There were lights shining on the small, craggy dot in the Pacific when we
sailed up. We were three cruisers ringed by destroyers. When we pulled
abreast, the three cruisers strung out and started pouring eight-inch
shells onto the island.
The lights immediately winked out. For hours we sailed around the
hump-backed island sending shell after shell. Flying rocks and volcanic
ash filled the air where the shells landed.
It was all over in about three hours and the ships steamed away. The date
was Nov. 11, 1944. About amidships next to a searchlight I asked a nearby
sailor, "What was the name of that island?"
"I think it's called Iwo Jima," he answered.
It was a name we---and later the world---were to know well. This was three
months before the invasion and we were to go back five more times before
the Marines landed.
The trips were not without danger and losses. Iwo Jima is only 600 miles
from the Japanese homeland and the six trips there were made without direct
air cover and usually against opposition by shore batteries and Jap planes.
The most damage we did to the Japanese in these pre-invasion bombardments
came on Christmas Eve.
We found a number of landing craft and a destroyer in the harbor. Our guns
sent them to the bottom. For the sixth and last trip, a battleship, USS
Indiana, came along to help pound Iwo.
When finally the vast Armada invasion fleet reached Iwo Jima Feb. 19, 20
years ago today, it was for us on the USS SALT LAKE CITY, PENSACOLA, &
CHESTER like seeing an old friend.
This time we were joined by hundreds of ships and thousands of planes in
trying to knock out all the island's defenses.
However, when the 50,000 Marines poured ashore, they discovered all the
trips we had made, and the gigantic invasion bombardment, had been in vain.
The Japanese were dug deep into the subterranean beds of sulphur that rest
on volcanic ash. They fought fiercely from the finely designed pillboxes,
tunnels, caves and blockhouses.
It was a hard, dirty infantry war where the defenders had to be rooted out
with flame throwers and TNT.
Thousands of Japanese were killed by being sealed in with dynamite.
Watching from the sea, we had no idea of the hard infantry battle raging
ashore. We were continually bombarding but the island was so small and
the Japanese so well dug in, it appeared we weren't helping much.
Twenty-five days after the invasion the island was called secure, although
it would be a long time before any Marine could feel secure. There were
still many pockets of Japanese that had to be wiped out. Japanese, still
in caves, kept coming out to loose murderous gunfire.
Although we were only a half-mile offshore, we would see the famous
flag-raising picture on Mt. Suribachi in newspapers and magazines from the
When we sailed away, the USS SALT LAKE CITY had lost only two lives. Our
observation plane had been shot down. The Marines lost some 6,000 with
Today Iwo saves lives. It serves as an emergency landing strip for pilots
in trouble over the Pacific.