The Fight for the Flag

The Fight for the Flag

A Story by Joe Diliberto
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A personal narrative that follows Joe Diliberto's dramatic change from a boy to a worn man on the small black island of Iwo Jima during World War II.

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What does victory feel like? Well, when you’ve gone through what I have for it, it makes you question if it was worth it. I’ve been told “It was! America would have lost the war if they didn’t take Iwo Jima.” But they didn’t fight it. They didn’t witness the massacre of over 2,000 men, friends. What do they know? What have they seen? They haven’t, and that’s a fact.

            When I was eighteen, right out of high school, I signed up for the U.S Marines. It was 1945 and World War II had been waging for a good five years and, what we didn’t know, was coming to a harsh end. The last year of the war witnessed more casualties than any other year. I remember when I was at the U.S.M.C Recruitment Office that I asked “How soon am I going to be sent out?”

            “Well, you have three weeks until boot camp, then you have two weeks in boot camp, and then you’ll be on leave until farther notice,” the officer replied.

            “Not any sooner?” I asked frantically.

            “Afraid not.”

            I went home, signed up and more ready than ever, but disappointed. I wanted to get to the action as soon as possible but it would just have to wait. I guess my mom was kind of disappointed in me because she always dreamed of me going to college and becoming a business man but I always told her that college could wait. It’s not going anywhere. I tried to look at the bright side of the situation: Look at me here, sitting alone at home, bored out of my mind. Yep, looks pretty bad. Then I heard a knock on the door. I went to go answer it and it was my neighbor, Rachel. Rachel and I were the same age and we had always been really close friends.

            “Hey,” I calmly said.

            “I heard that you were going into the war,” she said almost struggling to get the words out.

            “Yeah, I signed up earlier today. How’d you find out so fast?”

            “Your mom called over and told us.”

            “Well, why’d you come over?” I said smiling, now having something to relieve me of my boredom.

            “I’m going to miss you,” she said looking nervously at the ground.

            “I’m going to miss you too,” I said nervously. “I’ll write you, I promise.”

            “Really?”

            “Of course, you’re my closest friend.”

            The conversation continued and she came inside. We stayed there doing nothing but talking until almost midnight. I didn’t know what was with her. I had never seen her that way. She left and went home. I didn’t see her again before I shipped out for boot camp.

            California’s a long way from Alabama; God knows it took a LONG time. Even though we were flying it still seemed to take forever. When I arrived at Camp Pendleton I was quickly greeted by a loud, obnoxious, and crude drill sergeant. His name was John Basilone.  John Basilone was a hero. He was known everywhere, he even had his own comic book. He saved two men when he served in Guadalcanal as a commander of a machine gun squad. I couldn’t believe that he was my drill sergeant. Knowing that he was a hero led me to look over and seemingly forget that he was insulting me.

            Two weeks in hell, with friends. That’s how I describe my two weeks at boot camp. I quickly met Tom Savenger; I called him Tommy. Tommy was from New Orleans, Louisiana. Man, he was a character. He helped me come out of my shell during those three weeks. Tommy was a dead on crack shot. He could hit a toothpick from a mile away.

            “This rifle is mine,” he would say “, there are many like it but this one is mine.”

            It was true too. Next, I met Jimmy Sullivan. He was a country boy born and raised in the grassy hills of Montana. He was the biggest jokester that I’ve ever met to this day. Every time you turned around he was cracking another joke. He might have been the biggest jokester ever but he was also the best medic ever. Jimmy’s family had a medical background. His dad was a cardiologist and his mom dropped out of nursing school to raise him and his two sisters. You’d normally think that it would be awesome to have a nurse for a mom but in his case his mom was so over protective. But that didn’t keep him from learning about everything. Our fire team was personally trained by John Basilone himself because we were the heavy arms. You know what that means: Machine guns! Yes, the gunny himself trained our rinky dink fire team to use the big guns. The pro made us look like homeless people living outside of Camp Pendleton. He taught us different strategies. One included a new tool that was made of wire and cork. The wire would fit around the barrel of the machine gun and the cork would form a handle so that you could carry the gun without getting third degree burns on your hands. This is what Basilone wished he could’ve had back on Guadalcanal. He carried his machine gun back and forth in the ammo trail when he unintentionally had to shoot a few japs. He got severe burns on his hands because he didn’t have the makeshift handle. Boot camp was a breeze compared to what we had next.

            Skippey, our nameless head of operations at Camp Pendleton, called us in to briefing on a Thursday night.

            “Iwo Jima,” He said pointing to a map “, Nothing more than a mound of volcanic ash, japs, and an airstrip. This is our next endeavor, though. The number of Japanese defenses are unknown but no matter how hard we have to fight, how many fellow Marines we have to loose, we will plant an American flag at the top of Mount Sirubachi! Hooha?”

            “Hooha!” The Marines gave a reassuring chant.

            “Ten huh!” someone screamed. All of the soldiers in the briefing room stiffened and saluted. “At ease!” the same person screamed after Skippey left.

            All of the Marines exited the room anxiously for mess. This was our last night in the states. We were all going to make the best of it.

            The party started the second that we entered the mess hall.

            “Here’s a beer boys!” Sullivan happily stated shoving two full mugs of beer towards me and Tommy.

            “How’d you get this in here!?!?” I frantically asked. “You’re not supposed to have alcohol on the premises!”

            “I didn’t have anything to do with it! It was just here! Anyways, you need to lighten up! It’s our last day here on solid American soil!”

            “I think I’ll pass,” I calmly said pushing the ice cold, damp mug away from my shoulder.

            “Okay! Any for you, Tommy?” Sullivan excitedly asked.

            “I think I’m with Joey on this one Jim,” Tommy said. “Why do you want to ruin your trip there? It’s already miserable! Why are you going to just make it worst?”

            “You know what!?!? Forget you two!” Sullivan said as he walked away and joined another crowd of seemingly already drunken Marines.

