On the date of the previous post, a WWII veteran passed away. Actually, probably a lot of them did; that is what happens when you are 90 or so. But when you are only 20, you don’t usually hear every few days about another friend who has died – unless you are a soldier on the front lines of battle. This particular WWII veteran, Bill Hudson, was exactly that in the spring of 70 years ago – he was a Marine on Iwo Jima, and his first day of combat, February 19th, 1945, happened to be the worst day of the toughest battle in the history of the United States Marine Corps. He lived through that day and many more days until he was wounded on March 15th. When their division finished the battle the following day, only two out of Hudson’s whole platoon who had landed with him were still with the platoon and unwounded.
As far as we know, those other two from the platoon who made it through the whole battle are still living; it seems if Iwo Jima didn’t kill you, not much else would!
Close to 7000 Americans died on the 8.5 square miles of Iwo Jima, and about three times that many Japanese. The Marines had brought an overwhelming force with them; about four times as many as the Japanese, with more and better equipment, and thought the bombed-out island would only take a couple days to occupy. However, the Japanese had months to prepare defenses, a brilliant general in charge of preparing them, and they were ready to die rather than surrender, so it took the Marines more than 36 days.
It is very difficult to fight an enemy who is prepared to die, especially if you haven’t made up your mind your cause is worth dying, or killing, for. General George Patton, in a famous speech, made the point that war is not actually about dying for your country, it is about making your enemy die for his country. And usually war doesn’t involve nearly as much of that as Iwo Jima did. But if the Marines had not been willing both to kill and die for a few square miles of sulfur-scented rock in the middle of the Pacific, most Pacific countries, including Australia,might be speaking Japanese now.
Iwo Jima inspired this level of sacrifice not because of its beauty, size, large population, or fertile fields, but because the island being in American rather than Japanese hands made it possible for bombers to reach Japan, including two bombers carrying atomic bombs. Facing starvation, advancing American forces, burned-out cities, and the Soviet Union as a fresh new enemy had convinced many Japanese they were going to die, but had not convinced them they should surrender. Better death than dishonoring their emperor, ancestors, and soldiers. The atomic bombs, however, were something new, something terribly powerful, and all in all, a good enough excuse to call it quits. Nobody has invaded Japan since Kublai Khan failed to, and America didn’t either – but didn’t have to. On Iwo Jima over 90% of the Japanese died in battle. On Japan itself, most Japanese lived.
The shirt pictured illustrates why the Marines were a target all the way across Iwo Jima and some of their worst fighting was at the end. It illustrates the unbeatable spirit of the Japanese against the unbeatable force of the Marines. And to those of us who knew him, it honors Bill Hudson, a Marine who survived Iwo Jima and went on to become a Living Treasure of the town of Los Alamos.
You can learn more at the Iwo Jima Memorial Museum in Texas, or read Bill Hudson’s story in “Fighting the Unbeatable Foe: Iwo Jima and Los Alamos“.