75 Years Later, Iwo Jima Marines and Sailors Recall the Bloody Battle

 In GDI, Defense, Air, Energy, Information

Addo Bonetti of Torrington told the story of a sergean­t’s slow death 75 years ago on the island of Iwo Jima.

Frank Peters of Windsor recalled four Marines who were gone in an instant, and John Ray of Bloomfield recalled a young offi­cer par­a­lyzed by the hor­rors he wit­nessed on the bomb-blast­ed rock.

The three U.S. Marine Corps vet­er­ans are among the shrink­ing band of Iwo Jima sur­vivors in the state and nation. The World War II battle claimed 6,821 American dead, includ­ing 100 Connecticut men, and was burned into the nation’s memory by the image of valor and vic­to­ry cap­tured in the flag rais­ing atop Mount Suribachi.

To mark the bat­tle’s 75th anniver­sary, the Connecticut-based Iwo Jima Survivors Association has orga­nized events on Feb. 22 and 23. Rear Admiral Gregory N. Todd, chap­lain of the Marine Corps, is among the spe­cial guests invit­ed to the Feb. 23 cer­e­mo­ny at the Iwo Jima Memorial in New Britain.

Connecticut has a par­tic­u­lar­ly close tie to the bat­tle’s sur­vivors. State vet­er­ans raised money for a statue of the flag-rais­ing, which was installed in New Britain in 1995. Bearing the names of the Connecticut men who were killed, the memo­ri­al’s statue is sim­i­lar to the better-known U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Virginia.

Anniversary events are to include a dis­play of battle mem­o­ra­bil­ia, show­ings of doc­u­men­tary films and a gath­er­ing that offers a chance to speak with Iwo Jima sur­vivors. The Newington Fire Department, Central Connecticut State University and other orga­ni­za­tions are help­ing to make this the biggest sur­vivors’ reunion in years, event orga­niz­ers said.

D‑Day, Feb. 19, 1945

Harry Rosenfeld, 95, of West Hartford, was a sailor aboard the USS Nevada, which was sal­vaged after sus­tain­ing heavy damage in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The bat­tle­ship was among hun­dreds of U.S. Navy ves­sels assem­bled around the Pacific island of Iwo Jima on Feb. 16 for a pre-inva­sion ship-to-shore bat­ter­ing that lasted three days.

Tons of shells slammed into the hump of rock and sand about the size of Block Island. The fire and smoke and noise, Rosenfeld said, was dra­mat­ic. Peters said he and other Marines won­dered if any­thing could sur­vive such an epic pound­ing — if the island itself would even be there after the veil of smoke lifted.

“We said that damn thing is going to sink,” he said.

Corsair fight­er looses its load of rocket pro­jec­tiles on a run against a Jap strong­hold in Okinawa.” In the lower back­ground is the smoke of battle as Marine units move in to follow up with a Sunday punch.” Lt. David D. Duncan, ca. June 1945. 127-GR-97 – 126420. National Archives Identifier: 532375

Peters, Bonetti, and Ray were among the 70,000 Marines who clam­bered into land­ing craft and start­ed for the beach­es on Feb. 19. Along with Army and Navy shore per­son­nel, the total expe­di­tionary force was about 111,300. The Japanese num­bered about 21,000.

The island’s air­fields were the big draw for U.S. strate­gists. The Japanese were using Iwo not only as an air­base but also as a sta­tion to warn forces to the north of American bomb­ing raids from the Marianas. The big new stick in the American air arse­nal was the B‑29 Superfortress, which could carry four tons of bombs on long-range sor­ties. Missions from the Marianas to Tokyo went straight over Iwo Jima, and U.S. plan­ners decid­ed the island must be taken to serve as a refuge for the mon­ster bombers and a base for fight­er escorts. Iwo, as one his­to­ri­an noted, was like a giant air­craft car­ri­er in just the right place.

The first Marines ashore encoun­tered little resis­tance. That was Japanese com­man­der Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi’s plan _ let the Americans fill the slaugh­ter pen and then unleash. His troops were dug into a lace­work of tun­nels and gun emplace­ments and most had sur­vived the pre-inva­sion bomb­ing,

When the invaders were 200 to 300 yards inland, enemy machine guns sput­tered and the air filled with steel. From the north and from the island’s south­ern high­point, 550-foot Mount Suribachi, shells and small arms fire rained on the Marines.

The long, hard fight was on.

“You’re look­ing to kill people and they’re look­ing to kill you,” Bonetti, a rifle­man with the 5th Marine Division, said.