            Tommy and I found a seat as we ate our bland meal. Peas, corn, carrots, rice, and. I don’t even think there was meat that night. That’s how much the people at the head cared about us. Of course it was probably for the best. Don’t want the hangover crowd sinking the boat with vomit. Tommy and I filled our canteens with water and walked to one of the few quiet tables. The place smelled like beer. It was almost overwhelming. And then they started smoking. God! The smell of tobacco there was stronger than anywhere else that I’ve smelled it to this day. Oh! And then they started singing the Marine’s Hymn like a bunch of drunken fools. Man, were the loud. Trying to talk to Tommy was pointless but I still tried.

            “That speech from Skippey wasn’t very reassuring,” I practically screamed at Tommy.

            “Yeah, but neither is landing on a small volcanic island,” Tommy said.

            “That’s true.”

            There was a long pause while we listened to the bellowed lyrics of the Marine’s Hymn. I could see Tommy working up something to say. Both of our plates had practically gone untouched.

            “Are you scared?” Tommy skeptically asked.

            “Well, yeah,” I thought over what I was about to say. “I don’t really know yet. Right now I’m almost in a state of denial but yet I know that it’s going to happen. Like an impending fear. I’m sure it will really hit me when I least need it to.”

            “That’s a long answer, man.”

            “I’m a complicated person, Tom.”

            Just then, Sullivan emerged from a huge mass of huddled, singing, soldiers. He popped up at the top being carried on the shoulders of the singing soldiers.

            “Fellas! Aren’t we having a better time than those softies over there!?!?” He said, clearly drunk.

            “YEAH!” the Marines gave a reassuring, drunken, bellow.

            “You two go! Go have a nice rest while we have the best time not resting!”

            “Will do,” I said leaving with Tommy right behind me.

            We exited to our bunks and had the soundest sleep that I think I have ever had. We were

 woken at five o’clock in the morning. We were loaded up on a cruiser and set out on the Pacific Ocean. Dreadful, dreadful. The first few days at sea were almost worst than boot camp. The heat was hotter than anything that I’ve ever experienced to this day. Out, exposed on the deck to nothing but sun. There weren’t any clouds, just blue sky and pure, white sun. And because the ship was practically solid metal it created a sort of green house effect on the inside during the day. This caused the hung over soldiers to develop the worst BO ever. Sadly, these soldiers put a new definition to the term “motley crew”. The Marine Corps has zero tolerance for misbehavior. No matter what you do, knowing the consequences, they’re still going to put you to work. Just because you have a hangover doesn’t mean anything. We were all still directed to mop the decks and other maintenance items that the Navy was apparently too lazy to do. Those sorry men were dropping like flies in the scorching heat. Most of them fainted if not vomiting a few times before hand. Oh! And we had to clean it up. Not them, us. Even after they fainted, they weren’t sent inside to rest for the remainder of the day. They were just sent inside until they woke up. Then they had to continue their work. I think every hung over Marine on that ship fainted at least once. The smell of vomit, sea salt, and the putrid BO that the hung over Marine’s developed was purely disgusting. I don’t know how I went those first few days without fainting or vomiting myself.

            After a day the soldiers were back to normal but they were given the harder stuff such as bathroom duty and scrubbing the stove with steel wire. Served them right. But the smell still lingered for about a week! It was awful. Luckily, Tommy, me, and a few other guys just got to kick back for the first few days. It didn’t last though.

            After being at sea for about a week we had to stop at some small port island in order to refill on fuel and some other stuff for the naval fleet. But we weren’t going to sit around for a few days. The Marine’s were sent off to some desert reservation where we did some hardcore training. It was nothing but us, the scorching sun, some sand, and a few lizards. I remember the smell, nothing. There was NO smell. It was the plainest place that I’ve ever seen. It was a barren wasteland. All we did was hike in our gear, camp and spend the night, and survive. We had to find our own water and everything. It was crazy seeing that we had four cruisers out of the entire naval fleet designated to just carrying supplies for us marines.

            I remember one morning waking up in the desert. I didn’t remember not having shoes on and when I stood up the blisters that had formed on my feet from walking hit the scorching ground. I swear there was a distinct “Hissssss…..” when my foot hit the ground.

            “Ow!” I screamed out in pain.

            Tommy sat up on his pallet of blankets and looked at his feet. They were almost as blistery as mine. Tommy scrambled through his stuff laying to his right. Finally his hand emerged from his bag with his Marine Corps standard issue combat knife. This thing was heavy duty. It had two blades: one was a serrated edge and the other one was a straight blade. These things were awesome.

            “Who wants to go first?” Tommy asked holding the blade out towards me.

            The sun caught the reflective blade at the perfect angle to shine its bliss white in my eyes. I was temporarily blinded by the reflection.

            “I guess I will,” I said as my face emerged from the shelter of my arm.

            Tommy did a sort of crawling movement towards me and wound up right beside my pallet. He took the knife and put it right next to one of my blisters.

            “1, 2, 3” he counted. Then he jabbed the knife straight into the pocket of air.

            “AAAHHH!” I screamed. It hurt so badly. But then came sweet relief.

            I felt the breeze travel over the raw skin underneath the bubble of thick skin. It felt so good.

            “Thank you,” I said almost breathless.

            “No prob,” Tommy calmly replied.

            “You know, we’ve gone through enough training!” I said. “When are we finally going to see some action?”

            “You need to calm down,” Tommy said. “The real thing is going to be a lot worse than this.”

            “Yeah but I just want to get it over with. Why slowly escalate the extremity of the situation when you could just go ahead and put us in there?”

            “I guess they just want us to be ready.”

            “But I am ready!”

            “No! You’re not! You think you’re ready but the feeling of actually strapping up and setting foot on the battlefield is something that years of training couldn’t prepare you for.”

            “How do you know all of this?”

            “My dad fought in World War I in the trenches. He was the cook in his squad. I know, I know. I know you’re thinking Oh! He was a cook! He didn’t do anything! Well you’d definitely be wrong. He sometimes had to cook what he killed whether it was a squirrel or a bird. One time, after a fierce battle, in Paris if I’m not mistaken, he had to sleep on a dead body. That’s why I had to fight so hard against him in order to even get here. He didn’t want me to go through what he did but I told him that I wanted to serve my country.”

            “Wait, I thought that he wouldn’t let you go because of your heart murmur or something.”

            “No, he just used that as an excuse. But I eventually won.”

            “How?”

