Battle of Iwo Jima

Battle of Iwo Jima

Posted On July 21, 2020 00:39:08

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The Battle of Iwo Jima: A family waits for news, 1945

Lieutenant Bob Stone served as a bombardier in the 431st Bomb Squadron (Heavy), 7th United States Army Air Force in the Pacific. This Spotlight is part of a series of documents detailing the experience of airmen in World War II. Click here for more information about Bob and to read more in this series.

As part of the effort to secure land close enough to Japan to launch attacks against the mainland, the US Army and Navy began bombing the Bonin Islands of Iwo Jima, Hajajima, and Chichijima, in June 1944. Army and Navy bombers hit Iwo Jima for over eight months, culminating in seventy-four straight days of continuous airstrikes. Thirty-three of Lieutenant Bob Stone&rsquos forty bombing missions were flown in the Iwo Jima campaign.

The amphibious assault on the island began on February 19 and continued for 36 days. The United States suffered casualties of more than 6,800 dead and 20,000 wounded. Of the 20,000 Japanese soldiers defending Iwo Jima, only 1,083 survived.

For the Stone family, Iwo Jima must have been particularly nerve-wracking. Four of the five Stone sons were involved in the invasion, including Bob and his stepbrother Barry Marks. Barry, a Marine, was stationed on Guam at a base near Bob&rsquos. The brothers were able to visit each other frequently and share family news.

Almost a month after the invasion of Iwo Jima began, Bob informed his parents that Barry was part of the invasion.

Excerpt from a letter from Robert L. Stone to Jacob Stone and Beatrice Stone, March 4, 1945

Until now I was unable to discuss the whereabouts of Barry&rsquos outfit because it hadn&rsquot come out in the newscasts or the papers. When I returned from rest leave, [on February 9th], he left me a note saying &ldquowhen you next bomb Iwo be careful you don&rsquot hit me&rdquo so of course I knew the 3rd marines were Iwo bound. From all the news reports their going has been tough, but I&rsquom certain Barry will come through with flying colors. I&rsquove often thought what a small world it is when we were hitting Iwo during the invasion, and knowing that my brother was down on the beaches. If I get any word about his outfit, I&rsquoll write as soon as censorship regulations permit. Ordinarily you&rsquove got to wait until it&rsquos been related on the radio or in the papers, however.

While the letters that Jacob and Bee Stone wrote to their son no longer exist, Bob&rsquos letter of March 17, 1945, indicates the anxiety they must have felt. In this passage, Bob acknowledges how difficult the war must be on loved ones at home.

Excerpt from letter from Robert L. Stone to Jacob Stone and Beatrice March 17, 1945

You&rsquove asked numerous times if I&rsquod heard from or about Barry. As yet I&rsquove had no word from him, but I know it&rsquos because he&rsquos too busy to write. You must have faith that he&rsquos O.K. and that no news is good news. Before too long the campaign ought to be over, and you can expect to hear from him but until then you&rsquoll just have to wait and keep your fingers crossed. As soon as I have any word of him or his outfit, I&rsquoll of course let you know, providing it is within censorship regulations. I know that a war of waiting and hoping must be hell on you with five sons all scattered around the globe, but so far God has been kind and you&rsquove handled yourselves beautifully. We&rsquove all been through alot, but I guess it&rsquos been no tougher than for you who are at home. I&rsquove been through a number of close calls when at the time there seemed to be no chance, but somehow everything worked out for the best.

Barry survived Iwo Jima and returned to the United States shortly after the invasion.

Marines and Flamethrowers

During the “island hopping” campaigns, Marines were notorious for their use of flamethrowers and napalm. Napalm was considered a heroic battlefield innovation during World War II but became demonized during the Vietnam War. After the war, U.S. General Curtis Lemay wrote that in 1945, napalm “scorched and boiled and baked to death more people in Tokyo on that night of March 9-10 than went up in vapor at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.”

Napalm wasn’t used solely as an incendiary dropped from airplanes. It was also used in flamethrowers because it had 10 times the duration of other gelled fuels and three times the range. “We could have never taken the island without the flamethrower,” said Bill Henderson , a Marine who fought on Iwo Jima, speaking to the weapon’s effectiveness. “It saved lives because it did not require men to go into caves, which were all booby trapped and promised certain death to all who entered.”

