Heroes: the U. S. M. C.
"...Well, I had breakfast on Honolulu, and a Japanese, fella, was sharing the table with me. In those days, no seat went un╔, it was just so crowded in Honolulu. And he was readin' the paper, and he put it down, and there was a picture of Mount Suribachi. I'd never heard of it. And, Iwo Jima I'd never heard of. And he pushed it across the table to me he said, " That's where you fellers are goin'". And I said, "Where is it?" He said, "It's up close to Japan." And I said, "How do you know that?" He said, "Ah, I just know it..."
Harry (J. R.) Kelley
- Branch of Service: U. S. Marine Corps
- Unit: Co. F, 2nd Btn, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Div.
- Dates: November 1943 - May 1946
- Location: Pacific Theater, Iwo Jima & Bonin Islands
- Birth Year: 1926
- Entered Service: Denver, CO
The following story of the battle for the small Pacific island of Iwo Jima was recorded on DVD.
The following is a transcript of the DVD interview conducted by Mr. Bill Morrison.
The transcript was undertaken by a good friend of World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words, Mr. Juris Ozols.
Interviewer Bill Morrison: Okay, today's date is June 11, 2007 and we're located at the Bob Stump VA Hospital, in Prescott, Arizona. Present with us today are:
Patsy Ray [?] coordinator and camera operator,
Gary Fuller, observer,
Michael Opain, observer,
Bernadette Kelley, observer and wife.
BM: Today we are interviewing Harry Kelley, or as he likes to be called, J. R. Kelley, who was born on June 29, 1926, and currently resides at 1716 Alpine Meadows Lane, # 1102, in Prescott, Arizona. Harry served in the United States Marine Corps from November 1943 until May of 1946 and participated in the battle for Iwo Jima. Good afternoon, Harry, welcome.
Harry Kelley: Thank you.
BM: I'm awfully glad that you're here. I think I talked to you the first time maybe late or early last winter, and I've been waiting for this interview since then.
HK: I'm honored to be here.
BM: Well we're honored to have you as our guest, believe me. What I'd like to do, J. R., is I'd kind of like to set the scene and learn a little bit about your earlier life. I know that you were born in 1926 and that you were born in Chicago. And I'd like to know, perhaps you could tell us a little bit about your family, whether you have brothers or sisters, and your father, what he did.
HK: Well, my father was a World War I vet and I think that's why I ended up as a Marine. He filled me with so many stories full of World War I and so forth. A patriotic man. When he got out of the service he was a dispatch rider, a motorcycle dispatch rider. And he got a job at Kansas City racing for the Indian dealer in Kansas City. Finished third in a hundred mile race and the Indian factory hired him and he raced all through the Twenties. That's the way he made his living.
And then in 1930, I guess I was there, and he decided to chuck his racing career cause it was pretty dangerous. And he opened up an Indian motorcycle agency in Hammond, Indiana, right next to Chicago. And that's where I was brought up till I was sixteen and I grew up in the motorcycle dealership. And Dad promoted races which I later promoted races an we just recently had our 37th charity motorcycle race in Dayton, Ohio. And we have raised over two and a half million dollars for local charities from that race.
BM: But Indian no longer exists.
HK: No, that's part of our╔ We went along with that. Indian went out of business, we took on Triumph and then Zundapp the German motorcycle and then Italian motorcycle Ducatti, and so forth. And then I started a, wholesale business, which still is in effect, in Dayton, Ohio.
BM: Well maybe we can get into that a little later╔
BM: To draw back again to your earlier life there, you were in a motorcycle family, that must have been pretty exciting for a kid.
HK: It was. And my Dad was, was a good racer. And I remember growing up, my earliest recollections of going to races was, we'd have a racing machine tied to each bumper and as we'd go to the races we'd crawl in and out the windows getting' to the races and so forth. And now they have big bands and everything else and they're very high tech. But in those days it was, Dad was paid fifty dollars a week and, Indian furnished him the motorcycles and then all he could win.
HK: So that's how he existed through the Twenties.
BM: Okay. Then along came, you, and╔
HK: And the agency, and I remember after the war I went to work for Dad and I asked him I said, " Back in Hammond, what kind of business did we do, Dad?" He said, " Three thousand dollars a year." I said, "You made three thousand." He said, "No. We grossed three thousand dollars."
BM: Not much.
HK: And the Indian Scout would sell for two hundred seventy five dollars. And things like that. I had no recollection as a kid, I was a happy kid, we played baseball in the alleys and the streets, we had no playgrounds╔
BM: Did you have any brothers and sisters?
HK: Nope, no.
BM: No brothers and sisters. And your Dad was a Marine veteran?
HK: No, an Army veteran.
BM: Army veteran, okay. But he used to talk about the Marine Corps?
