Fear and Courage – Returning to Iwo Jima 68 Years Later
Fear and Courage at Iwo Jima
Returning to Iwo Jima on the 68th Anniversary of the Battle
Mount Suribachi, March 13, 2013. From left to right: Colonel John Antal, US Army (Retired); Mr. Fiske Hanley, US Army Air Corps and a B-29 Flight Navigator in WWII; Lieutenant General Lawrence Snowden, USMC (Ret.) a WWII Iwo Jima veteran; Bill Schott, a WWII USMC Iwo Jima veteran; Don Graves, a WWII USMC Iwo Jima veteran; and Laura Leppert, daughter of a Marine who fought in the 5th Marine, 26th Regiment, 1st Battalion on Iwo Jima. Colonel John Antal helped fund and escort the three Iwo Jima veterans: Mr. Hanley, Schott and Graves from Dallas, Texas to Iwo Jima.
Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision. On Monday, February 19, 1945, 30,000 U.S. Marines hit the sands of Iwo Jima. In this battle, one of the toughest of WWII, 70,000 Marines battled 22,000 Japanese in 36 days in a close, deadly contest for life and death. The Japanese defenders held their fire until the third wave of Marines were stacked up on the beach and then blasted the Americans with rifles, machine guns and hundreds of artillery guns, howitzers and mortars. The Marines fought through this withering fire, climbed the high ground and raised the U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi. As they did, an AP photographer named Joe Rosenthal snapped the most iconic photographic image of WWII. The Marines fought on, the Japanese defended from a labyrinth of caves dug deep into the rock, but eventually the Marines won the struggle. The victory came at a great cost in lives, with 6,821 Americans killed and another 19,217 wounded. True to their fierce discipline and the Bushido code of honor, only 216 Japanese surrendered: 21,844 Japanese died on Iwo Jima. The entire island is truly hallowed ground.
On March 13, 2013, three Iwo Jima Veterans from the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area, returned to Iwo Jima. These three WWII Veterans—Don Graves, Bill Schott and Fiske Hanley—participated in a trip that was organized by the Daughters of WWII. The goal of the effort was to recognize these men with a journey that they could not have made on their own. Most importantly, this trip honored their decision 68 years ago to choose courage.
Don Graves was a 19-year-old U.S. Marine when he stormed the beaches at Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. At that early age he had already shown his willingness to show courage. He was an Assault Squad Leader and carried a flamethrower in the 28th Marine Regiment. He fought and survived all 36 days of combat on the hellish, sulfur-spewing, volcanic island. Don Graves was near the group of Marines who raised the Stars and Stripes on Mount Suribachi and witnessed the famous flag-raising first-hand.
Bill Schott was a 20-year-old U.S. Marine when his M3 Halftrack, carrying a 105mm howitzer, was pushed ashore during the invasion of Iwo Jima. He and his crew struggled to get their halftrack, which had wheels in the front to steer and tracks in the back for movement, through the deep, black volcanic sand of the Iwo Jima invasion beach. After strenuous efforts under horrific small arms, machine gun and artillery fire, his howitzer got into action. Without the fire from howitzers like the one Bill Schott and his artillery crew manned, the Marine infantrymen would have taken even heavier casualties on Iwo Jima.
Fiske Hanley was a 25-year-old U.S. Army Air Corps flight engineer aboard a B-29 Superfortress Bomber. Fiske was involved in the preliminary bombing of Iwo Jima to “soften up” the island for the invasion. Later, after Iwo Jima was captured and secure, his B-29 was shot down over Tokyo Bay on a low-level bombing mission to drop naval mines. Only Fiske and the co-pilot survived from the ten-man crew. He parachuted from the burning bomber just in the nick of time, landed in a rice paddy, was captured by the Japanese and then began the most horrific and heroic days of his life. The Japanese had a policy to execute B-29 crewmembers and the story of Fiske Hanley’s intrepid survival through this unimaginable ordeal, for nearly 60 days until he was rescued by hours from death when the war ended, is one for the history books.
These three WWII veterans from Texas, members of the Greatest Generation, provide a living testimony to courage, determination and love of country. They are very proud of their service in WWII and as they walked the black-sand beaches of Iwo Jima, the veil of the years fell away and they were back there, seeing the battle again. These men never flinched—not then; not now. When their Nation called, they overcame fear and chose courage. This truly was a Reunion of Honor.
Colonel John Antal, US Army (Retired), on Iwo Jima overlooking the 1945 invasion beach with Mount Suribachi in the background.
Colonel (Ret.) John Antal is a veteran of the U.S. Army, has written twelve books and hundreds of articles on military history and military subjects, and professional speaker on leadership and national security subjects. His latest book: 7 Leadership Lessons: Leadership, Liberty and the American Revolution will be published by Casemate and will be in bookstores in August 2013. You can contact him at < http://www.rudis-leadership.com/ >.