            “I turned eighteen.”

            “Haha! Oh Tommy. Always know how to cheer a guy up or at least distract him.”

            “You can count on me.” He said with a smile.

            We continued our desert expedition for about three days then we headed out again. We traveled on sea for about four more days on the same routine. One night, on a Thursday I think it was, John “Gunney” Basilone, Gunnery Sergeant Basilone, made an announcement at mess right before lights out.

            “Men! Can I have your attention please?” Basilone clearly and firmly asked.

            “Aye Gunney!” we all screamed.

            “Tomorrow,” Basilone began as he got an unsettling look in his face, almost showing fear but not allowing it to take over his entire expression. “Tomorrow,” he started again “, Tomorrow we are going to embarck on the U.S’s latest island hopping stepping stone. This island goes by the name of Iwo Jima, which I’m sure you all know by now. I know what you’re thinking We’re going to lose tons of men for nothing JUST like they did on Peleliu. Well, you see here’s the thing. Peleliu was just an island that we thought we could use but it turned out we couldn’t. This one has to be ours. This island lies less than a thousand miles from Tokyo. It already holds two individual airstrips that we will use to explosively beat those Japs into submission! This is Operation Iceberg according to the government but according to you it’s one of the final pushes towards Tokyo. Do you understand!?!?”

            “Aye Gunney!” the Marine’s shouted.

            Just when Basilone was stepping down from the makeshift stage, a table, he stepped back up and returned to his original position.

            “Look,” he began in a much more relaxed voice “, I know you guys are scared. You don’t know what to expect, neither do I to be honest with you. But no matter how bad it is you have to remember that if we don’t take this island then it’s one step back for the U.S, bringing Tojo one step closer to us. We don’t want that. This won’t be forgotten. This won’t be lost. Just don’t get cocky with yourself. I’m a U.S Marine, there just a Jap. Well, guess what? He’s your enemy. The Japanese soldier could live for months off of maggots and rice and survive in the conditions that you couldn’t ever dream of. And you’re going to die unless you recognize and respect his burning desire to put YOU  in an early grave! Now let’s give em’ heck!”

            “Hooha!” the Marine’s chanted.

            “At ease.”

            All of the Marines continued back at their meals in shear, utter, silence. I saw one stray soldier grabbing his grub at the meal line. It was Sullivan. He came and joined Tommy and I.

            “Look who’s back!” I said.

            “Hey Joey,” Sullivan said almost blushing.

            “Are your drunken buddies done with you now?” Tommy asked.

            We had not seen Sullivan since he was hanging with the drunks back at Camp Pendleton.

            “No. They gave me extra severe punishments for drinking!” Sullivan said innocently.

            “Yeah?” I said asking for an explanation.

            “The other guys framed me for smuggling the alcohol in!” Sullivan said.

            “But you didn’t, did you?” I asked.

            “No! It was some cocky higher ranked officer! I think he might have even been the XO of the camp. I thought it was authorized! But apparently it was either just a taunt or a trap.”

            “Or both, as it applies in this situation.”

            “Thank you English teacher. I got booted for that butt of an officer!”

            “Wait, wait, wait!” Tommy butted in again after eating for a while. “You got booted!?!?!?”

            “Yeah!”

            “So if you’re not in the heavy guns with Joey and I, then where are you?” Tommy asked.

            “I’m in bookkeeping.”

            “So you’re the paper packing mule for Skippey?”

            “Yeah, but I found a perk in this God awful mess.”

            “Self-induced God awful mess,” I butted in to correct Sullivan.

            “Shut up, Joey!” Tommy said. “What’s the perk?”

            “I get to read all of the confidential dirt in the plans and tell you guys.”

            “That is a pretty good perk,” Tommy said.

            “Wait, that’s an infraction isn’t it?” I asked.

            “Yeah,” Sullivan said. “Of course it is, why would they want us to know if we’re completely screwed?”

            “Sullivan, if you mess up again you’re going to get thrown in the brig or something,” I said cautioning him of the thin ice that he stood on above the Marine Corps Marshalls. The Marshalls that probably circle like sharks waiting for him.

            “No! It would take a crime for that to happen. The worst that could happen is me being transferred again.” Sullivan said.

            “Whatever, it’s your screw up,” I said.

            “What do you guys think about tomorrow?” Tommy asked.

            “I think we’re going to kill us some japs,” Sullivan said.

            As if on cue, mess was dismissed right then. We all poured in to our compact bunks built for sardines. The little bit of sleep that I was supposed to get before being sent into battle was the expected amount of sleep to get. I didn’t sleep but thirty minutes that night. But I wasn’t trying to go to sleep, I wasn’t even tired. I just laid there and thought. I thought about Rachel and how she’d probably love to hear about boot camp. I thought about my mom and my dad. My completely dysfunctional family. Mom and dad fought more than anybody that I’ve ever seen. I wondered if they both settled down to worry about me. I eventually nodded myself to sleep with thought, even though it was five o’ clock in the morning.

 I was woken thirty minutes later by the sound of the ship’s artillery firing. God! The japs are already attacking us! I thought. I scrambled down and pulled my pants, boots, and helmet on. I was scared. I looked around and saw that nobody else was in their bunks. It was deserted. I ascended the stairs to the deck and was greeted by surprisingly dull sunlight. I looked up and saw that it was overcast and grey. The humidity was crazy. I touched my fingers to my palm. The moist skin of my fingers temporarily glued themselves to my palms. They were practically already sweating even though it wasn’t sweat, it was the air. I continued along the deck when I saw a crowd of Marines standing and staring in awe looking at the island. What could possibly be so exciting? I thought. I pushed my way through a few guys in order to look. There I saw, about a mile away, Iwo Jima. It was nothing but a mound of black volcanic gravel. It was nothing but slight hills until there was a massive pile of rock. Now I knew what the men were staring at. The artillery from every ship in the fleet was hammering the mountain. The island was practically on fire. I would be surprised if there were any japs left for us to kill at this rate.

            “Sully?!?!” I called out looking for my friend.

            “Over here, Joe!” I heard from over to my right.

            I walked along the edge until I found the man.

            “Hey, you had a job yet?” I asked him approaching him from behind.

