Hord said.
The National Museum of the Marine Corps will open in November 2006 with 115,700 square feet of exhibit areas, a gift shop and a restaurant. Plans call for it to eventually expand to 180,950 square feet.
The restaurant is being sponsored by Anheuser-Busch and will be named Tun Tavern--for the Philadelphia establishment where the Corps was born in 1775, Hord said.
Visitors will enter the museum through the central gallery, where they will see four aircraft overhead--an AV-8 Harrier, an F4-U4 Corsair, an FG-1 Corsair and a JN-4D "Jenny." On the floor will be an HRS-1 Sikorsky helicopter and a land navigation vehicle known as the LVT-1 or Alligator.
The six vehicles chosen represent Marine Corps innovations in warfighting, said retired Brig. Gen. Gerald McKay, the foundation's chief operating officer.
The central gallery will enjoy natural lighting through a 160-foot-tall glass atrium. This area also features a staircase with a platform that looks like the bridge portion of a ship.
Travertine marble imported from Italy will line the central gallery walls and will be etched with famous Marine sayings. The terrazzo flooring will be in blue and beige, representing sea and shore, to remind visitors of the Marines' Navy heritage.
Leaving the central gallery, visitors will step into the exhibit gallery, which is broken up into three major eras--World War II, Korea and Vietnam. It also has an area devoted to the making of a Marine and a central walkway known as the fast track.
The fast track will provide a chronological history of the Corps so visitors with less time can get a quick overview. This segment of the museum will also include an orientation theater and a temporary photo gallery with pictures from the Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Officials with the foundation use the term "immersion experience" in describing the atmosphere for the museum. They want people to get a sense of what it takes to be a Marine and a feel for life on the battlefield.
In the "Making of a Marine" segment, visitors can hear drill instructors barking orders, step into the barber's bay and fire laser-equipped M-16 rifles at targets.
In the World War II-era exhibit, visitors will come into a landing craft where a voice will tell them what to do in final preparation. Then a ramp will lower and they will step out onto the black sands of Iwo Jima with video footage bringing them into the Corps' bloodiest battle.
In the Korea exhibit, they will get a taste of the brutal conditions Marines met at Chosin Reservoir.
In the Vietnam exhibit, they'll find themselves inside the fuselage of a helicopter, then disembark down a landing ramp to Hill 881--the Battle of Khe Sanh.
Hord is confident the exhibits being prepared by Boston-based Christopher Chadbourne and Associates will make an impression.
"We'll make the blood rush," he said enthusiastically.
To reach PAMELA GOULD: 540/657-9101 firstname.lastname@example.org
Date published: 3/31/2005
04-01-05, 06:14 AM #45
Marine museum rises high
National Museum of the Marine Corps reaches construction milestone By PAMELA GOULD
By PAMELA GOULD
Date published: 3/31/2005
A 400-ton crawler crane--stretching more than 20 stories high--hoisted a 210-foot-tall spire yesterday, putting into place the premier architectural feature of the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
Symbolic of the historic flag-raising at Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945, the spire now stands at a 60-degree angle and points toward Interstate 95.
Officials with the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, the group raising the $50 million to build the museum just outside Quantico Marine Corps Base's main gate, see the spire becoming a significant feature in the region's landscape. It towers so high--the spire is as tall as the U.S. Capitol--that officials had to notify the Federal Aviation Administration that it was going up.
"This will become a landmark for traffic reporters," said retired Marine Col. Raymond Hord, who heads up the foundation's marketing efforts.
The National Museum of the Marine Corps, designed by Fentress Bradburn Architects, is slated for a grand opening in November 2006--coinciding with the 231st anniversary of the Corps.
Marines are expected to start moving artifacts into the building in November, before the building is even completed. The museum's central gallery is to be finished in April 2006, and the remainder of the building by June of that year.
A "soft opening" is planned for October 2006.
Installing the 50-ton spire was viewed as a significant milestone for the museum, which is the centerpiece of the Marine Corps Heritage Center. The center's 135-acre parcel, sandwiched between I-95 and U.S. 1, is expected to one day include a conference center and hotel, an IMAX theater, parade grounds and Semper Fidelis Memorial Park.
Two overlooks and one trail system within the roughly five-acre park are expected to be ready when the museum opens, said retired Brig. Gen. Gerald McKay, the foundation's chief operating officer.
Eventually, the park will include a small chapel for weddings and funerals plus more walking trails and overlook points. The idea is to provide visitors an area for reflection, McKay said.
With progress on the structure moving steadily forward, fund-raising continues to be a focal point. The foundation has raised nearly $43 million of the $50 million needed for the building.
The money has come from a group of 78 founders, defense and nondefense corporations, foundations and a direct-mail campaign to roughly 65,000 Marines and friends of the Corps, McKay said. A public fund-raising effort being launched in July is expected to bring in at least $500,000 more, Hord said.
The U.S. Mint is producing a commemorative silver dollar. It will feature the Iwo Jima image captured in the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal on the front and the eagle, globe and anchor--the Marine Corps emblem--on the back.
Proof coins will sell for $35; uncirculated coins will cost $33. The foundation will receive $10 from each coin sold, McKay said.
Hord also is excited about the possibilities for cross-promotion with the movie "Flags of Our Fathers," due out next year. Filmmaker Steven Spielberg bought the rights to the book by James Bradley, son of one of the men depicted in the Iwo Jima flag-raising photo. Clint Eastwood is directing the film.
"The foundation hopes to reach out to the studios for potential partnering, given so much is focused on the Battle of Iwo Jima," Hord said.
With the spire now in place and clearly visible from I-95, Hord is optimistic the museum will draw crowds when it opens next year. A December 2001 market analysis by George Mason University professor Stephen S. Fuller projected 240,000 visitors annually for the first phase of the museum.
Hord, however, thinks that estimate is too conservative. He thinks annual numbers will be in the "hundreds of thousands."
Foundation officials have been in touch with staff at other museums in Northern Virginia and Washington, seeking to learn from their experiences on everything from construction to fund-raising to public events.
They've spoken to officials at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum and its Udvar-Hazy Center in Loudoun County, and the National Museum of the American Indian recently completed on Washington's National Mall.
"We have tried to glean lessons learned from each of those," Hord said.
Fuller's market analysis suggests the new air and space center near Dulles International Airport and an Army museum being built at Fort Belvoir will join the Marine museum in drawing visitors out of Washington.
Hord sees the highly visible steel-and-concrete spire rising out of the woods beside I-95 as a beacon that will lure a significant segment of the 20 million tourists he said come annually to Washington.
"All of us involved in it believe it will truly be a national treasure," he said.
ON THE NET: usmcmuseum.org
To reach PAMELA GOULD: 540/657-9101 email@example.com
Date published: 3/31/2005
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