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Iwo Jima and the story of 3 lives lost in taking the meat grinder


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Much has been written about the battle of Iwo Jima. It was the bloodiest engagement for the U.S. Marine Corp in its entire history much less the Second World War. Most historians are well aware of its vital strategic significance in reducing air losses sustained in bombing runs over Japan. Little, however, is known of one particularly horrendous section of the island's defenses. By the 25th of February D+6 on Iwo Jima, the 4th Division had encountered the main line of defense of General Taro Kuribayashi, hree strategic positions fronting the section of the island where the 4th Marine Division landed. Just southeast of the second airfield stood Hill 382, which were actually the strewn remnants of Minami village. The second portion was a bowl-shaped area strewn with massive bolders concealing a honeycomb of defensive positions known as the amphitheater. The final position was a rocky craggy ridge fronting a wide open flat terrain that offered observation of the surrounding area and it's approaches, it was fronted by multi-story pill box that was so well concealed men had to virtually be up against it to see it. This was known as Turkey knob. Each of these positions covered the other and each contained vast underground networks to other parts of the island and cover from the immense artillery the Marines brought to bear upon this position. None of the supporting arms would do the trick. It would take the organic weapons of the infantry to reduce this position and inadvertantly a horrific and tragic toll in lives that became so immense that the numbers in many ways dulls the human cost. "The meat grinder" as it will become known was formidable because their mutually supporting strategic location which meant that to take one you'd have to take them all at once which meant that virtually the entire division would have to be used to take the position which meant each regiment, each battalion and each company would have to remain in the line with little or no rest from seemingly suicidal attacks. It would take 7 horrendous days to reduce this small salient position entirely. In the process the 4th Division including its replacements would suffer in excess of 40-50% casualties in most of it's line companies, yet this defensive network was referred to simply as the main line of defense south of grid line 74. This post is to remember all of those men who gave their everything through a microcosmic look at the lives of three men who met their final end on Iwo Jima and were part of that tier of men whose lives were sacrificed to help break the line of defense and take Iwo Jima.


General Snowden, a veteran of the battle of Iwo Jima said it best, "We can measure the cost of beans and bullets and trucks and airplanes and all that for the cost of war. What we can't measure is the lost potential to our nation when young people who had all his talent didn't get a chance to live his life and contribute more to this country than he did." The carnage of those 7 days that it took to reduce the meat grinder, are one of many engagements lost to history, obscured by the fame of the flag raising ontop of Suribachi, obscured by the bloodshed yet to come at places like Okinawa, obscured by a nation's anguish and exhaustion over a long war that had claimed so many lives and created so many names synonimous with tragedy and heartbreak. One Rabbi summarized the solemn bitterness and tragedy of such sacrifices during the dedication of the 5th Division cemetery on Iwo Jima. "Too much pain and heartace have fertilized this earth on which we stand, we solemnly swear this will not be in vain."-Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn during his benediction at the dedication of the cemetery of the 5th Division.


In the late morning of February 19, 1945 George Co. 2nd Bn 25th Marines landed at Blue Beach I after the other two battalions had landed. By the time 2nd Battalion landed, they were faced with the main onslaught of Japanese heavy artillery and withering fire coming not just from Suribachi but from the cliffs and high ground in and around the East boat basin and the rock quarry. For anyone who's ever been there, the eastern edge of the island east of the 4th Division's landing beaches catches you off guard. It's really a shock to see how high these cliffs really are and really how inpenatrable they would be from ground fire as well as naval gun fire. According to a report from the beach, Regimental commander Colonel John R. "Pat" Lanigan said of the north end of the beachhead, "Catching all hell from teh quarry. Heavy mortar and machine gun fire. Troops inland two hundred yards but pinned down." About an hour before dawn of D+1, a Japanese artillery round found the ammo dump of the 25th Marines that also contained the regiment's fuel stores. A massive explosion rocked the northeast end of the island sending mortar and artillery rounds up in the sky and causing secondary explosions. Entire boxes of .30 cal ammo and belts of .30 cal machine gun ammo exploded in a series or rapid pops like a 4th of July celebration. By the 25th of February, the 4th Division had taken up positions to the north, west and south of the meat grinder and began to commence the repeated and constant surge against these deadly emplacements. One Marine involved in this engagement was Pvt. Willard Walters of George Company 2nd Bn 25th Marines.