Although they were incredibly effective in combat, flamethrowers were a huge target to the Japanese and had a 92 percent casualty rate. It was later reported that the average lifespan for a flamethrower operator was a mere four minutes. One of the most notable flamethrower operators to serve during World War II was Medal of Honor recipient Corporal Herschel “Woody” Williams. He single-handedly wiped out several Japanese pillbox positions during a four-hour battle. He frequently returned to American lines to swap his empty flamethrower packs for full ones and even braved a banzai attack — fire versus bayonets .

“It was like fighting ghosts,” he said. “One minute the enemy was attacking and being killed, then they would disappear, including their dead. They were going underground into 16 miles of tunnels we didn’t know existed.”

Corporal Charles W. Lindberg, who took part in the first raising of the Iwo Jima flag on top of Mount Suribachi, was a flamethrower operator who was awarded the Silver Star. He was part of the first wave of 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines who stormed within 10 to 15 meters of Japanese soldiers who engaged him with hand grenades, explosive charges, and small arms fire. Lindberg exposed himself to take out several concrete-enforced caves that contained as many as 70 enemy combatants .

In order to prevent the 92 percent casualty rate from rising, flame tanks added protection and duration to the operators. The Marines from 5th Tank Battalion expended 10,000 gallons of napalm per day, and a later report on the effectiveness of the flame tank stated it was “the one weapon that caused the Japs [sic] to leave their caves and rock crevices and run.”

Battle of Iwo Jima - HISTORY

The official records of the V Amphibious Corps at Iwo Jima occupy 27 boxes in the USMC archives. Within this maze, the most useful information can be found in the "comments and recommendations" sections of the After Action Reports filed by the major units. The best published official account of the battle is contained in George W. Garand and Truman R. Strobridge, Western Pacific Operations. vol IV, History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II (Washington: Historical Division, HQMC, 1971). Three other official accounts are recommended: LtCol Whitman S. Bartley, Iwo Jima: Amphibious Epic (Washington: Historical Division, 1954) Capt Clifford P. Morehouse, The Iwo Jima Operation, and Bernard C. Nalty, The U.S. Marines on Iwo Jima: The Battle and the Flag Raising (Washington: Historical Branch, G-3 Division, HQMC, 1960). Chtr 10 of Jeter A. Isely and Philip A. Crowl, The U.S. Marines and Amphibious War (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1951), combines exhaustive research and keen analysis of the assault on Iwo. Three of the many postwar published accounts are particularly recommended: Richard F. Newcomb, Iwo Jima (New York: Bantam. 1982) Richard Wheeler, Iwo Jima (New York: Crowell, 1980) and Bill D. Ross, Iwo Jima: Legacy of Valor (New York: Vanguard Press, 1985).

The most comprehensive Japanese account is contained in Part II ("Ogasawara Islands Defense Operations") in Chubu Taiheyo rikugen sakusen (2) [Army Operations in the Central Pacific, vol II], part of the Senshi Sosho War History Series. Of Japanese accounts in English, the best is Major Yoshitaka Horie's "Explanation of Japanese Defense Plan and Battle of Iwo Jima," written in 1946 and available at the Marine Corps Historical Center (MCHC).

The MCHC maintains an abundance of personal accounts related to Iwo Jima. Among the most valuable of these are the Iwo Jima comments in the Princeton Papers Collection in the Personal Papers Section. The Marine Corps Oral History Collection contains 36 well-indexed memoirs of Iwo Jima participants. The research library contains a limited edition of Dear Progeny, the autobiography of Dr. Michael F. Keleher, the battalion surgeon credited with saving the life of "Jumping Joe" Chambers on D+3. The Personal Papers Section also holds the papers of TSgt Frederick K. Dashiell, Lt John K. McLean, and Lt Eugene T. Petersen. For an increased insight, the author also conducted personal interviews with 41 Iwo veterans.

The author wishes to acknowledge the contributions of Marvin Taylor of the Marine Rocket Troops Association Helen McDonald of the Admiral Nimitz Museum: Frederick and Thomas Dashiell LtCol Joseph McNamara, USMCR BGen James D. Hittle, USMC (Ret) Mr. Bunichi Ohtsuka and the entire staff of the Marine Corps Historical Center, whose collective "can-do" spirit was personified by the late Regina Strother, photograph archivist.