            “Yeah, had one last night. They made me work late hours,” he said.

            “Okay good, did you get a look at the papers?” I asked.

            “Wow, I thought you were the one against it. I could get put in the brig, remember?”

            “Really?” I asked in surprise.

            “Just pulling your leg, man. Yeah I got a good look.”

            “Okay, good. What side are we landing on?” I asked.

            “Well, they’re splitting all of us up into designated color groups. You, me, and Tommy are all in Green. We’re landing on the east side which would be…” Sully twiddled with his finger figuring the direction in his head. “There,” He pointed to the right of the mountain.

            “Where are we going from there?” I asked.

            “Green is going towards Mount Sirubachi and later reinforcing Purple at the west beach.”

            “So we have to climb that?” I asked in amazement.

            “Yeah.”

            “That massive pile of volcanic rock?”

            “Yep.”

            “It is volcanic right?”

            “Yeah, well the entire island originates from volcanic magma. But the island has different sulphur deposites. There’s a mine and a quarry so this place is the source for most of the japs ammo supplies. They’re creating their own factory here. Turns out it was a bigger stepping stone than we thought.”

            “Wow. You’re beginning to sound like me.”

            “God! I hate this transfer!”

            “Oh Sully,” I said cracking a smile.

            A minute later we all loaded into our Amtrack. It was filled with twenty Marines. I had located Tommy and he stood on my side while Sully stood behind him. We stood there in the dark waiting to deploy.

            “Loading out!” we heard the driver call.

            The doors folded out of the cruiser revealing the same dull sun from earlier this morning. But it seemed so bright after my eyes had adjusted to the darkness. The Amtrack slowly, roughly inched outwards. Slow, slow, slow. A huge swoop. Crash. Sea water splashed in my face as it stung my eyes.

            “Like a roller coaster, Tommy,” Sully said with excitement.

            The roar of the engine took over as the artillery hammer went silent. The gush of the water behind it was also ambient. Then I heard one, two, three, four, five, eventually more than I could count of the Amtrack engines starting.

            “First one out! First one to the top!” I screamed over the engine.

            “Hooha!” Tommy shouted.

            We all laughed. Then it hit me. I was on my way to what might me my death. I might never see mom, dad, Rachel, Tommy, or Sully ever again. I prayed to God underneath every breathe I took. I wasn’t ready for this. I wasn’t ready for what I signed up for. I want out! I want out!

            “Thirty seconds!” the captain yelled. He reached up and closed the hatch on the top.

            It was too late. I was thirty seconds knee deep. There was no backing out. Either acception or fear. The order doesn’t matter. My stomach filled with butterflies, it worked its way throughout my body. Looks like fear came first.

            “Ten seconds!” the captain shouted again.

            This was my last chance. Fear or acception. Decision making was never my strong suit. Suddenly, halt. Inertia took its toll on all of us as we lurched forward as the Amtrack hit the island. After we bounced back from the impact, the ramp dropped. It was time.

         •     •


 

The men out in front of me marched out. I closed my eyes in preparation for what was about to happen. I took a deep breathe. Held it. When I opened my eyes I saw the men in front of me still on the beach. There was no machine gun fire. No nothing. Pure, utter, silence. I walked out. The butterflies were gone. We all walked cautiously on the beach. There wasn’t any sign of japs. There was nothing. Just the thick smell of sulphur lingering in the air. I held my rifle at the ready. The machine gun tripod was mounted on my back and Tommy was holding the gun. We had the lockdown process aced from numerous practices with the pro himself, John Basilone.

I walked slowly, cautiously hearing nothing but the slight pitter patter of my heavy combat boots against the damp volcanic sand. There was no crunch just a pat. Where were the japs? I thought to myself. There were about forty men in front of me spread out among the loadouts of three different Amtracks. We slowly made our way up the beach. The silence was too much. Pure suspense and anxiety can mentally and consciously kill a soldier.

            BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! The awaited gunfire was finally there. Everyone hit the ground except for the ones who didn’t even get a chance to. I looked ahead of me to see what the other soldiers were dealing with. I watched all forty of them get mowed down by a machine gun. Forty lives gone. Forty letters sent to home. Forty mothers crying. Forty fathers sad. They were dead.

            WHEEEEEEEEEEEE! BOOM! Artillery hit in front of me and killed another four men. They were dropping like flies. I could barely comprehend what was going on. I just looked around in confusion.

            “Joey! Joey!” I heard from a distance. The voice became clearer and clearer in the blur of missing lives. I looked beside me and saw tommy sitting in the crater that the artillery created.

            “Joey! Come on!” Tommy screamed over the mass of flying bullets.

            It brought me back to my senses. I realized what was going on. I rolled into the crater with Tommy and we deployed our machine gun. Tommy shot and shot. I don’t know what he was shooting at but he kept shooting. Sullivan was soon behind us in the crater. When I looked back to see where he came from I saw more and more Amtracks landing and the men coming out and just dying. They just got there and they’re dead. I just kept wishing that I could run and jump in their Amtrack before they got here and warn them to turn around. I kept screaming at them.

            “Over here! Over here!” I screamed. I stood up and started waving.

            TING! A bullet hit my helmet.

            “Sit down!” Sully yelled.

            I sat down in amazement. I almost died. I pulled all of my stuff together and my adrenaline pumped into my system. I could feel it fill my veins, causing my mind to think faster than it’s ever thought before. I was thinking of different scenarios of how to get out of this situation when I didn’t even know basic information. I had to slow my mind down in order to even comprehend my own thoughts. I crawled up by Tommy at the machine gun.

            “Where are they?” I asked.

            “They were hiding! The rats were hiding!” Tommy screamed pointing towards the direction he was shooting.

            I looked in the direction he was pointing at a slight increase of a hill. It was covered in loose moss. I saw the flashes of a muzzle casually sliding along it. They were right there the whole time! I then looked over to the side when I saw a piece of ground move. I saw the barrel of a rifle emerge from a square of ground and shoot a soldier at point blank range. A rifleman was hiding in a hole that he dug himself only covered by a piece of wood covered in grass. I took my rifle and aimed it straight at the opening in the ground. I saw movement.

