What did it sound like to land at Iwo Jima?
In this age of smartphones and social media, we often get unprecedented access to events that we normally would have just read about in a paper long ago. Many of us have seen videos of combat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and countless other places. We see the perspective of our enemies as they strap on Go-Pros and launch attacks. We see camera footage of Special Forces carrying out operations. We see airstrikes from drones and watch enemy bodies get turned to hamburger meat by attack helicopters.
For older conflicts, however, we usually see sanitized footage released by the government or newsreels that were edited with sound effects added. But have you ever wondered what it sounded like to storm the beaches of Iwo Jima?
Well, now you can hear it for yourself. Audio from the actual Iwo Jima landings can be heard here.
In it, we hear two Marine Corps Correspondents give a 'play by play' as the Marines head toward the beach. The first person identified as one Sgt. Mawson of the 4th Marine Division goes first.
As gunfire sounds around him, Mawson is on board a landing craft en route to the beach. He sees Marines being tossed into the air from mortar and artillery fire and states the beach 'seems to be aflame.' As the landing craft clears the warships, he heads straight to the beach. As he gets closer, he can see a tank already aflame. When they are only a couple of hundred yards out, he can see Marines moving up and down the beach through wrecked vehicles. He makes reference to the abandoned Japanese navy ships that were left to corrode on the beach, a sign of the decimation the Japanese Imperial Navy experienced in early battles like Midway.
The second Marine is not known by name. However, his words are even more grave than the first correspondent as his audio conveys his arrival on the black sands of Iwo Jima.
He starts at the line of departure and about 2000 yards from shore. He states that the beach 'looks to be practically on fire.' In the fog of war, he reports that casualties in the first wave are light. We know now that the Japanese allowed the Marines on the island and opened up once most of the first waves were settled on the beach. It seems like this correspondent can see the Japanese attack, but the severity is not known to him yet. He tells us he sees dive bombers strafing enemy positions.
Then, upon fully seeing the absolute carnage on the beach, he has a very human moment. He talks about his wife and daughter back home. He wonders aloud if they are alright and then wishes that he would be able to go back home to them.
Many of us who have been overseas have had this moment when you have a firm vision of your own mortality and immediately think of your loved ones back home. Through his professional demeanor, it's a human and heartbreaking moment.
As the craft gets closer, he observed machine gun fire coming down from Mt. Suribachi aimed at his craft, although for the moment, they are out of range.
The landing craft grounds on the beach, and the ramp goes down, and a machine gun goes off. You hear in the background, 'what the hell was that?' and wonder if some poor soul had a negligent discharge (although I am sure a few minutes later, no one cared).
As he wades ashore, he mentions that the water is so high that his pistol gets wet as he trudges ashore. He starts giving a matter of fact description of the beach and its make-up before coming back to what he is doing. The gunfire gets louder.
He yells 'spread out!' as he and his stick get closer to the beach. You can hear incoming fire around him as he very calmly explains his situation. He states so far that no one around him has been hit, and you can hear a dive bomber flying overhead.
But unfortunately, as we know now, Iwo was not to be an easy operation.
He sees his first casualty, a Marine who is being evacuated. He then sees other Marines being hit by enemy fire, and his voice starts to dampen from the gravity of the situation. About 100 feet from the beach, we hear him as he sees more casualties. He sees a Marine lying on his back with 'his blood pouring into the water.' He is very calm as there are fire and death all around him.
Upon coming ashore, he is surprised to see that the Marines are still on the beach. He sees that the first waves are bogged down from the fire and sand. This was exactly the plan of the Japanese commander, and from the sound of the recording, it was initially very successful at bogging down the Marines and inflicting heavy losses.
The next thing he says tells of a courage that all Marines know of and admire. He talks of corpsman walking up and down the beach, seemingly unaffected by the incoming fire, checking up and down to make sure everyone who needs it, is being treated. Gotta love those Docs!
The recording ends with the correspondent headed toward the first wave as more Marines come in the waves behind him.
As we know now, what was supposed to be an easy landing and week-long battle turned into one of the bloodiest battles in World War II. Over 6,000 Marines died bravely to take Iwo Jima.
If anything, these recordings document a small part of their heroic journeys and horrible ordeals.