HK: No╔ Just, he put a lot of patriotism into me and the then you saw the Marine publicity and so forth and when World War II started I wanted to join immediately.
BM: Okay, but in the meantime you were kind of, a high school kid when Pearl Harbor happened, you were about eighteen years old╔
HK: I was listening to the radio, it was a Sunday, I was listenin' to the Chicago Bears play the Chicago Cardinals and they interrupted the program said the Japs have attacked Pearl Harbor. And Dad was working at the shop trying to make ends meet. You can imagine with a three thousand dollar a year gross. And he came home and I said, "Dad, the Japs have attacked Pearl Harbor." And he said, "Where is it?" I said, "I don't know!" He said, "Well it doesn't matter. We'll kick the hell out of them in thirty days." Because we had bought some Japanese bicycles and they were just pure junk! We sold motorcycles and bicycles, see.
BM: So you didn't quite realize what was going on as far as Pearl Harbor was concerned?
HK: Well it changed our lives completely, because╔
BM: Oh, sure. But at the time of the radio announcement it didn't mean much to you.
HK: We didn't even know where it was, didn't even know where it was.
BM: So eventually you discovered what a historical event it was and it was going to have a huge impact on your life.
HK: Well, the first thing is, Indian went 100% war effort. So it put Dad out of business. So Dad sold his stock and bein' from the West, his sister had twenty-one sections of land out on the Kansas &endash; Colorado line. And Dad, being a patriot, wanted to raise beef for the Army. So we moved out there and he got two sections of land and, uh, our first job was to build a barbed wire fence around these two sections so our cattle wouldn't get mixed up with Lulu's, his sister's. And that was quite a chore. You know two sections is two miles square.
BM: And you worked that╔
HK: Just with a posthole digger, just manually, diggin' postholes and stringin' fence.
BM: So you picked up and moved from Chicago out to the Midwest?
HK: Out there, yeah. Went to an auction and bought a horse, a beautiful white horse. I thought I'd be like the Lone Ranger.
HK: And I named him "Silver."
BM: ╔more laughter╔
HK: And he had eaten loco. I bought him for thirty-five dollars. And he was the cheapest horse sold at the thing and he was a beauty. And it turned out he was loco. He had eaten some loco weed. They had him doped up at the horse barn so that he was calm. And when we got him back he was just a maniac.
BM: I'm surprised that you and your Dad weren't driving cattle with Indian motorcycles.
HK: Well, you know, technology is changed. The motorcycles of those days were big and heavy, you wouldn't ride 'em off road very much.
BM: Yeah, okay, well, uhh╔ November 1943 came along, I think you were about seventeen years old, why don't you tell us what happened to you then.
HK: Well I had turned seventeen in June, and my Dad wouldn't sign for me. You had to have the parents sign for you. And I said, "Dad, you went in when you was sixteen." And the Army found out and kicked him out and then when he was seventeen he went back in." And then he said, "Yeah, but I was a man. You're just a baby."
And he wouldn't sign for me and we almost came to fisticuffs. We come into several bear hugs. And finally he agreed, that he would sign for me and we drove to Denver. From, the Kansas line you know that's quite a hike, probably two hundred miles. And I passed my physical in two days and I was in the Marine Corps.
BM: So again, you selected the Marine Corps because of all of the publicity the Marine Corps had, and╔
HK: And I heard they were a real fightin' outfit and I'm seventeen, I was ready.
BM: And did any of your buddies join you?
BM: No? Didn't have any friends that wanted to go along or anything such as╔
HK: Well, on the train ride from Denver to, San Diego there were six other fellers that had enlisted in the Marines. And they put me in charge of the six, even though I was just seventeen, I don't know what the other six looked like. But I remember I got into a poker game, first poker game I ever played with the porters on the train, and I won forty-five dollars. And I thought that was a big bunch of money╔
BM: The luck of the Kelley's, the luck of the Irish so to speak?
HK: And the train hit a car so we were late getting' into San Diego. So we got to the depot at about midnight and I remember walking up there's this sergeant behind the desk and a little dim light up over his desk, and I said "Hi there!"
HK: And he looked up at me and he said, "What in the hell do you want?" And I said, "Well I'm Kelley and I'm here, I'm a Marine." He said, "Boy, we're dragging the bottom of the barrel now."
HK: Just ripped at us, and sent us upstairs, to bunk in. It's midnight. And he give us a mattress sack. And I'd never seen a mattress sack in my life and he said, "Make up your sack, and I'll be back to check it out before you get in it." Well, almost an hour goes by and he hadn't come back, I thought, well a mattress sack you just crawl in it. So I crawled in it and put the pillow down, went to sleep and the next thing I know I'm on the floor. And he's just cussin' me out as a hillbilly and "Don't you know what a mattress sack is?" and this and that and showed us, about four o'clock he got us squared away and we finally pulled the covers up and the bugle went off at five, to get up.