            BAM! The barrel dropped. I killed him. I took another man’s life. He took four of my best buddies. Revenge. That’s the taste in my mouth. Pretty sweet but has a bitter aftertaste. A lone soldier made his way up to the side of the machine gun bunker. He pulled the pin of his grenade and threw it in the bunker.

            BOOM! The front of the bunker was blown out and the gunner was dead. To our dismay there were four different machine guns watching the one spot on the beach. Two were over watching the beach up in the hills, one was on the beach which we took out, and another was a little farther behind the hill that the first bunker was lodged in. One picked up right after the other. The tanks now started coming on the beach and the rest of the Marines were lying on the hill before the beach. A tank was coming right past us.

            “Follow it!” I screamed.

            “What? Are you crazy?” Tommy asked.

            “Just do it!” I said. “Use the tanks for cover.”

            We all moved towards the tank. Then I heard the distinct whistling.

            “Get down!” I screamed. We all ducked in the nick of time.

            BOOM! The tank exploded as shards of metal flew straight over our heads. Nowhere was safe! We just had to sit tight. We went straight back into our crater.

            “Tommy?” I said.

            “Yeah?” he replied easing up on the trigger of the machine gun.

            “Are you ready to put your sharpshooting to the test?”

He looked in the direction I was pointing in as my finger rose to location of one of the over watching machine guns.

“It looks like that gunner is watching over Green and Red One,” I said. “I’ll take over on the machine gun. Sully! Spot for me!”

I took over shooting the machine gun for suppressing fire.

BAM! I heard from my side. I ceased fire and listened. I heard one less machine gun firing.

“Got em’,” Tommy said.

“We have to move up,” I said.

“Go,” Tommy replied.

Sully took my tripod and I picked up the machine gun. We all moved up to the slight incline that the first machine gun was nestled in. We deployed the machine gun there. I looked forward to see a series of trenches that were empty because all of the japs were crammed in these steel cones. They were connected to the trenches by a small tunnel. There they were practically impenetrable. Except of course, from our flamethrowers. I looked backwards to see if any of the soldiers that had come on had been carrying a flamethrower.

When I looked back, the pure shock of death hit me. There were a thousand dead bodies lying on the ground like sacks of potatoes. I guess I didn’t realize how many marines had actually been killed but it was the biggest shock of my life. I was staring at this one guy in particular. I had seen him earlier on the Amtrack. He was standing right in front of me. That could’ve been me. I stared deeply at the blank, dead expression on his face. He looked hopeless. He was hopeless. My deep thought was interrupted by the massive steel tracks of a Sherman tank crushing the dead body. I stared in horror. They didn’t even respect the men enough to preserve what little life they had left in them. I snapped out of it.

The tanks were now continuing up the beach but the artillery had not let up a single bit. It was still hammering the tanks. I couldn’t even think about getting near a flamethrower trooper at this point. He was a death trap. One shot hit him and he’s the human grenade. The tanks now passed us on each side as we held tight on the incline. We continued shooting at the steel cone knowing that we wouldn’t hit anything.

BOOM! The tank shattered the steel shelter making it look like pine straw.

There’s a way to clear the way. I looked over to the side and saw a Jap bazooka man running up in shooting position to my left. I wasn’t going to let him rid us of the tank.

BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! The Japanese soldier died with four shots from the machine gun. Three more tanks passed our position and moved up. Then I heard it.

“Move! Move! Move!” I heard in a distinct voice from a distance.

            It was John Basilone. He had come after all. He was approaching us.

            “Get off the beach!” he screamed. “Get off the beach! Use the tanks as cover if you need to!”

            Tommy and I packed up the machine gun and followed Gunney with Sully right behind us. He was wielding the Thompson submachine gun.

            BAM! BAM! BAM! He shot. BAM! BAM! BAM! He shot again. He was dropping japs left and right. We began running across the stretch of black sand between the beach and the trenches when we saw machinegun fire coming from another incline in front of us.

            “Get down!” Gunney screamed.

            We all face planted into the soft volcanic sand and crawled to the top of the incline and then off to the side so the machine gunner couldn’t see us.

            “Set up there!” Gunney commanded.

            We scrambled up the small hill and set the gun down on its tripod.

            “Give them some covering fire!” he commanded again. “I’m going back to the beach for more! Don’t move until I’m back!”

            “Aye Gunney!” Sully, Tommy, and I chanted.

            Basilone left towards the beach. A squad of soldiers was trying to get a satchel charge in the bunker but they couldn’t get close enough to do so. They were already off to the side of the concrete bunker so they weren’t in any imminent danger from that machine gun nest. I started firing. Keeping the jap gunner occupied with a game called bullet dodging. Then I saw an entire squad of men begin climbing the hill straight on, unaware of the machine gun nest.

            “No! Wait!” I screamed. “Wait!”

            They were nearing the top of the hill. The constant artillery fire on the beach was drowning my voice out.

            “Wait!” They got closer. “No!” They were gone.

            They reached the top of the hill only to be greeted by an opening entourage of enemy bullets. The front line of men was gone in the blink of an eye. Their dead bodies fell back on their unaware second line. The process continued until all forty of the men were dead. I swore.

            They could’ve been saved! I didn’t do anything! I stared in astonishment. Why? Why would so many lives be allowed to parish in the face of war? It was unfair. What was once patriotism now became martyrdom. Basilone’s voice snapped me out of my despaired trance. I think it was my fourth one that day. Even though the whole thing was really a blur of violence and blood.

            “Give them suppressing fire!” Basilone ordered the men he had returned with.

            All fifty of their guns immediately opened fire on the bunker. It was a bullet storm, an ineffective bullet storm as far as the bullets were concerned. But for the explosives, they were quite happy.

            The demolition team that had been cowering on the side of the bunker the whole time now decided to take a chance. The man with the satchel charge threw it straight into the bunker. They all ducked just in time. Chunks of concrete and iron reinforces flew in all different directions. It was the biggest explosion that I’ve ever seen. Got rid of that machine gunner. One down, about a hundred more to go.

            “Come on! Move!” Basilone said beckoning with his hand at the following soldiers and running to the front of the bunker.