He remem­bered being pinned down behind a boul­der with other Marines. A sergeant raised his head to check out a sniper’s posi­tion and was shot between the eyes, Bonetti said. Inexplicably still alive, the man groaned for 20 min­utes before dying. Bonetti, who had never smoked before, said he burned two cig­a­rettes, one after the other.

Marines cheered the flag-rais­ing on Suribachi, but that was only the fourth day of a 36-day battle. Knowing the energy and mate­r­i­al might he was facing, Kuribayashi had con­vert­ed Iwo Jima into an intri­cate fortress.

The Japanese had good reason for such a solid defense. Iwo, 660 miles from Tokyo, was one of the last links in the Pacific island-hop­ping cam­paign that was draw­ing ever closer to the big home islands. “The Courageous Battle Vow” of the defend­ers read in part, “We shall grasp bombs, charge the enemy tanks, and destroy them. We shall infil­trate into the midst of the enemy and anni­hi­late them. With every salvo we will, with­out fail, kill the enemy.”

Bonetti, now 93, was wound­ed by a grenade blast on March 12. Lying in a bomb crater, he felt blood run­ning over his back and legs.

“That’s when you say to your­self, ‘My God.’ You think about your father and mother,” he said. “You think about your whole life­time.”

Ray, 94, was a field radio oper­a­tor, relay­ing target loca­tions for airstrikes. The Darien native joined the Marines in 1943 at age 17. His mother had to give her per­mis­sion.

Ray had served in the battle of Saipan and was attached to the 5th Marine Division’s head­quar­ters during the Iwo Jima inva­sion. He came ashore at the wheel of a jeep loaded onto a land­ing craft.

“I looked up and said, ‘Holy smokes! There’s some­body shoot­ing at us.’ ”

Asked if he was scared, Ray said, “I was 17 years old. I was con­cerned, let’s put it that way.”

Asked the same ques­tion, Peters imme­di­ate­ly said, “Shitless.”

Some men could not handle the con­cen­tra­tion of killing, the awful screams of the wound­ed, the night­time taunt­ing of Japanese sol­diers who had learned some English. Ray remem­bered one Marine lieu­tenant stand­ing at atten­tion after the rest of his unit had been dis­missed. Stunned into still­ness, he had to be car­ried away.

“He just cracked up.… He was scared to death, ” Ray said. “Me, I was too damn dumb.”

Peters, 95, who also had fought on Saipan, said he also remem­bered guys losing their grip. At a mortar posi­tion, one of the tubes mal­func­tioned and the explo­sion instant­ly killed four Marines. Two men who were close bud­dies of the dead Marines could not func­tion and had to be taken off the line, Peters said.

The worst part for him was load­ing dead Marines into trucks.

“I’d look and say, ‘I played cards with that guy,’ ” he said, his eyes welling with tears.

After the war, Peters worked for Emhart for 35 years, most of that time as a chauf­feur for com­pa­ny exec­u­tives. He mar­ried and raised four chil­dren. He wears his “Fighting Fourth” Marine Division cap with pride.

Ray worked for People’s Bank as a res­i­den­tial apprais­er. He lives in Bloomfield with Barbara, his wife of 63 years. The couple raised four chil­dren.

Rosenfeld, a New York City native, has lived in West Hartford for about 70 years. He worked as a cer­ti­fied public accoun­tant. He mar­ried and raised three chil­dren.

Bonetti recov­ered from his wounds and likely would have been among the Marines assigned to invade Japan, but then the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He returned to Connecticut and made his living as a brick­lay­er. The wid­ow­er has one step­son.

Free events on Feb. 22 at the Newington Fire Department Station 1, 1485 Main St., are set to start at 11 a.m. and are to include a pre­sen­ta­tion about the battle and a doc­u­men­tary about the expe­ri­ences of U.S, Marine Samuel Bernstein, “In the Shadow of Suribachi: Sammy’s Story.” Refreshments will be served. Parking will be avail­able behind the build­ing.

On Feb. 23, cer­e­monies at the Iwo Jima Memorial — on the east side of the Central Connecticut State University campus off Ella Grasso Boulevard (Iwo Jima Way, Exit 29 off Route 9) — are sched­uled to start at 10:30 a.m. The pro­gram is free and open to the public. After the cer­e­monies, people are invit­ed to the Newington fire house to talk with Iwo Jima sur­vivors and view mem­o­ra­bil­ia of the battle. Refreshments will be served.

The Iwo Jima Survivors are seek­ing dona­tions of money and food for the pro­grams. For more infor­ma­tion, call 860−810−8736, or email sosiwojima@yahoo.com.

©2020 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) — Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Source: Task & Purpose

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