BM: Welcome to the Marine Corps.
HK: Yeah. And then it was just double time from there on all the way through boot camp.
BM: Before you joined, had you been following the war?
HK: Oh, yeah.
BM: Did you realize what a brutal campaign the Marines had in the Pacific╔
HK: Oh absolutely!
BM: How Guadalcanal had taken place, Tarawa had taken place. And you still wanted to get in there though.
HK: Absolutely. Well that's from my father's upbringing.
BM: Yeah, yeah, well, great. And so you ended up in San Diego, in boot camp?
HK: I went through boot camp.
BM: How long was boot camp in those days?
HK: I think it was eight weeks. And then at the end of boot camp I enlisted, or volunteered for the paratroopers. But you had to be eighteen to be a paratrooper. So I enlisted in, I volunteered for the Raiders. And I went out, and the Raiders were still in action then. And, I trained with the Raiders for about six weeks, and then they did away with the Raiders, and the paratroopers, and made the Fifth Marine Division.
BM: I see, okay. But going eight weeks through boot camp, did you have any problems with that?
HK: Oh sure, you have problems, but, uh, there was a bunch of other Irish kids in that thing, and, you know, in those days, if you're Polish you call them a Polack or an Irish booger [?] or a Hungarian &endash; nobody paid any attention to it. Nowadays you get sued for saying somethin' like that. But we all got along good.
And I'll never forget, you never, our DI was a corporal, and he was a god to us, you know, he was such a thing, you never saw an officer. And on one Sunday, they had us, the whole group of, of Companys, that was there, probably eight hundred of us, on a big parade field standing at attention, and a Major came walkin' through the companys inspectin'. And of course he would just go right through and never stop at any one, and when he come to our platoon he stopped right in the front row with our Polish guy, who was "Ski" to us. And he grabbed his rifle and he's looking through it and he said, "What's the powder in the grenade way?" And Ski goes "blbppbbloopblllpp." And he just scared him to death!
And it struck a funny bone, and, and we're all biting our lip to keep from laughing, because we're scared to death of this Major. And he finally, they wrote his, Ski's name down for extra police duty because he didn't know the thing and he walked past us I remember a fellow by the name of Hogan turned around and did this to me ╔Harry puts his right hand in his ear and wiggles his fingers╔ and I just burst out laughing. The DI, I thought he was gonna die, and he turned around and he come up to me and took my name down and the Major says, "Make sure he pays for that," and this and that, and went on.
And then the next night, or that night, Ski and I went to a tent, an empty tent that they had, we was all in tents. And the DI put a bucket of sand right in the middle of it and then we had to scrape it out with toothbrushes. And we scraped, and we were so scared of the Marines, we scraped it, and at about two in the morning, or three, we had it completely clean. The DI come walking in and says, "I see a speck there." And he dumped another bucket there and says, "Get it better this time." And we spent the whole night cleaning up that tent. That's from a little burst of laughter in the ranks.
BM: During boot camp.
HK: During boot camp!
BM: Was that about your most memorable experience in boot camp?
HK: Well, there's other funny things that went on, but that was the most╔
BM: Yeah, yeah. So had you figured by the time you got out of boot camp, eight weeks later that you'd made a mistake or were you happy?
HK: Oh, no, I was looking forward to it &endash; I enjoyed the Marines.
BM: You have a good feeling about it?
BM: Okay. Very good. And then eight weeks later, you went into Raider training?
HK: Went to Raider training at San Clemente. And the very first day they took us, full packs and rifles and everything, and we ran down, we didn't jog, we ran just as fast as we could for a mile down the beach in the sand, and he came to some cliffs, and he says, "Okay, we're teaching you cliff climbing." And there's two Marines up on top the cliff, they drop down a rope with a loop in it, you put your rifle in it, and they pull you up. You walk right up the cliff! The cliff was thirty foot high, or so.
And, then coming down you had to put the rope between your legs and jump out with your gripping some way and bounce back into the cliff and, I looked at that, I was the first up. But I couldn't quite figure out how to get down, and guys were falling down and doing everything else. And I got over the edge of the cliff and I'm standin' there holding the rope and I said to the sergeant, I said, "Now, do I let go with this hand, or what do I do?" He said, "You get your ass down that cliff!" And I, lost, lost it, went fallin' down, as I fell down I grabbed the rope and slid all the way down, took every bit of skin off of my hands.