            Blood sprayed from his heart. The bullets then moved all the way up into his arm. They tore through his life like it was a piece of paper. He fell face first into the black sand. John Basilone, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Honor. Hero of Guadalcanal, hero of World War II, leader to all of us, and friend to all of us. He was gone. Right there. Right then. He was over. I couldn’t believe it. HOW!?!? I ask myself. How could something like this happen? No man is safe. Nowhere is safe on this hell hole. God had given up on restoring this island a while back. We continued to fight. We took ground. Killed japs. All of the usual stuff. We continued up the mountain until evening. As soon as the sun dropped beneath the sky we set up camp.

            It was finally raining. Tommy and I still sat outside. It was refreshing. As I sat there, the pure mental and physical exhaustion hit me. I sat there slumped over and talked with Tommy.

            “What happened today?” Tommy asked with an exhausted look in his face.

            “Today,” I began. “Today, we entered hell.” I simply stated.

            “That’s an interesting metaphor, Joey,” Tommy said.

            “Stop,” I popped up startling Tommy.

            “Stop what?”

            “I’m not in any state of mind for someone making jokes. Reality of war. Now I know what your dad was talking about. War is one of the harshest revelations of truth that I have ever come to know. I thought I knew what I was getting into but I didn’t. I want out!”

            “Sorry, doesn’t work that way,” Tommy said.

            “Who’s to say? This pistol here is my ticket out of here,” I said pulling my pistol out.

            “Here? You mean life?” Tommy asked.

            “Today, I killed about thirty two japs. Killing another human being. That’s just something that I don’t think I can live with. You know, screw all this!”

            “Joe, now you listen to me carefully. Don’t do anything stupid.”

            “Stupid? I witnessed a human slaughterhouse today!”

            “Put the gun down,” he said with ease.

            I raised the gun towards my head.

            “Put it down,” Tommy said again.

            “What do I have to live for!?!? Kharma!?!? I have nothing! Now, every time I close my eyes I see the face of that poor kid on the beach this morning! Lost, never to be found again. I’m practically already dead.”

            “You’re not!” Tommy said.

            “Yes I am!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. I started crying my eyes out. “Guilt is eating my mind one piece at a time!”

            “Guilt is, Joey! Not yourself! Don’t do this!”

            The floodgates behind my eyes just opened. This is the first time that I had allowed myself to get this far. That was the first time that I had really had time to think about it. I couldn’t or I would get killed during the day. We sat there in our fox holes, me crying and Tommy trying to comfort me. I don’t know what I signed up for. A piece of paper with my signature on it is the most significant thing in my life. It was an entire page filled with sentences that can be summed up in a few words: Ticket to hell or death, you choose. Tommy fell asleep but I didn’t despite my condition. It was more like a limbo of conscious thought.

 At the end of that night, I did nothing but replay the day’s events over and over in my mind. I had witnessed the slaughter of 30,000 good Marine soldiers. I couldn’t do anything to stop it. Maybe God just forgot about this island long ago. Forgot about us. I don’t know. There is no real explanation for it. War is madness like no other. It changes men. It changes their mind. It changes their soul. War tampers with the very will to own or exterminate an existence of being. War can’t be described with simpler words because it is so complicated that the mere thought of it can turn a man cross-eyed in a day. War is war. War is hell.

         •     •


We had lost Sully again but not to the drunks this time. This time it was to the XO who wasn’t even on the island. The XO was on one of the outlying cruisers because he was in such a high position of authority. Sully had to stay close to him in order to keep the paperwork. No more dirt for us, even though it really would have come in handy to know about the tunnels.

The next seven days consisted of digging out the rats taking ground while doing so, up the mountain. The Japanese had built miles and miles of tunnels through Mount Sirubachi. They had dug themselves so far in there that we had to reach in and pull them out. That is if we got there before their denial.

One day, Tommy and I were assigned to go through this one stretch of tunnel to search for japs. It was the sixth day on the island. We had pretty much worn out the Japanese defenses and ourselves with work. We were all now tired and seasoned. You know the kind of vet attitude to where you know you have a job to do but you just don’t really care. But now we had a job that would change my opinion of the war.

The tunnel that we had to search was a fork that went from one side of the mountain all the way to the other. We were to go in through this side and meet another pair of guys in the middle who came in through the other. It was a large hole in the side of the mountain. The mountain of ash.

As we entered the tunnel I looked around. It would have been almost pitch black except for the fact that the japs put a lighting system which looked kind of like Christmas lights but a lot bigger. They ran along each side of the cave giving a dim yellowish glow to the reflective black rock. We walked and walked through the same tunnel for what seemed like forever. Finally, we encountered something new. There was a canteen, a helmet, and a bag. They were jap stuff too.

“How long has it been here?” I asked Tommy as he started going through the stuff.

“It’s hard to say but I’m guessing not too long ago,” he said feeling the amount of water in the canteen by the weight.

Just then, the ground shook, ash fell from the ceiling, and a huge boom.

“Is that jap artillery?” I asked Tommy while putting my hand on the wall in order to maintain my balance.

“It can’t be. It’s been silent for days,” Tommy said with a hint of skepticism and thinking in his voice.

Then it did it again. Then again. Then again.

“No it isn’t. It sounds a lot closer,” Tommy said.

“Well then the other two might be in trouble. They could be screwed right now! We have to go help them!”

We raced off through the tunnel searching for the source of the explosions. Then there was an echo of a gunshot. Gunshots make your ears ring in the first place but when the sound waves bounce off of circular walls it’s like a pit of sound. My ears rung like crazy for a minute as we ran towards the source of it. The tunnel had been nothing but a narrow passageway through black rock the entire time we were in there. Until it opened up to a worse picture.

The cave came to an opening into an actual structure. It was an artillery bunker nestled within the mountain made of solid concrete. There, in the middle of it stood a japanese soldier clutching his pistol as it was pointed at a dead jap body on the stairs that surrounded the artillery gun.

“Hey!” I screamed trying to break him from his grim expression towards the dead body on the stairs. I started taking aim with my rifle.

Before I could shoot, he brought the pistol to meet his chin and pulled the trigger. His body fell into a pile of three other Japanese bodies. The other three were gouged. Their internal organs spilling out of their body. It was awful. I looked around the place to examine what happened.

