Frank V. Gardner

Rookie (2 December 1922 - / Washington, D. C.)

Iwo Jima: Why And How

Poem by Frank V. Gardner

Discussing the Pacific War, a student asked of me,
"Why take so small an island, isolated, far at sea? "
I told the class what we had done; it jogged my memory.
At home, I wrote that epic down in verse and poetry.

We had to capture Iwo Jima, killing most its men.
No other way could it be done, from landing to the end.
It's how I answer inquiries, some sixty years 'tis now;
And every time I speak of it, I'm wondered by the "how."

With twenty thousand Japanese, perhaps two thousand more,
The enemy on Iwo was prepared to fight a war.
They knew that we were coming, and they dug emplacements well
To make that island fortress be a place of living hell.

They tunneled deep beneath the rock and black volcanic sand;
The deepest excavation had been made for high command.
With no civilians, stubby trees, and weather slightly cold,
That five-mile heap of blackened ash was not much to behold.

Why'd such an ugly island an attraction for us be?
Its military airfields: not just one, or two, but three!

The nineteenth day of February barely saw the sun,
As warships, in support of landing, fired every gun.
When that barrage had lifted and our planes began to soar,
Those landing craft, with brave Marines, went rushing to the shore.

The enemy artillery responded with a roar!
It ripped, and tore, and shattered us, heads down against the shore.
Volcanic ash got soaked with blood; we had no place to hide!
So, move ahead is what we did, with pain.... and "Semper Pride."

By nightfall we had cut across the shortest neck of land:
Two thousand men, our dead and wounded, scattered on the sand.
The next three days we fought them, both in front and to the rear.
But, February twenty-third, a welcome sight we had to cheer:

Five-hundred-foot Mount Suribachi, highest ground there'd be,
Was captured and our flag was raised for all Marines to see.
It was a most dramatic moment; but did it mean that we
Had won the total island from the enemy?

No, for bitter war continued on the battlefield below;
Such fierce resistance plaguing us: another month to go.
About that time, to fill a gap, give landing troops a lift,
The Third Marine Division came ashore to join the Fourth and Fifth.

And now, with three Marine divisions lined up to the north,
The enemy began to feel our might as we moved forth.
With two thirds of the island left; and they, entrenched uphill,
Surrender wasn't in their plan: More blood would have to spill.

No matter what we threw at them, resistance was so hard,
Each day's advances had to be just measured by the yard.
Marines were falling left and right, but we could still give thanks,
As battlefield replacements joined our now-depleted ranks.

The enemy was losing more as we pursued for days,
Relentlessly attacking in varieties of ways:
We called in air support - so close that we could feel the heat,
When flaming napalm dropped ahead of us, three hundred feet.

We burned them out; we sealed their caves; we fought them hand to hand!
On March the fourth, a big B-29 came in to land.
In five months some two thousand more such rescues would be made;
Each ten-man crew of Army fliers, grateful to be saved.

The rate that men on Iwo fell was one for every minute.
Presented graphically, there's yet another way to put it:
When seven men would fall, 'twas like a seven-minute scene:
One dead was ours, three dead were theirs, three wounded were Marine.
In general, fighting took four weeks; some units, more like five.
Yes, we survivors, boarding ship, thanked God to be alive.

The only victory where we had total losses more than they.
All casualties, by fallen thousands, unbelievable to say:
Their dead, in thousands: twenty one; and ours: six thousand, not alive.
The total of our dead and wounded, in the thousands: twenty five.

It was our only victory where we had losses more than they;
All casualties, by fallen thousands, unbelievable to say:
Their dead, in thousands: twenty one; and ours: six thousand, not alive.
The total of our dead and wounded, in the thousands: twenty five.

We men of Iwo reminisce, some sixty years 'tis now:
Of lost Marines - no tougher fight - we know the 'why, " the 'how.'

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Staff Sergeant Frank V. Gardner of Marine Air Support Control Unit One, a radio operator for close air support to the three Marine divisions of the Fifth Amphibious Corps. on Iwo Jima.

Copyright 1987 / Copyright 2010

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Poem Submitted: Friday, October 27, 2006

Poem Edited: Friday, March 30, 2012

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