The helmet come down and hit me on the nose, my nose was bleeding, and the lieutenant was there just chewin' me out. And we loaded up and doubled time back to camp, hands bleeding, nose bleeding, and everything else. And I got, what did I get, "light duty" because of my hands and my nose. And that really burnt my sergeant up. And he'd run into our tent, every, oh every hour or so to make sure I wasn't sittin' down &endash; I couldn't sit down, I had to stand up all that time. So when he was away I'd sit down, in the middle of the floor and watch for him under the flaps, and if I hear him runnin' I'd jump up to my feet.
HK: And I was on light duty for about a week and then I went back to duty. And then of course we got absorbed into the Fifth Marine Division.
BM: So, how long were you training to be a Raider before that happened?
HK: Probably about five weeks.
BM: So now you've been thirteen weeks in the Marine Corp.
HK: Yeah. And then we went to tent camp, too. I think it was, at Pendleton, way out in the boondocks.
BM: But here you are, thirteen weeks out of high school, accustomed to chasing girls and now you're a Marine.
BM: Did you like that?
BM: Happy with all of the decisions you made, you had good feelings about that?
HK: Uh huh. No problems. I just went right on through. And met a bunch of great guys. Just your buddies. Well I think your friends got you through it all.
BM: Yeah, they helped.
HK: They helped a lot.
BM: So you were happy with the decision you made.
HK: In the tent I had we had guys from, uh, South Carolina, Mississippi, I was Kansas, and where else was it? Rip, the corporal in the next tent, was from, uh, an eastern college. I'm not sure, Yale or some place, and he'd get letters from his girl friend who was still at Yale, and they would be big, long letters, and hard to read, you know, with things, so we'd answer, the whole tent would answer her letters for, with Rip. We'd get a dictionary and look up the longest word we could find, and then build a sentence around it.
HK: And that would take a whole, that's the kind where you would pass your idle time.
BM: That was your social life?
HK: That was your social life.
BM: No liberty?
HK: Oh, yeah, on weekends, when we had money.
BM: Yeah. And where would you go on liberty?
HK: Uh, we, our tent would go into Comstock's╔ in Compton, California.
HK: And Pappy Comstock was a, ex-pitcher for the, uh, St. Louis Cardinals. And just the nicest guy, and treated us just like, family. So we made all our liberties right there.
BM: I see, okay.
HK: Had a great time.
BM: So you went up north in the LA area?
HK: We'd hitchhike, right on Route 1, everything was orange fields in those days.
BM: None of this San Diego/Tijuana business for J.R.?
HK: No, no, we all went north.
BM: Okay, so once you were absorbed in the Fifth Division, or the Fifth Division was formed, if you will, what was happening to you at that point in time? Training?
HK: A lot of training, every day. And we attacked every hill and if you know Pendleton it's all full of hills &endash; I think we attacked every hill that was at Pendleton, and then in our training we invaded Catalina, or not Catalina, uh, Clemente Island. San Clemente Island. And the surf was so high we turned over several Higgins boats and lost quite a few Marines, that were drowned during that.
And we got on to that, that was supposed to be just to teach us how to get out of the Higgins boats onto a beach. And the surf was so high they couldn't get us off the island and we had to spend the night there with no chow, no nothing, see, cause they didn't have it planned on that. And the whole island was cactus. And I remember we'd go out there with our K-bars, just dig up cactus so we could lay down. And we spent the night there just in our dungarees, cold miserable╔
BM: Your were Marines.
HK: Yeah, and no big deal. That was just part of it.
HK: And then another one, uh, same type of thing, only we landed at Long Beach. And there was a bar right there at Long Beach that charged us a small fortune, took our pay, when we'd go there. And we all had our faces painted and then camouflage and so forth. And we didn't have ammunition, blank powder. And smoke grenades. And a couple of my buddies ran over to this bar when we hit the beach and threw smoke grenades in there. Scared the livin' hell out of everybody in the whole place.
HK: And they wanted, really raised hell, wanted to know who did it, and nobody knew anything.
BM: Okay. Well you were underage, couldn't drink anywhere, right?
BM: But you managed.
HK: Managed to get around that a little bit.
BM: I'm sure. How much time are you involved with the Fifth Marine Division there at Pendleton?
HK: I think we trained there for about eight or nine months.
BM: Quite a long time.
BM: Before you were shipped overseas.
HK: And then we got notice, which is part of my story, a very important part, is, they told us we could send home for our sidearms. And take our sidearms overseas, we're going overseas. So I had, there had been some cattle rustling out in Kansas so I had bought a 32 pistol, to carry, in case anybody was stealing our cattle. It wasn't like old cowboys &endash; they'd back up a truck and get about six or eight, ten, head in there and take off.