About the Author

Colonel Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret), served 29 years on active duty in the Marine Corps as an assault amphibian officer, including two tours in Vietnam. He is a distinguished graduate of the Naval War College and holds degrees in history from North Carolina, Georgetown, and Jacksonville. He is a life member of both the Marine Corps Historical Foundation and the Naval Institute, a member of the Society for Military History, the Military Order of the World Wars, and the North Carolina Writers' Workshop.

Colonel Alexander, an independent historian, wrote Across the Reef: The Marine Assault on Tarawa in this series. He is co-author (with Lieutenant Colonel Merrill L. Bartlett) of Sea Soldiers in the Cold War (Naval Institute Press, 1994) and the author of "Utmost Savagery: the Amphibious Seizure of Tarawa" (Naval Institute Press, pending). He has also written numerous feature essays published in Marine Corps Gazette, Naval Institute Proceedings, Naval History, Leatherneck, Amphibious Warfare Review, World War Two, and Florida Historical Quarterly.

THIS PAMPHLET HISTORY, one in a series devoted to U.S. Marines in the World War II era, is published for the education and training of Marines by the History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C., as a part of the U.S. Department of Defense observance of the 50th anniversary of victory in that war.

Editorial costs of preparing this pamphlet have been defrayed in part by a grant from the Marine Corps Historical Foundation.


Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons, USMC (Ret)

Benis M. Frank

75 years later, the Battle of Iwo Jima still haunts this veteran

Bill Montgomery doesn’t hear too well these days. At 95, he’s deaf in his right ear and struggling with his left. But he can still hear the sounds of war that pounded his 20-year-old eardrums on a rocky, pork-chop-shaped island called Iwo Jima. And he still remembers the unbridled joy he felt the day he saw the U.S. flag raised there, an event forever etched in the annals of American military history.

“It was the fifth day after we landed,” he recalls. “I was all alone, lying on a slope on the edge of an airfield, when I heard some ships’ horns sounding. And cheering started from guys in the foxholes.”

He cast his eyes to the summit of 554-foot Mount Surabachi, a point visible from just about every corner of Iwo Jima’s eight square miles. What he saw from about a quarter-mile away sent a charge of excitement through his war-weary body. “I looked, and there was the flag! What a feeling that was!” he says, the wonder still rising in his voice.

It was perhaps the most iconic moment of the war in the Pacific. Photographer Joe Rosenthal’s image of six U.S. Marines raising the American flag atop Iwo Jima’s highest point became an inspiration to millions of Americans back home, and remains a rallying point for U.S. Marines everywhere.

“I felt ecstasy!” Montgomery says. “I knew it was all over. So many of us had been killed. We made it through.”

Except, it wasn’t over. Not by a long shot. The battle for Iwo Jima would rage for another month. Of the 110,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, and pilots who fought on that volcanic outpost, a staggering 26,000 would be killed or injured. And Bill Montgomery would become one of the very few Marines to endure the entire 37-day fight, day after bloody day. Of 50 men in his unit, only a half-dozen or so survived.

“I’ve never understood how I wasn’t hit,” he says. “I feel guilty. But thankful, too.”

He leans forward, his fingers drumming a tabletop at his retirement home near Atlanta, Georgia. His wife of 70 years, Lea, seems to want to reach out and touch his agitated hands, but instead she smiles sweetly at him. He smiles back and relaxes a bit.

The Marines had landed on Iwo Jima, 760 miles from Tokyo, on February 19, 1945. After days of shelling by the U.S. fleet, they were expecting an easy mop-up operation—three to six days of fighting. Instead, the enemy, 21,000 strong, responded with unexpected fury, picking off Marines seemingly at will from a complex network of tunnels.

For Montgomery it was a month of harrowing escapes. He spent one night hunkered down in a shallow ditch, afraid to raise his head lest it be blown off by fellow Marines shooting from a foxhole a few feet behind him. That same night, several hand grenades, lobbed toward the foxhole by Japanese fighters, landed short of their target and exploded in a circle around him.

“When the morning came, those Marines were astounded,” he says. “They said, ‘We thought you were dead!’ ”

It wasn’t the only time the fog of war nearly claimed Montgomery. Crouching in position another day, Montgomery was mistaken for the enemy by a P-51 Mustang fighter-bomber. The pilot dropped his load right on top of him.