“These japs just get crazier and crazier, don’t they, Joe?” Tommy said looking at the dead bodies.

“I don’t think they’re any crazier than we are,” I said.

“What do you mean?” Tommy asked, clearly puzzled.

“Look,” I pointed at the dead Japanese body on the stairs. “When we came in, the guy who just killed himself was pointing his pistol at that guy.”

“So he shot his own man?” Tommy asked uncertain.

“Yeah, but why would he kill his own man?” I asked Tommy trying to get him to correct his own stupid statement. “Because he was trying to get away. The man that shot him was an officer, he of all people is supposed to be dedicated to serving Japan. The Japanese soldier will not take defeat. He will take his own life before that. Being an officer, this man not only had to follow the rules but also enforce them. This guy over here is dead because he didn’t believe in insanity. These four over here are dead because they do believe in insanity. Four insane and dead, one sane and dead. Which mindset do you think results in more casualties?”

“From this math, the sane one,” Tommy replied.

“Yeah, and ‘Would you look at that?’ He’s a jap!”

“Yeah but they’re both dead so no one wins.”

“Now you’re thinking like me.”

“Oh god! And I thought this war was the end of my troubles!”

We both laughed. Then, the guys coming in from the other side of the mountain ran right in.

“Wow! What happened here?” one of them asked as both of them looked in astonishment at the pile of dead bodies.

“What happened here is I taught Tommy here a life lesson,” I said casually. “When you report back to your CO, tell him they all killed themselves but they’re not crazy.”

They both just remained there with the same blank expression.

“Just do it,” I repeated.

They both nodded keeping the same facial expression the whole time. They were clearly brand new in the field. They weren’t used to this like Tommy and I. God help there witnesses here.

The Japanese soldier is the example of devotion in the modern world. He is the living martyr ready to do whatever he needs to do in order to maintain his country’s honor. Honor is practically meaningless to the American soldier. The American soldier is careless about the reputation of their country for losing the war. They just want to leave and go home. The Japanese soldier and the American soldier have one thing in common. They all do what they have to whether they like it or not. The Japanese’s results just might be a little bit more juristic then the American’s but they still do it. Not by choice, by orders. They follow orders. Orders from the President, orders from the emperor, orders from the officer, and orders from life. Life has it’s orders it’s called fate. Just turns out that mine sucks.

         •     •


 

It was the eighth day on Iwo Jima. We were so close to the top of Mount Sirubachi we could literally feel it on our feet. The rocks on the mountains outer shell became getting hotter gradually as we made our way up. It seems like it had taken forever but it had only been eight days. Time goes by slow when you run on thirty minutes of sleep every night and spend your days inching to higher altitudes leaving the pressure to make your bones ache. When we were walking up that last false summit I felt the weight of the 30,000 men lost bear down on me.

“I heard they’re taking a picture of us with the flag when we get up there,” Tommy said.

“Yeah?” I said.

“Yup, it’s going to be everywhere back home.”

“That’d be cool.”

“Yeah! But if we don’t hurry then we won’t get there in time!”

“Why do you want to rush?” I asked.

“Because we’re the last two Marines down here, there’s no one else.”

“So?”

“Come on!” he begged.

“I’m good taking my time,” I said.

“I’ll race yah,” he said.

“Nope.”

“Come on! I’ll give you a ten second start,” he said as he slowed to a stop so that I could pass him.

A gunshot rang through the air. I thought it was just a celebratory shot for the flag raising. Turns out it was a lot different from celebratory. I turned around to see if Tommy was still following me. He laid there on his back in a puddle of blood in the black sand. I looked to see where the gunshot came from and saw a dying jap tangled in a patch of grass. Where did he come from? How did we miss him? He was covered in blood lying on his back in the grass. One hand he used to clutch his shrapnel wound from a grenade on the left side of his torso. The other hand he used to wield his Nambu pistol. Even bleeding to death, he shoots an American.

I pulled my rifle to my shoulder. I shot, shot, shot, and shot. I shot that savage until my clip was empty and even after that my finger just kept pulling the trigger. I ran over to Tommy.

“Tommy?” I called to him to test his consciousness. “Tommy?” I rolled him over to see the source of the blood. “Oh God!” I cried. “Tommy! Medic!”

Tommy was transported out to the medical cruiser on the last day that we would be there. I was prevented from enjoying the gracefulness of the flag raising by a savage creature that is the Japanese soldier. Later that day I was loaded up on a cruiser too. It was heading for California.

“Joey!” Sully called to me from the mob of Marines.

“Yeah?” I asked.

“How was it?” he asked.

I stared at him with the face of a warred man. My eyes were piercing with vengeance, disgust, and hatred. “They got Tommy,” I said and briskly walked away.

         •     •


 

            I’m still not quite sure of what exactly earned me a ticket to heaven inside of hell. It probably was my reaction to the news that we were shipping out again.  After we took Mount Sirubachi it marked the taking of the southern half of the island. The northern half, the one that contained all of the mines and airfields, was not taken yet. Because we fought so hard for the southern half, we marines were taken out and the U.S Army was sent in to secure the half. But we weren’t done yet.

            The next night after being put on an outlying cruiser we received notice that we were heading to Okinawa in order to help out the taking of the island. Dozens of marine regiments were already sent there to take it but it had been a month now and no absolute progress had been made. I punched the skipper when he told us this, out of pure disgust. I had witnessed my best friend nearly die, I wasn’t going to go back. Not again. Never again. What should have gotten me court marshaled instead earned me the title of “mentally unfit for combat”, at least as far as the Marine Corps was concerned. I actually was court marshaled but for only a day. I was then transferred to the Marine Corps’s base on the island of Benika.

            Benika was the neighboring island of Pavuvu. Pavuvu was an island where fellow marines were shipped only to find that the japs had fled long ago. It was a useless patch of land. The marines that were there spent their time walking in knee deep mud created by the unpredictable Japanese rain season. Dysentery and Malaria had never been worst in the U.S then it was there. They did, however, take advantage of the fact that the Japanese had cleared out. They set up camp. It was the U.S’s stronghold within the Pacific Ocean. Incoming troops were sent there to wait for deployment, out coming troops rested, and Benika became the home to the Marine Corps’s mental health facility.