So I, on a Sunday, we didn't have any money in my whole tent, was there, so I hitchhiked a ride to the main camp, and Railroad Express had my package with my pistol and I hitchhiked back to our tent camp, unpacked my pistol, and went to the Captain's tent to report it. Everybody's on liberty so I couldn't report it. Just a mail orderly was there. Thank goodness he was there. And I went back three different times to report the pistol, but nobody was ever there. And the mail orderly, I forget his name, he said, "If the Captain or the Top comes in, I'll run up to your tent and tell you."
Well, in the meantime I cleaned it, laid it out on my bunk, and we're just stationary, cause we were broke, we don't have any dough to go on liberty. And Jaggie [?] who was in the next tent, and part of our squad, came over to our tent, picked up my pistol and wadded up paper, put it in there, and got to spinning the chamber. And would point it at us and pull the trigger. And we'd tell him, I said, "Don't point a gun at us, don't do that." And he kept saying Russian Roulette is a bunch of bull, because the paper never comes up. The bullet never comes up."
And he'd done that for about fifteen, twenty minutes and we lost, we just didn't pay any more attention to him, we were readin' the Sunday funnies, or the paper, and I'm reading the Sunday funnies. I remember I'm leaning back on my elbows and I remember looking up over the jokes, and I could see that brass cartridge coming, and the hammer going shut, and it just seemed like slow motion to me, and I remember I said,"J╔" And the shot went off. And he was dead.
BM: Oh, my gosh.
HK: And they put me up for a general court-martial. Because it was my weapon, unregistered. And it was, the whole thing, just, no officer would volunteer to defend me, in our battalion. Because the Colonel was really puttin' the pressure on this. The fourth guy that had gotten shot with a sidearm. So they were gonna to make an example out of me.
And finally after about three weeks, and, I'd go out and train during the day but when I'd come back at night they'd station a guard at my thing, I wasn't allowed out of my tent. And after about three weeks the Captain called me to the tent and he said, "Kelley, I've been arguing with the Colonel, I've been pleadin' your case, and if you'll accept a summary court martial, that'll be the end of it. But you'll have to spend thirty days in the brig." And I'm seventeen, I'm just╔ I said, "Sure, I'll do it."
And I'm about to sign the paper and my sergeant comes in &endash; he'd been goin' around trying to get somebody to defend me. In case there was a trial. And he come in and he said, "Beggin' the Captain's pardon but I've got counsel for Kelley. And the Captain was really ticked at both of us, the sergeant and me. And we went over about a mile away was the 27th Marines, another battalion. And there was a criminal attorney there, that was a lieutenant. And, introduced me to him, in his tent, this was a tent just like we all had. And he said, "Oh, this is just Marine justice going awry." He said, " Don't even worry about it." He said, "It, it, you're innocent." He said, "Just go back, live your life, and when they have the trial I'll see you there."
Cause he had heard about it. I guess the rumors had gone around. And finally they had my trial and he just made a mockery of the thing. And it didn't last thirty, forty minutes, and they found me innocent. And the Lieu╔, the prosecutor turned out to be my new platoon leader after that. And he disliked me and I disliked him, and we went to Hawaii and we had our little troubles. 'Course he always won.
BM: Really? I would have never imagined. Did you get your pistol back?
HK: I tried to give it to the lieutenant that defended me, and he didn't want it. He said, "Nah, it was my pleasure helpin' you." And I took that pistol apart, every piece of it, and threw it in a gully, there at Camp Pendleton. I didn't even want to see it again. I hated it.
BM: I guess, I guess╔ Okay.
HK: And then we went overseas. And I had this lieutenant╔
BM: To Hawaii.
HK: To Hawaii. And we trained at Camp Tarawa. On the big island, way up north. For about seven months. And we attacked, again, every damn hill, there would be, so we knew when we got into combat we were gonna to attack a hill.
BM: You were now officially in this unit that you went on to Iwo with.
HK: Oh, yes. We had been trained together for eight months at Pendleton, and then seven more months at Hawaii.
BM: So you were a good, cohesive unit, at that╔
HK: I thought we were great.
BM: Yeah. Getting good training.
HK: Yeah. And I'm in the mortar platoon.
BM: How did you get into mortars?
HK: They just assigned me to mortar platoon. I was a lousy shot, I guess that's why, on the range.
BM: ╔laughs╔ And did they assign you to mortars when you were in Hawaii? Or╔
HK: No, back at Pendleton.
BM: Okay, alright. When you went from Pendleton over to Hawaii you went on a troop transport, obviously. Was life good aboard ship?
HK: Oh, yeah. Then we would just sing songs, the thing was a liberty ship and it would creak and groan, and some of the wise guys would say, "Oh, I know about this shipbuilding, that weld doesn't sound good. It's going to break in two." Because every time it'd go up it'd go "Errrrrr kuhhh." Like that. I mean constantly. And then you're crammed in there, I think four high, into bunks, way down below. And all you did was get in line to go to chow, eat breakfast, and then go back get in line to go to lunch. Because you'd wind down through the ship.