“It landed right next to my foxhole, didn’t go off, ricocheted right in front of us into the Japanese area, and exploded,” he says. His life was spared, but Montgomery was spitting mad. “I took a few shots at that Mustang,” he confesses. “Ever since then, when I meet a veteran pilot I ask him, ‘Were you on Iwo Jima?’ I never found the guy.” Montgomery says it was the closest he came to snapping during his Iwo Jima ordeal. Others weren’t so lucky.

“I came across Marines sitting on the ground, hands to their faces, sobbing their hearts out,” he says. “Their minds just snapped. A lot of us just got kind of numb, immune to any shock.

“Toward the end we were told to go pick up the dead Marines and put them on the edge of the road to be picked up by truck and taken to the cemetery. Many of them would have been lying there for a week or so. A lot of guys grabbed a dead Marine by the arm or leg—and it would come off.”

Lea gasps at her husband’s words. “I’ve never heard some of this,” she says softly.

“That wasn’t a pleasant sight,” her husband says, his eyes locking on hers. Then he laughs. “As a matter of fact, I don’t remember ever seeing a pleasant sight on Iwo. Except the ship when we left.”

Archives Branch: Campaign Collections

Documents include operation plans, operation orders, field orders, intelligence reports, action reports, administrative orders, captured Japanese documents, official correspondence, field messages, studies, and memoranda concerning operations on Iwo Jima from February 1945 - March 1945.

The bulk of the documents in this collection were produced by the V Amphibious Corps the 3d, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions and Task Force 56 during the campaign to capture the island of Iwo Jima, known as Operation Detachment.

If you have any questions about these collections, please contact the Archives at (703) 784-4685 or [email protected]

Index to Iwo Jima Personal Papers Collections

This index highlights collections found in the Archives Branch concerning Marine Corps involvement in the Guadalcanal campaign, August 1942&ndashFebruary 1943, including Operation Pestilence, Operation Watchtower, Operation Cartwheel, and Operation Ringbolt.

The criteria for selecting collections for inclusion in this index is limited to those personal papers that contain materials pertinent to the study of the Guadalcanal campaign. Collections in this index are comprised of official Marine Corps records, documents, and publications letters and correspondence manuscripts photographs maps memoirs and reminiscences clippings and articles oral histories and interviews and realia and ephemera.

Iwo Jima Photographs

Iwo Jima Maps

The Archives Branch maintains a collection of original maps from the Iwo Jima campaign, to include the overlays, appendices, and enclosures from the Divisional operation plans and after action reports.

Some of these maps are available in digital format. Please contact the Archives for more information.

Monographs and publications from the Marine Corps History Division

Available as full-text, searchable PDFs from the Government Publishing Office.

Rescuing 2,400 B-29s

Another prime mover in the decision to commit American blood and treasure in the capture of Iwo Jima involved U.S. air power. Long-range Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers were already flying from bases in the Mariana Islands and regularly pounded military targets and cities on the Japanese home islands. To accomplish their strategic bombing missions, these massive aircraft flew through a gauntlet of Japanese fighter planes and antiaircraft fire. Many of them were crippled in the attacks, and a significant number were forced to ditch in the broad expanse of the South Pacific, too damaged to complete the return flight to their bases in the Marianas.

The trained crews of the B-29s were a valuable commodity, and those B-29s that were damaged might be repaired and returned to service. In order to save lives, though, lives had to be lost. It fell to the brave men of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions, their attached Navy medical personnel, and the sailors manning the fleet off the coast of Iwo Jima to accomplish the task of wresting the island from the Japanese. They paid a terrible price, and in their heroic sacrifice allowed more than 2,400 B-29s, damaged, low on fuel, and carrying wounded crewmen, to land on Iwo Jima.

Cables from Iwo Jima: An Eye-Witness Account of the World War II Battle

On Iwo Jima last week at least 40,000 Marines fought to the death with 20,000 entrenched Japanese in an area so constricted that the troops engaged averaged twelve men to an acre. Ashore with the marines, TIME Correspondent Robert Sherrod radioed his account of the battle…

With those words, the Mar. 5, 1945, issue of TIME launched into a description of the horror and bravery that Sherrod had witnessed in the days since the U.S. struck the island of Iwo Jima &mdash 70 years ago, on Feb. 19, 1945 &mdash in what would be one of the Allies’ most crucial World War II victories. As the magazine explained the readers, the island itself wasn’t much, just a few square miles of beach and cliffs, but it was one of best-defended locations in the world. Going in, it was known that the Marines who fought there would likely take heavy casualties, but that there was no other option: winning Iwo Jima &mdash site of airfields used by the Japanese, which would be game-changers if put to use for U.S. airstrikes of Tokyo &mdash was absolutely necessary.

