We so often forget about those amongst us that have stepped up and made a difference. It’s important for us to keep the spirit of Marines and their sacrifices alive and in the minds of those of us who still care and know what it takes to keep this country free. So, we decided to look a little closer to home and identified one of our own…Matt Blakely.
Matt participated in the landings and battles on the Island of Iwo Jima where he was the recipient of the Silver Star. We asked Matt if he would share his experience with us and as is the case with many of his generation and those that have stepped up when others wouldn’t or couldn’t, he was reluctant and didn’t think it was a big deal. We thought it was and finally convinced him to give us his story about his participation in the actions that have now become a part of Marine Corps history and legend. We hope you enjoy the article and keep in mind there are allot of forgotten heroes amongst us who stepped up to made a difference and just simply returned to society with little or no recognition for their sacrifice or contribution. I guess this is our small way of going back and saying not only as Marines, but also as Americans, thank you! So, from all of us…Thanks, Matt and Semper Fi!
Reflection, a Remembrance: Iwo Jima 1945
In 1942, I was a civil engineer employed by Boeing Aircraft doing research work. Through an odd circumstance, I enlisted in the Navy and was cleared into the Office of Naval Intelligence. After 14 intense months at the US Navy Oriental Language School in Boulder, Colorado learning the Japanese language and being educated in their culture, I graduated and selected the Marines for intelligence service. After finishing the Basic School, aboard Quantico, I was commissioned a 2nd Lt and was immediately ordered to the FMF, 4th MarDiv on Hawaii.
My assignment to the 4th MarDiv was around the time the division was preparing for its fourth island invasion since being activated at Camp Pendleton only two and a half years earlier. I was assigned to the Division D-2 (later called G-2 in Marine lexicon) between operations. There were approximately 10 officer interpreters and half dozen enlisted linguists that practiced speaking, reading and translating radio broadcasts daily to maintain proficiency in the Japanese language. The enlisted personnel eventually were assigned to the RCT’s (Regimental Combat Teams) during operations along with 2 officers. The remaining officers were assigned to the division to translate and interrogate. Those assigned to the RCT’s were assigned to the S-2 where they would conduct prisoner snatches and conduct spot interrogations and forward the information up to division for additional analysis. Between operations some of us were ordered TAD on Hawaii for prisoner interrogation work at the POW installation. This duty was considered prized not only for the training experience, but also for the liberty associated with the area.
Operation “Detachment” and the 4th MarDiv involvement was soon underway for the assault on the Island of Iwo Jima by the 5th Amphibious Corps. D-Day came on February 19th, 1945. I hit the beach shortly after 0900 in the first wave with RCT 25. We encountered only sporadic resistance at the beginning; the Japanese were holding back major actions until the entire east landing beach became jammed with troops and equipment.
Shortly after the landing a top secret “red bordered” Japanese document was found by the RCT’s S-2 and I was ordered to deliver the document to the division command back aboard ship for D-2 analysis. After commandeering a boat and getting aside the ship, I nearly didn’t make it up to the ship’s deck from the boat via the rope ladders. Climbing from the bouncing small landing craft with full combat gear and weapons I became exhausted, but was gratefully dragged over the ship’s rail by two very helpful and welcomed sailors. I delivered the captured document and prepared to return to the beach. I was probably the only Marine to make 2 landings on Iwo before noon on D-Day.
The conquest of this sulfur island was made extremely costly for the Marines by the Japanese defenders. The defenders had the advantage in terms of assets, manpower, armored equipment, artillery and supplies. Iwo was an island fortress with a determined enemy and heavy resistance was underway by mid morning. I was with the 4th MarDiv, RCT 25 at Blue Beach 2. The 4th was the northern most unit of the attacking force of the 5th and 4th Divisions with the 3rd in reserve. Blue Beach 2 was directly under enfilade fire from the rock quarry cliff area. The going was rough.