BM: No calisthenics?
HK: No, no. It was just too crowded.
BM: Okay, now a liberty ship would have to take a long to get over to Hawaii.
HK: Five days.
BM: Five days? Well, that's not too bad.
BM: And did you have the top bunk or the bottom bunk?
HK: I had about the middle.
BM: The middle╔
HK: It was a miserable bunk.
BM: Well, alright╔
HK: Guys would, would get seasick above you, and vomit over the side.
BM: That's why I asked you the question. ╔laughs╔
HK: ╔laughs╔ If I'd had my druthers I'd have taken the top bunk after that.
BM: Well. you have to learn that the hard way I guess. Okay. So, when you were in Hawaii you said about seven months, eight months there, training.
HK: Training, every day.
BM: How about social life?
BM: None at all?
BM: This ended up being a staging area, I believe, for the invasion of Iwo Jima, did it not? Camp Tarawa, now lots of Marines there.
BM: Lots and lots of Marines.
HK: Yeah, the whole Division was there. The one thing I remember when we moved into Camp Tarawa it' s probably about twenty dogs and they were just skin and bone. And somehow, the chow was so bad, all of us would just scrape our plates off and let the dogs eat it. And when we left there the dogs couldn't keep up with us on a hike. We were still in trim but the dogs got so fat they could hardly move.
BM: ╔laughter╔ How about the scuttlebutt going along by now, did╔
HK: Oh, well, we left Hawaii and went to Honolulu and had two days there. Half our company got liberty &endash; they give us ten dollars, as a special pay to go out and enjoy your liberty, and half the company got liberty one night and the other half got it the next night. And myself and two guys from my tent, went in and we just hung on to our ten dollars trying to figure out how to spend it.
And we went to a place and you could have one drink and you moved on. They wouldn't let you have two drinks in the bars. Because it was so packed with servicemen. And we had one drink, and we moved on, and we must have walked half a day, just around the city of Honolulu, and we found a place, Kelly's Steakhouse, and we went in there and blew our whole wad. And now we're down at about nine o'clock and we went back to the docks and we didn't want to go back aboard ship. So we just sat there. And we'd had one drink, that's all, and we just sat there and watched our buddies come stragglin' in, so drunk! How they could get so drunk on ten dollars I'll never know.
But it was a real sight, just watching that, and the swabbies were battin' them around with batons and everything, they had whiskey taped to their legs and under their arms and everything trying to get it aboard ship. They never got a thing aboard ship, and it was a sight. We stayed there till twelve o'clock, when it's time to go up, and we went up the gangplank and went aboard ship.
BM: And, what happened then?
HK: Just, everybody got sick. ╔chuckles╔
HK: And were vomiting all over the place till it smelled terrible.
BM: Okay, was this a troop transport that you were on?
HK: And we left there on January the 1st, or the 2nd, cause we spent the 1st in Hawaii. And, uh, we stayed aboard that ship till we got to Saipan, which was three days before Iwo, so that'd be the 16th of February, so from the 2nd of January, the whole month of January, and then half the month of February, on that troop transport.
BM: At what point in time did you realize your objective was Iwo Jima?
HK: Ah, listening to Tokyo Rose.
HK: We'd go down below, and somebody had a radio, and she'd come on. And she'd identify our outfit and everything and say, "We know you're comin' to Iwo Jima. We're waitin' for you. All of you will die there." And so forth, and yeah, yeah╔
BM: But your, you know, your platoon leader, your company commander, nobody has passed word down on this is what, this is╔
HK: Well, when we transferred from our troop transport to an LCI, at Saipan. And that's another thing. I got even with my lieutenant, there. His, he had given me a lot of extra police duty while we was out in Hawaii. For nothing. Because╔
BM: This was the guy that╔
HK: That prosecuted me. And we were on Higgins Boats going from the troop transport to the LCI, and the waves, were just up and down, probably twenty, thirty feet. And you'd go over on the net, and you'd have all your pack on, your rifle, everything you own. And it was heavy. And you'd get on this net, and the boat, the Higgins boat would come up here and you'd go to step off and it just drop down. Well, I made about three steps off and it dropped out from under me and the lieutenant was down there on the boat and he said, "Kelley, the next time that comes up you step off regardless!" So when it came up I stepped off and I felt my body just falling through the air. And I came down right on his head.
HK: And his helmet came down and bloodied his nose, and he was sayin', "You did that on purpose!" ╔laughing╔ I said, "Like hell!" I said, "I'm not fallin' through the air for like that for that!"
HK: And everybody'd nudge me and say, "Good job!" ╔laughs╔
BM: ╔laughter╔ Oh, so nobody really liked this guy?
