The capture of Iwo Jima, a tiny volcanic island midway between the Marianas and Japan and part of the Tokyo Imperial Prefecture, was essential for the Allied forces.
The island, just four miles long and two miles wide, had been the base for Japanese fighters intercepting B-29's on their bombing runs. With its strategic location, Iwo Jima could serve the Americans as a fighter-escort station and repair location for damaged aircraft returning from Japan en route to Saipan. If the Allied forces took Iwo Jima, they would have the upper hand against the Japanese.
The US had already targeted Iwo Jima with repeated air raids and warship gunfire when it finalized plans for the invasion in October 1944. But because the Japanese, realizing the island's strategic importance, had been fortifying the island since March 1944, the Americans recognized that Iwo Jima would not be taken without a fierce fight.1
On February 16, US Navy minesweepers and demolition teams began clearing the waters around the island, while warships and aircraft attempted to weaken Japanese defenses. On February 19, more than a 100,000 US Marines landed on Iwo Jima. There they were met with scores of Japanese soldiers entrenched in caves or underground. Four days of intense combat were followed by almost four weeks of bloody battle. By mid-March, the island was secure, but at great cost to both sides.
The battle at Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest in US Marine history, with American casualties outnumbering the Japanese.2 The Americans suffered 26,000 casualties; the Japanese 22,000. More than 6,000 Americans were killed in action.3 At the same time, 27 Medals of Honor were awarded to those who fought at Iwo Jima, the most for any battle in US history.4
More than fifty linguists from the Military Intelligence Service fought alongside the Marines. Several landed with the Marines on February 19. For others, their job was to flush Japanese soldiers from the caves. Technician Fifth Grade Sergeant Terry Takeshi Doi was one such Nisei. Stripped to the waist and armed only with his helmet and a flashlight to show that he was unarmed, Doi entered cave after cave, urging the Japanese soldiers to surrender.5 Several of them, up to a dozen at a time, crawled out from the caves. For his brave actions, Doi was awarded the Silver Star.
With the heroic efforts of everyone involved in the battle for Iwo Jima, a vital link in the US chain of bomber bases was established. The war in the Pacific was nearing its end.
1"Iwo Jima Operation, February - March 1945, Overview and Special Image Selection," Naval History and Heritage Command, accessed on January 3, 2015, http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/wwii-pac/iwojima/iwojima.htm.
2Cyril J. O'Brien, "Iwo Jima Retrospective," Military.com, accessed on January 3, 2015, http://www.military.com/NewContent/0,13190,NI_Iwo_Jima2,00.html.
3"Iwo Jima Operation."
4"The Battle for Iwo Jima," The National World War II Museum, accessed on January 3, 2015, http://www.nationalww2museum.org/focus-on/iwo-jima-fact-sheet.pdf.
5James C. McNaughton, Nisei Linguists: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II (Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History, 2006), p. 350, http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/nisei_linguists/CMH_70-99-1.pdf.
089 Don Oka
Starts on Tape Four, between 12 and 14 minute marks
DON OKA: Some of them came close to getting killed by our own Marines because of sands flying and everything going on, you are covered with sands and you don't know who you are, and all of a sudden you see a Caucasian facing you with the gun, but luckily nobody got killed.