The defenders were determined and had previously dug in and set up in preparation for the coming invasion. They had pre-registered targets and established fields of fire covering every square meter of the island. The Japanese fire was deadly, right on and highly accurate, except for 320MM Spigot Mortars that floated through the air and with a demoralizing affect.
The advancing off the beach to take the high ground was terribly slow, but the 4th Division was able to proceeded inland wheeling to the north than to the east through the territory of Japanese 2nd Mixed Brigade. For 25 days until March 16th, officer and enlisted Marine interpreters handled the translator and interrogation duties involving the few captured Japanese, translation of documents and analysis of maps.
Prisoners remained the best source of intel and a Japanese officer was the “cream”, but they were scare. Documents were fairly plentiful, but did not provide the level of intel needed. One day melted into another with varying successes in intelligence gathering that started to provide greater value. Continuous scouting and patrolling for any intel assets was the order of the day. RCT 25 Commanding Officer, Col, Lanigan, was especially intel conscious and encouraged aggressive actions. During these actions, we encountered areas of stubborn defense held by fanatically dedicated Japanese defenders. Some of these actions are now part of Marine Corps History and fill the annals of epic battles – Hill 382, Turkey Knob, The Amphitheater, The Meat Grinder and Charlie Dog Ridge.
We got a prisoner here and a prisoner there and after interrogation would cross checked the information against their comrades. In an atmosphere of deadly combat, we continually tried to affect a live capture. The intelligence we gathered for the infantry units was eventually extended to include the air, artillery and armor assets. Intel demand increased.
We conducted these intelligence operations under the continual and deadly mortar, rocket, artillery, grenade and sniper fire; suicide attempts and booby traps were always present, but the intelligence gathering was vital.
I had civil engineering training in land surveying and map making that became useful in developing the use of enemy maps. The maps the Marines used were developed from aerial recon photos which hardly defined the true topography in any detail. The terrain in the north and parts of the east were made up of a high plateau with a myriad of alley ways or corridors formed by the deep crevices in the rocky heights. Man-made inter-connecting tunnels with cave openings were everywhere and armed with every possible type of weapon. Captured Japanese maps were detailed and up to date; interpreting from these Japanese contour maps eventually allowed our troops to more easily, locate and identify positions and possible enemy defensive locations.
I witnessed exceptional and extraordinary acts of selflessness and courage on the part of Marines and Corpsmen throughout the agonizingly and exhaustingly slow progress of the division. We were able to take ground and proceeded to wheel right to the east coast of the island to defeat Japanese troops who were diabolically concealed and highly effective.
For three days starting on March 13th, the 4th Division was held at a standstill by a final “last ditch” effort of the Japanese. We were unable penetrate and advance. On the 15th, while in enemy territory searching for possible prisoners or material information, I was able to convince 2 Japanese officers to “give up” despite their decision to commit seppuku in the Samurai way. As a result, they eventually supplied the information we needed to finish off the Japanese 2nd Mixed Brigade. Mop-up actions followed to the east coast through the 16th. I was eventually cited for this action.
The 4th MarDiv boarded sea transport back to Hawaii. VJ Day came in August after the Okinawa success and this interpreter headed north to China for duty with 3/7/1.
In retrospect, a remembrance – As Dwight D. Eisenhower so aptly said regarding personal military honors, “Humility must always be a portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifice of his friends.” It was the Brotherhood of Marines that contributed to our success and continues to contribute to the success of the Marne Corps. There is no room in Marine lexicon for the pronoun “I”; the Marines are and have always been about “WE”…The Team!
“For Conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy on Iwo Jima, VOLCANO ISLANDS, on 15 March, 1945. First Lieutenant Blakely was given the task of going ahead of friendly lines and into enemy territory to accomplish a particularly hazardous mission. While under heavy enemy fire form mortars, rockets and grenades, he operated with complete disregard for his own safety. Through his heroic efforts, the further movement of friendly troops in the pockets of resistance was facilitated. His courage and conduct throughout were in keeping with the highest traditions of the untied stated naval service” H.M. Smith LtGen USMC