29 yr-old Private Willard E. Walters who was drafted as you can see from his service number. Willard was from Huntington, PA. He graduated from high school in 1932 and went to college for a few years studying Algebra. He worked as an auto body repairman with Detwiler Motor Co. when he was evidentally drafted into service. He also worked for the WPA from 1937-1939 as a construction laborer digging ditches and leveling roads. Willard was also an avid deer hunter and quite a swimmer. He was married at the time he entered service. He was sent to MCRD San Diego in March 18, 1944. He was assigned to the 4th Replacement Draft and then a replacement battalion where he joined George Company 2nd Bn 25th Marines on Sept. 19, 1944. He landed with the company on the 19th of February. March 1st saw George company advance from the southwest towards Turkey knob over the open ground under complete and full observation of the enemy. One member of George Company, George Lane recalled, "The attack on the Turkey knob proved a failure, and G Company of 2/25 made only slight gains that morning. The Company paid for its gains with nine casualties, three of whom were killed, and the rese wounded. THe BARman Sartori was killed by rifle fire, his brains splattering all over PFC Philip Strickland. Sometime during the night or early the in predawn hours of March 2nd, the 2nd Bn 25th Marines moved south toward the coast. On the morning of March 2, 1945, the 2nd Battalion continued to attack at 8:00am. Company G advanced 50 yards from O-1 line. Due to the rough terrain and heavy enemy resistance, the adjacent F Company was only able to advance 50 yards from the jump off point causing a bend and gap between Company F and Company G. Both companies were subjected to horrendous flanking fire due to this break in liaison. To the right of 2nd Battalion was the 3rd who hugged the edge of the beaches the regiment had landed on. In the center of the regiment's line, the 2nd Battalion was ordered to extend its left flank to assist the advance of Company B 1st Bn 23rd Marines, and Company L, 3rd Bn 23rd Marines who were attached for that purpose. But progress on that flank was slow, with F and L making no appreciable gains. They met fierce resistance as well. During that morning south of the meat grinder and just east of the quarry and east boat basin, George company encountered the heaviest resistance they'd seen since DDay. Lane recalled, "The company was advancing through some scrub palm trees, a curious area, with what seemed to be wreckage of heavy electrical equipment. Perhaps the group was moving through the totally demolished village of Minami. In any event, as the men were taking some rifle fire, a Japanese sprang up from a spider hole and tossed a grenade. PFC Valentino: 'I emptied my BAR at him, and as the grenade exploded a piece of metal entered PFC Stroup's left hip, knocking him down.' Valentino was warned by Stroup of a nearby cave and the former put a few rounds and tossed a grenade into it. It took him a few seconds to drag Stroup to relative safety. A corpsman came up and gave the wounded man first aid. Private Stamps, a jug-eared, 125-pound flame thrower man, was killed, and two of my close friends from the replacement draft were wounded, Privates Paul Rogundo and Robert Kolkmeyer, as was PFC Cataldo, the gambler and prodigal cigar smoker of DDay. In all three Sergeants were wounded, as were two Corporals wounded, three PFC's or Privates killed and twenty-one evacuated as wounded or sick. Among the dead that day for George Company was Private Willard Edwin Walters who was killed in action when a mortar or artillery shell exploded riddling the 29 year old with shrapnel. The 25th Marines lost so many men that day, that four officers who had joined as replacements were all assigned to headquarters as burial officers. According to Lane, "And on this day, for every tow yards of advance, one man from G Company went down, 29 in all, one higher than on DDay."