            One day after sitting in my bed on Benika I was sent to the doctor’s office. I took my seat in front of his desk in a rickety old wooden chair.

            “So I understand you assaulted a commander,” he said looking over my record.

            “That’s right,” I said showing no regret.

            “Why’d you do that?” he asked.

            I gave no answer.

            “You think I’m crazy, don’t you?” I finally asked breaking a long silence.

            “No, I don’t think you’re crazy,” he replied. “I just think you’re another war torn soul trying to compensate for his broken conscience.”

            “What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

            “It doesn’t change my opinion of you, I can tell you that.”

            “Well, what’s that opinion?”

            “Very high. I mean, you took the mountain. They only sent the best to do that and if you were crazy then you wouldn’t be floating among the best in the country.”

            I looked at his desk and saw the most ornate paperweight that I had ever seen. It was a Japanese Nambu pistol that was sitting there weighing his papers down.

            “That’s a pretty fancy paperweight,” I said.

            “Oh this?” he said looking at it. “I got this from a guy that was in here a few months ago.”

            “Yeah? Why was he in here?” I asked.

            “He had a urinary condition called Enuresis. It’s caused by spending too much time wet and your mind fools itself into thinking that it has to be.”

            “Isn’t that just bedwetting?” I asked.

            “Yes, but when it doesn’t apply to kids it usually has a physiological explanation for it.”

            “What was his?”

            “Most of the guys in here, they’re just simply,” he paused as he thought for the correct word “, Tired.”

            “Or just ticked,” I plainly said.

            “Or that. But why were you so ticked?”

            A nurse then brought us our lunch seeing that we weren’t seated in the mess hall or in the quarters. It was a massive hamburger accompanied with fries and a coke. My appetite was pushed aside by rage.

            “I witnessed the near murder of my best friend,” I said with my eyes blazing with anger.

            “What’s his name? He might be staying here.”

            “Tommy Savenger.”

            “I’ll look into it for you.”

            “Thanks,” I said still angry. “He was shot with one of those paperweights.”

            Tommy wasn’t there. His case was too severe to even get him here. He was sent home to New Orleans where he belonged. I stayed there enjoying the sweet relief. It was so relaxing compared to Iwo Jima. I developed my anger. I learned to suppress it but it was always still there gnawing on my mind. It wouldn’t ever go away, but it was smaller. The image of the jap over in the bushes that shot Tommy kept playing over and over in my mind. In my sleep, during the day. I couldn’t make any new friends there because of my antisocial personality. That’s an oxymoron for you. But it’s the truth. As I just sat and thought for the majority of the day there was no time for talking. The date that I got out of there was one to remember. September 2, 1945: the end of World War II.

            They loaded me up on the train almost as soon as we landed in port in California. The ride home was slow and boring. So many stops and so much time to think. The haunting images of my eight days on Iwo Jima playing constantly through my head. The mental levy that I had built during my time on Benika just broke and the river poured out. It went by fast then. It was like I just woke up.

            “New Orleans unloading now,” I heard the engineer say over the intercom. There, I saw Tommy sitting outside in a wheelchair. I ran outside. Forget Mobile, I can drive from here! I was so happy to see him. He was fine.

            “What in the world are you doing here?” I asked laughing.

            “I came to see you,” he said.

            “But this isn’t my stop.”

            “Yeah? You can drive.”

            “I was just thinking that.”

            I spent a week with Tommy at his house. I met his mother, father, and sister. His sister reminded me so much of Rachel. She was tall, had blonde hair, and blue eyes. She was only a few years younger than Tommy and I. We got to know each other very well. But strangely instead of my heart growing for her, it grew to Rachel. I realized what I was too naïve to realize a long time ago. I loved Rachel.

            Anyways, that’s enough about Rachel for now. Tommy was in his wheelchair because the jap bullet ruptured his spinal cord and almost killed him. They said he would never walk again and he didn’t. On my last night there, we partied on Bourbon Street. But I didn’t drink that much because I didn’t want to make the drive home worst than it would already be. Then it occurred to me I don’t have a car. Tommy gave me his. He said he couldn’t use it anymore. So I took it. It was the most beautiful car that I’ve ever seen too. It was a cherry red Shubert Frigate convertible. Shubert was the dominant car manufacturer back in the 40s but I had never seen anything quite as breathtaking as this car. It was amazing. It glistened with Tommy’s cheerful attitude. While driving home it started reminding me of Tommy. I pulled over on the highway and started crying. Look what happened to Tommy. Look what happened to me. Look what happened to 40,000 U.S Marines.

         •     •

           


 

            Sullivan went back home and continued enjoying the great outdoors but enjoys it a little more now.

            I, upon returning to Hoover, Alabama, enjoyed my life and respected it. As soon as I got home the first thing I remembered is that I broke a promise: I never sent letters to Rachel. I personally went and asked her to dinner. We continued getting along and eventually got married. She is the love of my life and I never realized it until Iwo Jima. I live with her in our country home. It’s the greatest life that I could ever ask for but I never will be the same.

            War changes a man. War changes the mind. War changes the soul. My soul has been wounded. My mind has been frayed. I am completely changed. Iwo Jima was the death of me. Iwo Jima was the beginning of me. There are many things that I could say about my experiences there. So many that I can’t even count. I learned about who I am and who I was. So many terrible things happening in one place. It’s hard to even comprehend. It was worth it. Now I answer my own question. It was worth all of the effort, lives, and money. I live a different life now but part of my soul still lives in Iwo Jima. And Tommy’s convertible still sits in my garage.


© 2012 Joe Diliberto



Author's Note

Joe Diliberto
I'm not sure if there are still any grammar problems but if there are feel free to, in a none criticizing way, inform me of it. I put my heart and soul into this project and you can really tell that by reading the level of descriptiveness. I really hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

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Added on May 2, 2012
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Author

Joe Diliberto
Joe Diliberto

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About
I am a young boy who is proud of his works in creative writing class that have worked their way up from a few pages to over thirty. I've spent many nights up late working on a story that I refused to .. more..