MARTINSBURG, WV. (WDVM) Not everyone who wanted to go ashore on Iwo Jima during World War Two got ashore on D-Day. Corporal Herschel “Woody” Williams who grew up in Quiet Dell, WV told WDVM in an exclusive interview that the beach was “too crowded” on February 19, 1945.
“There were 40,00 Marines on that beach,” said Williams, “and they had nowhere to go.”
“They were pinned down. That’s why we lost so many people. Two thousand the first day,” said Williams, the leader of a six-man flamethrower and demolitions team, who wasn’t able to land on Iwo until the second day.
“We rode around in circles offshore in Higgins boats all day long waiting for Marines ashore to gain enough ground for us to come in behind them,” said Williams. “
“And when we did go in,” said Corporal John Fluckinger, who drove a radio jeep in Headquarters and Service Company, 4th Battalion, 13th Marines, “The thing that really upset me the most was trying to drive to drive to where I should be with all of my buddies lying dead on the beach.
Two days after Williams and Fluckinger landed on February 21, Marines carried an American flag up Mount Suribachi, the highest point on the island, so that everyone onshore and offshore could see Old Glory flying over Japanese held territory only 700 miles from Tokyo.
Private First Class Bill Semons, who was getting his first taste of combat, got goosebumps when he looked up and saw the flag flying over Suribachi’s summit.
“It was the most beautiful feeling in the world to see our flag flying,” said Semons, who was wounded twice on Iwo Jima, once in Korea and once in Vietnam where he lost a leg.
Right after Williams saw the flag go up, he was called upon to clean out some Japanese pillboxes and bunkers that were standing in the way of Marines from advancing toward Motoyama-One, the main airfield on Iwo Jima.
Williams killed four Japanese with his flamethrower when they came charging out of a bunker he was about to torch.
In the next few hours, Williams killed dozens of Japanese soldiers as he knocked out seven pillboxes and was awarded a Medal of Honor for going “Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.”
Williams, who turns 98 in October, told WDVM the only regret he has is not knowing the names of four Marine riflemen who protected him while he climbed on top of Japanese pillboxes and squirted liquid flame down vent pipes.
The “Butcher’s Bill” as Marines like to call casualties was very high on Iwo Jima. Two thousand Marines died on the first day of the 34-day campaign. Almost seven-thousand by the time Marines turned the island over to soldiers. But everybody knew from the “get-go” why the United States needed a small island that had no fresh water and smelled like rotten eggs.
“We needed the airfields,” said PFC Anthony Bolgna, whose brother-in-law was a B-29 pilot. He and other pilots needed a safe place to land in the event their Super Fortresses couldn’t make it back to bases in Saipan, Tinian and Guam after raids on Tokyo and other Japanese cities.
A total of 2,700 B-29s landed on Motoyama-One after suffering battle damage during raid on Japanese cities. Some of the Super Forts landed on a “Wing and a Prayer.”
With ten man crews in each of the big bombers, do the math. The lives of 27-thousand airmen were saved because they had a safe place to land instead of ditching in the ocean and dying before they could be rescued. That’s why Anthony Bologna’s brother-in-law was eternally grateful that 7,000 Marines, sailors and soldiers gave up their “todays” so that he and bomber crews could enjoy their “tomorrows.”