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Positions just east of Blue Beach known as the quarry. The irregular ground was a bastion of enemy defenses. The non-Aerial photo was taken in 1966.



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The 24th Marines, who landed late in the day of February 19th, had its 1st Bn attached to RCT 23 (regimental combat team 23rd Marines). By D+1, the 1st Bn 24th Marines attached to RCT 23 attacked the airfield No. 2 with the support of tanks and took it against intense enemy resistance. By the end of the 2nd day the 4th Division had already suffered 2,011 casualties on Iwo Jima. Reassigned to the regiment, 1st battalion was by Feb. 23rd was involved in the regiment's drive on the dominating high ground just east of airfield number 2 known as Charlie Dog Ridge, a name given to the feature due to the fact that it lay right on top of the Amphibious Corps map's fire coordinates line seperating sector C and sector D. The attack on Charlie Dog followed a massive artillery bombardment in which a company of the 23rd was the lead assault wave and made suprising gains only to find themselves completely surrounded by the Japanese who let them filter in before closing in and attacking. Hand to hand fighting ensued before the company and other elements of the 23rd Marines could break contact and get back. By February 24th the ridge had been secured by the 24th Marinesbut the 4th Division's casualties by D+5 had swelled to 3,163.


By February 26th, the 24th had been committed to the Division's objective of reducing the honeycomb of defense positions known as the Meat Grinder. Hill 382, Turkey Knob and the Amphitheater collectively had virtually every weapon in the Japanese arsenal. Dug into the side of the ridges were antitank guns, three 75mm antiaircraft guns, 4 heavy machine guns, countless Nambu and Lewis guns throughout and at least 20 reinforced pillboxes and a seemingly endless stream of cave entrances and networks. Several days into the attack, the division formed a semi-circular position around the network of positions. The main effort of the Division was to reduce Hill 382. The attack that morning commenced at 8:30am following a well-coordinated intense ten minute artillery barrage from naval gun fire and guns of the 14th Marines. Even before the supporting arms came to bear, the regiment was subjected to heavy enemy mortar and artillery fire from the jump off line starting at about 7:00 am. The attack was carried out by the 1st and 2nd battalion of the 24th Marines who would attack abreast with the 2nd Bn on the left attacking east towards the northern edge of the slopes. The attack immediately met incideous fire from the enemy. The lead companies of 2nd battalion suffered especially heavy fire from mortars that halted their advance. Company F suffered the most casualties. Stopped in their tracks, supporting air support was called in as well as corps artillery fire which took quite some time to coordinate. During the lull in waiting for supporting arms, the enemy bombardment continued unceasingly. By 9:35 carrier planes were dropping napalm on enemy positions 600 yards infornt of the 24th Marines positions. The opposition seemed to fade subsantually until the assault was resumed. Eventually Hill 382 was surrounded and demolition teams, flame throwers and bazooka teams moved in to reduce enemy positions. The east side of Hill 382 however was covered by the Amphitheater as well as positions from Turkey knob.


On the 2d Battalion's right the 1st Battalion tried to advance along the south flank of Hill 382, where Company A tied in with Company G, 2/24, and up on to the high ground at the head of the draws to Company C's front. Company A could not move any great distance because 382 and the surrounding area were under heavy fire. But Company C with two tanks attached fought its way slowly forward against searing machine-gun and rifle fire from a patch of woods to the immediate front and the rising ground beyond. The Shermans provided covering fire as the infantry inched ahead, but the opposition persisted and casualties mounted. Just before noon the company commander was wounded, and smoke was called in to cover the evacuation of casualties. The company reorganized quickly under a new commander and at 1300 resumed the attack behind a heavy Marine artillery and mortar barrage. Two minutes after this second jump-off the new commander became a casualty and a second replacement came forward to take over the unit. During the afternoon Company C gained some of the high ground, and at 1700 began consolidation of positions.


