Memorial Day 2012: Memories from World War II
By Steve Godfrey
May 28, 2012
As we take time to honor military veterans on this Memorial Day, I thought it would be appropriate to share an excerpt my father, Robert, wrote in 1993 and titled, “Memories from World War II.” He served in the U.S. Army and landed on the shores of Iwo Jima on D-Day.
“Around the middle of January (1945), our LST loaded up with a Navy Construction Battalion (Seabees) and its equipment for building roads and airstrips, service men from the Army, Marines and the Air Force, our own unit with a full complement of equipment and of course the U.S. Coast Guard crew which operated the LST. We left the Hawaiian Islands on January 21st heading west, destination unknown to a lot of us. We had our sea legs by this time and rather enjoyed the trip. We spent our time watching a variety of training films, watching movies (old), working on K.P. and training on the gun crews—I was the loader on the gun crew that operated the “twin forties”, the 40 millimeter anti-aircraft guns. Our crew became quite proficient but fortunately did not have the opportunity to test our “expertise” on enemy aircraft. The LST is not called a “Long Slow Target” without good reason.
“On February 3rd we arrived at Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands where we spent several days while the gigantic invasion task force was being assembled—over 800 ships in all. It was mind-boggling when we wondered how such a huge armada could have been brought together at this one spot at one particular time. Included were battleships, cruisers, aircraft carriers, cargo ships, destroyers, tankers, tugs and many others. We could see them in every direction. Our excitement was building up because the rumors were that our destination was to be Iwo Jima.
“D-Day, February 19, 1945! We arrived at Iwo Jima today in the midst of the real war. Our LST landed but we were driven off by heavy artillery fire—a tug towed us back out of danger. One shell struck the compartment right next to the one we were in, but no one was injured. Our spare power van on deck was hit and put out of action.
“On D plus 3 we landed and immediately dug fox holes which provided some protection. We were constantly under attack by enemy sniper, mortar, and artillery fire but took no severe damage. The poor Marines had thousands of casualties because the enemy was dug in all over the place. We were in the 580th S.A.W. Battalion attached to the 5th Marine Division for the Iwo operation. We half buried our radar and radio vans to protect them from enemy shelling.
“One dark and rainy night I was asked to volunteer for guard duty up at our radar van because the enemy was infiltrating. It was a very scary experience, but the good Lord was with me. When I returned to our company area, I found that a Navy amphibian vehicle had run over my fox hole and would have crushed me flat had I been sleeping. (I still wake up in a cold sweat whenever I think of that, but then I thank the Lord for getting me out of there to be on guard duty.)
“After five weeks in the fox holes, we moved into tents on the west side of the island and settled down to regular shifts operating our equipment. The last major counter attack by the enemy was on March 29th, then on June 2nd our tent area was bombed with anti-personnel bombs, but we were able to make it into a cave in time.
“During July and August, the value of Iwo became quite evident as hundreds of B-29 bombers and air crews were saved because they were able to make emergency landings here with injured crewmen, fuel shortages or damaged aircraft.”
My father passed away in April of 2000, at the age of 76.
His grandson, Robert, is 20, and is currently serving in the U.S. Army with the Third Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Thank you, military veterans.