B-29 bombers fly over the 5th Marine Division cemetery on Iwo Jima
On 9:00 AM on March 26th 1945 a small strip of land in the Volcanic Islands became silent. The last major action had ended the night before, with a 300 man suicide charge by the Japanese. Iwo Jima would become the iconic battle for the US Marines in World War Two. It would also be the only battle where overall US casualties exceeded that of the Japanese. 6,800 Americans lay in the volcanic ash, in the shadow of Mount Suribachi, where the iconic flag raising took place.
When I think of Marines and Iwo Jima, I think of tough men, pushing forward yard by yard, with rifles and grenades, against a determined foe; the marine with a grenade in his hand and a flamethrower on his back. These are the men that captured the minds of Americans; the heroes of Iwo Jima. But when the heroes got in trouble who could they turn to? Who paved the way for their trek to Suribachi and immortality?
The 5th Marine Division saw its one and only combat at Iwo Jima. It was one of three Marine divisions on the island, and the only one new to fighting. William Manning was a corporal in the 5th Marine division. William wasn’t the hero who led men into battle to grapple with the enemy in hand to hand combat. William was an artilleryman, in Headquarters battery, 4th Battalion, 13th Marine Artillery Regiment. He was one of the men those heroes turned to when they needed help. Assistance so they could move forward.
William helped for the thirty-six days of the battle, then he never fired a shot in anger at the Japanese again; his next encounter with them came when the 5th Division went to Japan, to occupy it peacefully.
Napoleon Bonaparte once made the comment:
“With Artillery, War is made”
So William Manning made war, so that he could find peace, a peace that 2,416 of the 5th Division’s men would never know. But because of him and the others in the artillery, maybe a few more got to see it. Sometimes in war, it takes more than heroes.
Fatigue shirt of Corporal William Manning 13th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division
On May 6th, 1942 the death march on Bataan had happened almost a month before. Now the island of Corregidor fell to the Japanese. The men of the 4th Marine Regiment and the other defenders sat on the dock surrounded by their captors awaiting an unknown future. They didn’t know it yet, that three and a half years of beatings, humiliation, starvation, disease and cruelty awaited them. Names of places like 92nd Garage, Bilibid, and Cabanatuan didn’t mean much to them on that day.
They couldn’t imagine the Japan bound “Hellships”, cargo ships unmarked as holding POW’s to protect them from friendly fire, inside which men would die packed in the holds, with little food, or water in the tropic heat; where one in five would die at the torpedoes of American submarines.
If luck was with them and they make it to Japan, they would become slaves, working in coal and copper mines, shipyards and factories. When it is all over, one in three would be dead.
It is often said “if things could talk, think of the stories they could tell.” This pack could tell a few about a young man named Richard Kenney; A Marine who carried it from the regiment’s days in Shanghai, China, to the defense of Corregidor. Maybe it could tell us of the POW’s forced march through the streets in front of the Filipino’s and how those Filipino’s cheered the defenders and were beaten by the Japanese when they offered food and water. It could go on about the cruel days and nights of the Hellships, and of days in Osaka main Camp at Chikko. Perhaps it could tell us how Corporal Kenney died at the camp, years before liberation, and how it made it back to the United States without him.
If it could talk it might tell us these things. But it leaves us to imagine for ourselves what it saw. It bears a mute witness to history and the life of a young man who once carried it.
Welcome to Echoes of a War. I have had a keen interest in the Second World War since I was a child. In my blog I hope to share history, personal stories and artifacts that will be of interest to the historian, collector and anyone who likes to learn about and share history.
I am new at this so I hope to learn more about blogging as I go along and connect with some interesting people.