Night Time Exposure of Mt. Suribachi, 1965 by Joe Richard
Iwo Jima Stories
USS Midway, Antisubmarine Helicopter Squadron 12 Wyverns (HS-12)
Time on Iwo Jima: Civilian Worker: 1993
United States Navy
Joe Pellam's Story:
The story on how I finally got to go to Iwo Jima was an interesting one and one of destiny.
Coming from a family were all 3 of my uncles were veterans (2 Army, 1 Air Force) and my Grand Father having served in the Army during WWII (mopping up on Guadalcanal and Bougainvillea islands) I pretty much knew what I wanted to do with my life and joined the Navy in August 1982 and eventually finishing my A school as an AX (Anti Submarine Warfare Technician) at NATTC Millington Tennessee.
Being a history nut I volunteered for, and got orders to the USS Midway as a member of Antisubmarine Helicopter squadron 12 Wyverns (HS-12) knowing that would get me to Japan for sure and hopefully I would get to see some famous WWII sites/battle fields. As luck would have it I made it to Corrigedor island, Nagasaki, Okinawa,Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Atsugi air base (Where Macarthur first landed in 1945) as well as the battle of the Java Sea area as we headed to Perth Australia to name a few. I also had the incredible luck of getting shore duty orders to NAF Atsugi Japan at AIMD and ended up spending 5 years there.
I was honorably discharged from the Navy in July of 1992 due to the military draw down as a result of the end of the cold war and decided I still wanted to see more of Japan so I got a job as a Detective at the Navy Exchange store at Atsugi after my discharge. Due to the dense population surrounding Atsugi and the problems of loud jet noise of the Midway air wing practicing their carrier practice touch n goes qualifications proceeding every Midway deployment the Navy determined that they would require an alternate location to conduct these touch n goes in a area less populated. This is were Iwo Jima once again gained value to the United States as a location that was well away from any population centers that would allow the pilots to practice.
Iwo Jima circa 1993 was a Japanese Self Defense force base used for patrol and rescue aircraft along with a very small Coast Guard detachment maintaining the navigational equipment on the northern part of the island. Because there are no real American facilities located on the island the American Squadrons using Iwo Jima had to bring their own comfort items such as soap, laundry detergent, soda, and of course, beer which was hard to do because of limited space and manpower. The Navy Exchange was asked if they would be interested in setting up a small convenience store on the island during the periods that the Navy was on the island. The first Navy Exchange response was no that they would have a hard time finding/sending civilian retail people to the island and thus opened up a window of opportunity for me to volunteer for the awful <smile> job of working on Iwo Jima. I informed my boss that I would sweep the runway if that is what it took for me to go to Iwo Jima.
My first trip to the island was on a C-130 with some Navy guys and 2 bags full of money to run the store that I was to run out of the barracks lounge selling Beer and soda only. Each successive trip improved the quality of goods sold to the point where we had our own space in the newly built Recreation center where we were selling Chips, soap, laundry detergent etc and we were also provide with an old van for use on the island.
This van permitted us to "explore" the island while filling the soda machines located at various points on the island. Of course I went to the top of Suribachi and stood on the spot where the worlds most famous photograph was taken as well as hiking down into the crater and down the other side. Before each trip to Iwo I would brush up on my history of the battle and then plan a trip to a certain location on the island. One of the more memorable locations was going to Hill 362A, an area of high contention during the battle as well as where "O'Hanson (from the first flag raising) was killed by sniper fire. I was able to clime up the tunnels made by the Japanese up to the top of the hill and then look over to the Nishi ridge area which was also another part of the battle and it help bring the scenes described in my books to life.
My favorite spot to go to alone every chance I got was Black sand beach or invasion beach where the landings took place and many additional famous photographs were made and just contemplate what this most hallowed ground meant to us Americans.
Hope you enjoyed this little short story of my connection to Iwo Jima and would be honored if you think this is good enough for your web page.
Note: To view images taken by the web master of World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words during his year on Iwo Jima, please click on the following link to my World War II Stories Photo Album:
WW II Stories: Iwo Jima Photo Album 1965-1966
Did YOU serve on Iwo Jima?
Did you know that there is a group of veterans who have gotten together to form an association of servicemen, no matter what branch of service, who served at one time or another starting at the invasion of the island on February 19, 1945 and continuing until the island was eventually returned to the Japanese in 1969?
Black Pearl Veterans
The materials depicted on this page were reprinted with kind permission of the subject of our essay -- Joseph Pellam.
We, at the World War II Stories - In Their Own Words web site wish to offer to Mr. Joseph Pellam our most profound THANK YOU for his poignant story of his personal experiences -- during his tour of Iwo Jima and especially for allowing us to share those memories.
Original story transcribed on 16 February 2005
September 5, 2002.
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Updated on 7 March 2006...1456:05 CST