On D-plus-10 the regiment made its greatest progress on the left where 2/24 moved about 100 yards to the east along the division left boundary, and on the right flank where 1/24 advanced half that distance to gain a foothold on high ground overlooking Minami. In the center, however, RCT 24 had engaged in a day-long see-saw battle in the labyrinth of miniature canyons on Hill 382 with no noticeable change in the lines.


Among the ranks of Company C 1st Battalion 24th Marines was 21-year old Private Harold Owen Davis from Troy, Ohio. Leaving school after the 8th grade, Davis worked for the Troy sun shade company where he operated a coal stoker keeping the hopper full of coal and maintaining the store room. Davis had joined the Marines on February 4, 1942. He was initially assigned to H&S Co. 1st Pack Howitzer Battery in New River, NC. Eventually he was transferred to Co. B 1st Bn 8th Marines in October of 1942 and served with them at Guadalcanal when they arrived in December of 1942. He also served with Co. B 1st Bn 8th Marines when they landed at Betio during the assault on Tarawa. Company B 1st Bn 8th Marines landed on November 21, 1943, the second day of the battle. Davis's chronic unauthorized absences kept hurting his chances of promotion. In December of 1943 he was hospitalized ill and remained there until February 14, 1944 when he deserted. He eventually returned to his unit and in September of 1944 was assigned to Company C 1st Bn 24th Marines.


On that terrible day of March 1, 1945, when Charlie Company 1st Bn 24th Marines stormed the slopes of 382 under the cover of those two Sherman tanks, Pvt. Harold O. Davis was killed in action when a mortar, shell or grenade exploded near him killing him instantly. He was 30 days shy of his 22nd Birthday. His remains were interred in the 4th Division cemetery until August 25, 1947 when his remains were disinterred and brought to the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii where he rests today.


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Looking toward Suribachi and Blue beach from a well dug-in Japanese machine gun position. It was near this position that Pvt. Willard Walters was killed.


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As the 1st and 2nd Battalion 24th Marines fought desperately for a toe-hold on Hill 382 to no avail on March 1, the 3rd Battalion 24th Marines were significantly north of Hill 382. On March 2nd However, the battalion advanced south toward enemy positions networked around Hill 382. Their advance was to relieve some pressure off the 1st and 2nd Battalions. The 3rd battalion advance however gained only 300 yards as they came under heavy fire. The 2nd Battalion, nonetheless was able to take Hill 382 late in the afternoon of March 2nd.


The following day saw RCT shift attention from Hill 382. The heaviest opposition now seemed concentrated on high ground northeast of Hill 382 and the Minami area. Having driven beyond the hill, RCT 24 now prepared to assault formidable new defenses in its zone. To the south the Amphitheater and Turkey Knob, although greatly weakened after six days of continuous assault, were still in enemy hands. These two strong points were keys to the Minami defenses and would have to fall before any sizable gains could be made in that area, and it was against this salient that RCT 23 made its main effort of D-plus-12.


During the eight days of deadlock and fierce conflict in the Hill 382 and Turkey Knob areas, the weather had been generally favorable. Mild temperatures and fair skies predominated, although early in the morning ground haze combined with smoke to limit observation, and on a few days light showers fell in the afternoon. Night temperatures sometimes went below 60 degrees, and it was then that tired Marines were grateful for the characteristic subterranean heat of the island that warmed their foxholes. The next day, 4 March, dawned gray and sullen, and intermittent showers fell from the overcast skies. Visibility was so limited that all air strikes were canceled and aerial observation seriously curtailed.

The division continued the assault on 4 March with no change in formation or direction of attack. The main effort was on the left with the 24th Marines pushing southeast. On the right, 2/25 and 3/25 held their positions while 1/23 attacked in conjunction with RCT 24 on its left. The axis of advance was directed to the southeast so that the Marines could drive down the draws that led from Hill 382 to the coast rather than across those terrain compartments.


