Iwo Jima

[National Archives and Records Administration]

By early 1945, Bill Henderson, an operations officer with the 5th Marine Division, was preparing to land on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima. It was a crucial step in the march towards Japan – the soldiers simply had to take the island. A flotilla of hundreds of ships – including the Battleship USS North Carolina – bombarded Iwo Jima to soften it up for the invasion but unfortunately, they had little effect. The Japanese were hiding in miles of tunnels and caves that the massive firepower hardly touched. The Marines had no idea what awaited them. Enemy troops held their fire until the 5th or 6th wave, when Henderson and his men arrived and then, let loose with everything they had from the mountain high above the beach. Henderson describes some of the chaos and carnage – a nightmare that left the beach littered with bodies. It took five hard fought days before the Marines were able to plant the U.S. flag atop the mountain named Mount Surabachi – bringing on an eruption of cheers and ship horns. Later, when Henderson’s bedraggled troops prepared to leave the island, they marched beside the freshly dug graves in silence – paying their respects to colleagues who would not return home.

William Henderson in Iwo Jima

Marine Bill Henderson dwells on the sudden traumatic experience of suddenly losing a comrade who is right beside him on the battlefield: “I was back trying to get the troops off of the beach, you know. And I looked, and I saw him, and it looked like he had buried himself up to his waist, you know, and I thought, “Wow, that’s real odd.” And I told him Buttermilk, “Get up, get going, you know, with it.” And he didn’t respond, you know, totally just had this blank look. And then he suddenly toppled over, and I realized that his bottom part had been blown away, and he only had just his torso was there, you know, with it. You always wondered why, you know, some guy next to you rather than you. I was not afraid of dying, I was only afraid of doing my duty, you know, with it. I wanted to make sure that I did not let my family down. And I sure didn’t want to let the Marine Corps down. So my main concern was doing my duty.”