Monday, May 26, 2008

Black Troops at Iwo Jima

Black combat support units took part in the assault on Iwo Jima, where, their presence confounded the policy of segregation. Because of the random intermingling of white and black units, an African-American Marine, carrying a box of supplies, dived into a shell hole occupied by white Marines, one of whom gave him a cigarette before he scrambled out with his load and ran forward. Here, too, black stewards and members of the depot and ammunition companies came to the aid of the wounded. A white Marine, Robert F. Graf, who lay in a tent awaiting evacuation for further medical treatment, remembered that: "Two black Marines . . . ever so gently . . . placed me on a stretcher and carried me outside to a waiting DUKW."

At Iwo Jima, the 8th Marine Ammunition Company and the 33d, 34th, and 36th Marine Depot Companies served as part of the shore party of the V Amphibious Corps. Elements of the ammunition company and the 36th Depot Company landed on D-Day, 19 February 1945, and within three days all the units were ashore, braving Japanese fire as they struggled in the volcanic sand to unload and stockpile ammunition and other supplies, and move the car go inland. Eleven black enlisted Marines and one of the white officers were wounded, two of the enlisted men fatally.

Black Troops at Iwo Jima
High Resolution Image Seeking to rescue a Marine who was drowning in the surf at Iwo Jima, this sextet of Negro soldiers narrowly missed death themselves when their amphibian truck was swamped by heavy seas.

From left to right, back row, they are T/5 L. C. Carter, Jr., Private John Bonner, Jr., Staff Sergeant Charles R. Johnson. Standing, from left to right, are T/5 A. B. Randle, T/5 Homer H. Gaines, and Private Willie Tellie." March 11, 1945. S/Sgt. W. H. Feen. 127-N-114329

Negro Marines on the beach at Iwo Jima

High Resolution Image "Iwo Jima...Negro Marines on the beach at Iwo Jima are, from left to right, Pfcs. Willie J. Kanody, Elif Hill, and John Alexander." March 1945. C. Jones. 127-N-11383.

Carrying a Jap[anese] prisoner from stockade to be evacuated

High Resolution Image Carrying a Jap[anese] prisoner from stockade to be evacuated and treated for malnutrition. Iwo Jima." February 23, 1945. Don Fox. 127-N-110622.
The depot companies landed cargo attached by steel straps to wooden pallets to simplify stowage in cargo holds and unloading at the objective. Unfortunately, the black Marines had no tools, like bolt-cutters, that could easily sever the metal. An officer of one of the companies recalls that his men had to break the straps by hacking and twisting with their bayonets.

The hard-fought advance inland eased the pressure on rear-area installations but did not eliminate the danger to combat service support troops like the men of the 8th Marine Ammunition Company. On 1 March, for example, Japanese mortar shells started a fire in the ammunition dump operated by the company, but Second Lieutenant John D'Angelo and several black Marines, among them Corporal Ralph Balara, shoveled sand onto the flames and extinguished them.

During darkness on the following morning, another enemy barrage struck the dump, this time detonating a bunker filled with high-explosive and white-phosphorous shells. The exploding ammunition started fires throughout the dump, generating heat so intense that it forced D'Angelo and his platoon to fall back and warped the steel barrel of a carbine they left behind. Not until the conflagration had burned itself out, could the platoon begin the dangerous job of extinguishing the embers and salvaging any usable ammunition. Sergeant Tom McPhatter — an African-American noncommissioned officer, who after the war became a clergyman and a Navy chaplain, attaining the rank of captain — helped search the ruins of the dump. On 4 March, D'Angelo's platoon braved sniper fire at a captured airfield to retrieve an emergency load of ammunition dropped by parachute to replace what the blaze had consumed.

On the early morning of 26 March, 10 days after Iwo Jima was declared secure, the Japanese made a final attack that penetrated to the rear area units near Iwo Jima's western beaches, including the 8th Ammunition and 36th Marine Depot Companies.
The black Marines helped stop the enemy in a confused struggle during darkness and mop up the survivors at daybreak. Two members of the 36th Company — Privates James M. Whitlock and James Davis — earned the Bronze Star for "heroic achievement." One Marine from the depot company and another from the ammunition company were fatally wounded, but four others, two from each unit, survived their wounds. The African-American companies that fought at Iwo Jima shared in the Navy Unit Citation awarded the support units of V Amphibious Corps.

Conclusion: Of the 110,000 troops landed on Iwo Jima best estimates point to four companies comprising about 900 men

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