Naval gunfire and artillery supported the attack with normal preparatory and supporting fires, but due to lowered visibility most of the missions were controlled by ground observers rather than air spot. One destroyer and a gunboat worked all day along the coast locating and engaging targets in the cliffs and draws.


The infantry battalions made extensive use of the indispensable 60mm and 81mm mortars to give close support. The 81mm ammunition supply situation was still unsatisfactory, however, and expenditures were controlled. The 60mm mortar fire covered areas to within 30 yards of the lines to pin down and neutralize the enemy to the immediate front. Tanks and rocket launchers were used whenever and wherever possible, with flame tanks being particularly valuable in aiding 3rd battalion 23rd Marines mop-up operations against the partially bypassed Amphitheater.


The 2d and 24th Marines launched a second coordinated assault at 1500, following a 15-minute artillery preparation, but could make only minor gains. Shortly before dark, Marines consolidated on positions 150 yards ahead of the morning line of departure at the most advanced point.


The pattern of battle in the 4th Division's zone of action on D-plus-13 differed little from previous days. The enemy defended stubbornly and well from closely integrated positions, exacting a heavy toll for every yard gained. Many cleverly camouflaged positions escaped discovery until advancing troops were so near that heavy supporting weapons could not be used against them. Others, although observed and taken under fire, withstood even the largest shells available on Iwo, and could be silenced only by combined tank-engineer-infantry action. Assault units suffered heavy casualties, and survivors became extremely exhausted with a consequent serious loss of combat efficiency among those who engaged in attack after attack.

But by this time, 4 March, there was some cause for optimism. Although the enemy still clung resolutely to his battered positions in the Amphitheater area, it was felt that the division had finally penetrated the formidable main cross-island defense belt in its zone of action. Furthermore, the unceasing efforts of corps artillery in its counterbattery mission had produced positive results, for enemy artillery, rockets, and heavy mortars offered less and less opposition. The loss of high ground had also adversely affected Japanese artillery operations. Without the excellent observation previously afforded by Hill 382 and Turkey Knob, enemy weapons were confined largely to area fires.


During that day March 4, 1945, 34 year old Corporal Robert Hill Taylor, an engineer attached to Headquarters 3rd Bn 24th Marines was in charge of a demolition squad. When the company he was attached to was held up by ferocious enemy machine gun and rifle fire from a series of concealed fortified positions, Taylor crawled forward alone and placed a heavy demolitions charge inside the most important of these defense networks and destroyed it.


Robert H. Taylor was born in Eureka, California in 1910 to Irish immigrant parents. He grew up as an avid hunter. He also enjoyed photography as a hobby. He attended Eureka High, where he specialized in the trade of newspaper printing. He was a football player on his high school team and standing at 6'3" and weighing 210 pounds he was a formidable presence. He worked for the San Francisco Examiner as a rotary press operator. He maintained the color dye plates and as recording secretary. Previously he'd worked for the American Weekly Magazine operating a hot 48 cylinder press. In all he had 13 years experience earning a wage of $50.00 a week. He left the job with the San Francisco Examiner and joined the Marine Corps November of 1942 at the old age of 32. After boot camp at MCRD San Diego he served briefly as a truck driver at Camp Pendelton, but was hospitalized at Pendelton from May until November 1943. In February 1944, he was sent to the engineers course specializing in demolitions at Camp Pendelton. He completed the 6 week course where he also had a 21 hour course on the use of the flame thrower taught by the 20th Marines. He also underwent ten hours of instruction on assault tactics. In May 1944 he joined the 58th Replacement battalion and was sent to the Pacific in June where he joined Hdqtrs Company 4th Marine Division July 10, 1944 on Saipan and later was sent to Hdqtrs Co. 3rd Bn 24th Marines August 23, 1944 who was on the front line. He was attached to Co. K 3rd Bn 24th Marines. On July 23, 1944 he left Saipan with the Company and on the 25th of July disembarked on Tinian and participated in the assault on Tinian.


