Iwo Jima: World War II Veterans Remember the Greatest Battle of the Pacific
By Larry Smith, Narrated by Dick Hill
Audiobook, 13 hours
Published by Tantor Audio, July 2008
The island of Iwo Jima lays between the Mariana Islands and Japan. The Japanese stationed there had an airfield which was used to conduct raids on U.S. bases in the Marianas, including the American airfields used by B-29 Superfortresses. In addition, the island provided the Japanese with early warning of incoming B-29 raids. In American hands, the situation would be reversed. Iwo Jima could provide an emergency field for damaged B-29s, as well as a base for long-range fighters to escort the bombers to their targets.
On 19FEB45 Iwo Jima was invaded by three Marine Divisions, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th, totaling about 70,000 Marines. Opposing them were 21,000 Japanese, well dug in with extensive underground cave systems and fortifications.
Author Larry Smith is considered an oral historian, this book consists primarily of interviews with surviving American participants in the battle. These are all first-hand accounts, with each man telling of his own experiences and observations. The majority of them are Marines, two of those interviewed are recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor and one was a Navaho code talker. Several of the others offer perspectives which are not as commonly seen in histories of the island-hopping campaign. One was a P-51 Mustang pilot based on the island, another was a B-29 crewman who was diverted to Iwo Jima on three different occasions. Another Marine was assigned to logistical support, and was responsible for interring the remains of the Marines who died taking the island.
Smith also clears up the controversy surrounding the famous Joe Rosenthal photograph of the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi by including an interview with the Marine Warrant Officer in charge of the photographic unit. There is also a very interesting section describing what has happened on the island after the war, which was returned to the Japanese but with certain allowances for American military exercises and limited visitation. Something which is not widely known is that many of the extensive Japanese tunnel systems are still intact. American forces simply sealed the entrances, trapping the defenders inside where they remain to this day.
This book offers everything you would expect from a series of interviews with a group of Iwo Jima veterans. Along with the expected Marines and Navy Corpsmen there are several voices which are not normally heard from, such as the USAAF aircrew. The back story of the famous Rosenthal photograph is fascinating, as are the details about how the island is administered today. One of the better books on Iwo Jima, highly recommended.