BM: Hmm. Okay. But he continued to be your platoon leader for╔
HK: Yeah. And he was gonna be our platoon leader at Iwo &endash; I'll finish that. And then, on the three days going to Iwo on this LCI, it was just our Company, on this LCI. And, you know, we'd left the other Companys on, each Company had their own LCI.
BM: Describe an LCI for us.
HK: Well, what, it's a small boat that would hold about three hundred men. I imagine that's what's in a Company. And, uh, there's no bunks on it, we just slept on deck wherever you could a place to sleep. And, down below, they had the amtracks. And the front of the boat would drop down, and you'd come out of that into the ocean, and╔
BM: So it's a smaller version of an LST, then.
HK: Yeah, I guess. And we practiced several times, we'd stop and practice goin' down and finding our amtrack and going out into the ocean and then coming back into the LCI. And "Landing Craft Infantry" is what they called it. And, uh, a Gunny Sergeant, came aboard our, ship, and he had been at Iwo he said, for two weeks, him and his crew, swimmin' in and clearin' out any obstructions that was in the ocean, that would hold up the amtracks from reachin' the beach, blowin' 'em up. And he had been a, a veteran of the Spanish -American War. Boy he was just, cold-hearted, and, everything, I remember all the instructions he was givin' us and so forth.
BM: He had to be pretty old, too.
HK: Yeah, he was. And he was showin' us where we was gonna to hit and where we was goin', and had a little model of the island there, Iwo Jima and so forth.
BM: So that was the first point you realized you were doing Iwo Jima?
HK: Well, I had breakfast on Honolulu, and a Japanese, fella, was sharing the table with me. In those days, no seat went un╔, it was just so crowded in Honolulu. And he was readin' the paper, and he put it down, and there was a picture of Mount Suribachi. I'd never heard of it. And, Iwo Jima I'd never heard of. And he pushed it across the table to me he said, " That's where you fellers are goin'". And I said, "Where is it?" He said, "It's up close to Japan." And I said, "How do you know that?" He said, "Ah, I just know it."
HK: It still didn't mean anything to me cause I'd never heard of Suribachi, Iwo Jima, or anything. Now we're on the LCI and Rip, the corporal in another squad, and I were good friends. And he said, "Kelley, he's the one we wrote the long letters to his girlfriend. And he said, "Isn't it strange? Iwo Jima. Bonin Islands. We never heard of it before. And just think. Some of us might spend the rest of our lives there. And I said oh I didn't think much of it, you know at, at eighteen. And, uh, I'll tell you a little bit about after the first day, about Rip, too. Then we hit the island, finally. We were supposed to be in the, uh, ninth waves but things got messed up. And we were in the sixth wave.
BM: On the first day.
HK: On the first day. Twenty minutes after the first wave.
BM: Before you tell us about that, I'd like to know a little bit more about your feelings, and what your thoughts were, your first sight of Iwo Jima, and then told to go down and get in your amphibians then╔
BM: What was going through your head?
HK: They also told us how they had been bombing, Iwo, for somethin' like six months. And how all the ships had been shellin' it for three days. And they said it's gonna, the campaign is gonna to last around 45 hours. And it'll be over. And we thought well, that's not too bad. No big deal. But we were all, ready to get off the ship. We were tired of being out at sea. And being so crowded and smelly. And just wasn't the kind of life we liked. And we were all eager to get on land.
BM: Okay. So, you're ready to go.
HK: Ready to go.
BM: Ready to go. And off you went in the sixth wave.
HK: Now we're in the amtrack I remember they told us to keep our heads down. And I kept stickin' my head up to see it and I remember the Corsairs came in and dropped flame, all along the beach. And the whole beach was on fire. And I duck back down and I'd say to the guys, "God, there aren't going to be any Japs left. There gonna kill 'em all." I said, "We're just gonna to go there and patrol it."
So really all of us thought the same thing that it wasn't gonna to be, that tough. And my job and Tobin's job, they had machine gun tins full of water. And we were to throw out, ten tins each, quite heavy, over the side of the amtrack. That was gonna to be part of the water, emergency water for us.
And, uh, we hit the beach and they dropped the rear gate down on the amtrack and all the guys went out and Tobin and I are throwin' over the thing and, the coxswain says, "You guys, if you want out you get out, cause I'm leavin' this place &endash; there's machine gun bullets, hittin' the amtrack." So I'd only got about, three tins thrown out, and I went runnin' back out the back and Tobin did too.
And some of the guys are comin' in already that had just run out, wounded, blood all over 'em. And my lieutenant was one of 'em. He'd just run out and got shot and run back in the amtrack. So, I never did see him again.