By February 1945, Taylor, promoted to Corporal landed in the late afternoon with elements of 3rd Battalion 24th Marines on Blue beach. Days later he would find himself in the crosshairs of the Japanese just northeast of Hill 382. The 24th battled their way for the next 6 days to the northeast edge of the island, facing increasingly horrendous terrain and resistance along the way.


The 24th Marines (less two battalions) reverted to division reserve on 10 March, and the division attacked with RCT 23 on the left and RCT 25 on the right. The 1st Battalion, 24th Marines was withdrawn from the line and replaced by 3/25, but 3/24 became attached to RCT 23 and continued to operate in its former zone of action. The 2d Battalion, 24th remained attached to RCT 25.

The division attacked at 0800 following the last coordinated corps and divisional artillery preparation of the operation. These fires blasted the area just forward of the lines for 25 minutes before K-Hour, then lifted to move forward in successive concentrations of 100 yards every five minutes until K-plus 15. Amphitheater-Knob salient, the plan was more complicated. Making its main effort on the left with 3/25, 1/25, 2/25, and 2/24 on line, left to right, RCT 25 planned to have its 3d and 1st Battalions attack to the southeast parallel to RCT 23's advance, with 1/25 pivoting on its right flank as the assault moved ahead. When 3/25 had advanced to a point opposite 2/25, the latter would swing its left unit forward to tie in with the right of the 3d, pinching out 1/25, and the attack would continue through to the ocean across 2/24's stationary front. The 1st and 3d Battalions jumped off at 0800 as ordered and encountered medium to heavy opposition in the high ground to their front where the enemy had held out so stubbornly for nearly two weeks. When it became apparent that the 3d on the left would be able to move faster than the 1st, the former unit was ordered to continue without regard for its flanks. As 3/25 drove to the southeast, 2/25 advanced northeast to meet it. Shortly after noon the center company of 2/25 made contact with the right flank of the 3d Battalion, and by 1600 those two units had occupied the controlling ground in the vicinity. In swinging out to join forces with 3/25, however, the 2d Battalion bypassed a small force of enemy troops. This pocket was surrounded by units of 1/25 and 2/25 that had been pinched out as the advance crossed their front.


After a push of 600 yards, RCT 25 consolidated for the night with its left flank tied to RCT 23 about 800 yards from the coast, and its stationary right flank still positioned along the beach. During the night, the greatest activity occurred around the pocket that had formed during the day's advance. The rest of the front was quiet with only sporadic attempts at infiltration.


Results for the day were gratifying throughout the division zone of action. On the left, strong centers of resistance had been overcome, and while the lines did not reach the coast, patrols had investigated to the water's edge and reported no contact along the routes followed. In the center, after almost two weeks of frustration, Marine lines made contact east of Turkey Knob and the infamous salient in that area was eliminated. It was now evident that the Japanese counterattack had marked the turning point in the battle. Although bitter and costly fighting continued for six more days, particularly in the 25th Regiment's zone, organized resistance was now dying out in the 4th Division area. Some time during the day, Corporal Robert Hill Taylor was killed in action. The date of his death was undeterminable at first suggesting that his remains were not immediately recoverable. When he was finally recovered and buried two weeks later, it was determined that "Examination of the body revealed multiple wounds of the body which is presumed to be the cause of death." He was buried in the 4th Division cemetery March 25, 1945. Taylor was recommended and awarded the silver star for his actions on March 4, 1945 just northeast of the Hill 382. The recommendation was approved on September 13, 1945 and the medal was awarded to his sister Mrs. David Brodie January 31, 1947 in San Francisco.

Semper Fi, Marine, your sacrifice has not been forgotten.


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the back of the Purple heart and silver star. Notice the silver star is the slot broach type which was used by the Marine Corps in 1946, 47 and perhaps 48.


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