Seven decades after the battles, Sherrod’s cables to his editors provide unusual insight into the experience at Iwo Jima. They’re written during the fighting, and the man behind them was uniquely qualified to comment on what he was seeing: Sherrod had covered battles throughout the Pacific, and in 1944 had published a book, Tarawa: The Story of a Battle, about what he experienced on that atoll. (He would go on to write a book about his later experiences too, On to Westward: the Battles of Saipan and Iwo Jima.)

Sherrod had gone ashore with a combat team on the day the battle began and, in the Feb. 26 issue, TIME was able to quote from a message that he had radioed from before the attack. Typically, issue dates are a week ahead of publication, which means it would have been printed pretty much as soon as his Feb. 19 message arrived. In describing the fighting that had begun, the magazine passed on his warning to readers that “there is little overoptimism to be found among admirals, generals or their troops.” In fact, Sherrod’s cable had been a warning to his editors, not to readers: “I suggest that you confine this week&rsquos action report to a simple statement that we have landed on Iwo Jima,” he also wrote, cautioning that the magazine should not rely on reports from any newer journalists among those present, who might “endeavor to win the war in the first flash.”

The next message from Iwo Jima came on Feb. 21, with the note that it would arrive in time to be printed in LIFE magazine (TIME’s sister publication) but not in TIME itself LIFE did end up printing nearly the entire cable, about 2,500 words long, pretty much verbatim. (Interestingly, the magazine cut out some of his less objective passages, which are highlights in hindsight: “But the ultimate factor in the fall of Iwo Jima can be attributed only to the character and courage of the United States marines. In war there comes a time when power alone has reached its limits, when planes no longer can be called upon to deliver bombs effectively, when ships have no more shells to fire, when defenses will no longer yield before fire power, however heavy. That is the time when men on foot must pay for yardage with their lives. That is when they call on the marines,” he wrote. LIFE printed only the first sentence.)

Further messages arrived over the next few days, as the Marines captured Mount Suribachi and a Japanese airfield, among other objectives. “This is a record of twenty-four hours in Iwo Jima,” the Feb. 24 missive began. “It covers the period between 4:00 PM of the fifth day and 4:00 PM of the sixth day, but it might apply to any twenty-four hours in the day following our landing and capture of Motoyama airfield number one. After that early capture, the Iwo Jima battle settled down in the same grueling routine described herein &ndash the slow advance of the front lines, the incessant booming of our artillery and naval gunfire, the monotonous whine of the Jap snipers&rsquo bullets.”

That cable, combined with some details from the earlier messages, became the main Mar. 5 report on the situation, which ran under the headline “It Was Sickening to Watch…” accompanied by the map reproduced above.

At left, a page from a cable sent by TIME correspondent Robert Sherrod on Feb. 24, 1945. At right, a page from the Mar. 5, 1945, issue of TIME. The highlights have been added to indicate how Sherrod’s observations were used by the magazine. On a desktop, roll over the picture to zoom on mobile, click to zoom.

Not every detail of that 24-hour period made it to print, including his sign-off, telling his editors that he could look forward “to another 24-hour period of creeping warfare, and to other similar periods after that.”

Many such days would follow: the battle would last more than a month.

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault:It Was Sickening to Watch…

This post was written by Criss Kovac. Criss is the supervisor of the Motion Picture Preservation Lab. We rely on film and photographs to tell stories every day – from the latest blockbuster, our favorite television series, videos we take and stream, to the cherished photos in our homes. But, sometimes what we see isn’t &hellip Continue reading Forensic Film Archiving: Who Raised the Flag on Iwo Jima?

Seventy years ago, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured what is perhaps the most iconic image of the Second World War. Taken just days into the more than month-long Battle of Iwo Jima, the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph documented the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi. The photo was later used as the model &hellip Continue reading Raising the Flag Over Iwo Jima

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