And I went out and, and I thought there'd be Japs runnin' around and you'd shoot at 'em and so forth. And I come out and we were so close to the ocean the water was runnin' up on my feet up over my ankles. And I came out with my, and I had a carbine. And I had it ready to shoot, and all I saw was thousands and thousands of Marines, and were just layin' shoulder to shoulder.
And, I came out and I walked out of the water a little bit, the amtrack was gone, and I sort of, nudged my way in between a couple of Marines and I said, "What's the scoop, what's goin' on?" And he said, " Well, see that terrace up ahead? The Japs are just layin' down machine gun fire so bad we can't get over that terrace. And we're all ganged up here." And we were just shoulder to shoulder.
And about that time, the Japs started shellin' the beach. And each shell would throw three or four bodies up in the air. And we just sensed, well, we just gotta get over that terrace.
And it was hard to run because it was so soggy with volcanic ash. And, you couldn't get a grip to run, you just sort of walk fast. But there's shell holes everywhere. And I remember as we got over the first terrace, a Marine right next to me slumped down probably, fifteen yards away, thirty yards. I'm not sure now. But we were in a hole. And there's holes everywhere as you know, from the shelling. And we kept yelling to him &endash; "You need help?" And so forth. And, he, didn't answer. So I took my pack off, and I ran up to him, and I kept sayin' "Now put your arm over me and I'll get you back to this hole." We knew he was wounded. And he didn't answer and I pulled him over and as I turned him over to get him on to me, half his head was missing. So I knew he was dead.
And then you could just, very quiet, ╔raps on the table╔ could see puddles of sand bouncing around you. It was the machine guns hittin' around you. But you couldn't hear 'em too much. And I ran back and I leaped for my hole and I missed the hole, I was short. I was so anxious to get in the hole I jumped too quick, and I rolled and got in the hole. And from then on we put our gear back on, and you'd run ten feet to the next hole. Cause we knew where we was supposed to be on the island. And then ten feet to the next hole. And just jog going from hole to hole. And other Marines would come jumping in the hole, not any part of your outfit. Everything got confused. People were way out of place. And, they'd say, "Look at my helmet!" Bullet holes in his helmet. "Look at my pack!" Half of it was gone. "Look at my canteen!" Canteens were gone, just shot off, you know, and things like that.
BM: Well you'd never been shot at before and this was your first experience. What, what's going through your head, here?
HK: I remember that. Vividly. I, all of a sudden reality hit, and I said, "Gosh. Maybe I'll never see my mom and dad again!" And, and then, fear. And then, nothing to fight. You had╔ If you could fight back, if you could fight back you'd a felt better. But, there was nothing to fight. Never even fired my weapon hardly except I shot into Suribachi just out of frustration hopin' I'd hit somthin'.
BM: And you had gotten rid of your mortars now. Mortars were no╔
HK: No, no, we still, we were still a unit. And we finally at about two in the afternoon got to where we was supposed to be right in the middle of the island. And now we're gonna to go to Suribachi. And the 27th Marines got to, up close to there, and they swing right to go to the airfields.
And, uh, we were in this big hole and a whole group of us, big gigantic shell hole. And some Marine came runnin' up and he hit the bar down, your aiming bar on the mortar sound [?] and said, "Fire for effect!" And three hundred yards, or whatever yardage, and man, we had the mortar set up and we just started dropping shells in like crazy.
And one shell was a misfire, and I remember during training, on one of our train we had a misfire and they cleared the whole area out and just two of us stayed there. And we disconnected the bottom of the mortar tube, raised it up, and the other one held it with his thumbs out. And they gently slid that live ammo into our hands, and we took it out and put it down and put a safety pin into it. You know.
Well, during that rapid fire, huh, we had that and some guy did it and did it, and caught it one handed, put it down and dropped it back down and we fired about thirty rounds off like that. And the guy was layin' up ahead, the observer, said, "You got 'em all." We never did see 'em, but he said, "You got twenty or thirty of 'em."
BM: How did he see them? The forward observer?
HK: He was forward. He was, about, oh, thirty yards ahead of us on a little rise. And then, a big mortar, their one-fifty mortars went off in front of us. Then another one just a few seconds later went off behind us. Well, if you're a mortar man, they've got you bracketed. And the next one's goin' to come down right into you. And Rip said, "Get outta here, they got us bracketed!" And we just spread out in the hole, right down in that hole. And Rip went runnin' straight back. And the next mortar come right down between his legs, and he was gone.
And I ran to the right, and there was a tank, over there, they got a tank up there, and they were hittin' it with the mortars. And it went on fire. And I'm layin' there just gettin' bombarded from that tank you know, and exploding and catchin' on fire. And a few guys came runnin' out of the tank, made it out of the tank, alive. And then finally I just got back to our hole, and we gathered back there again, we never used our mortars again. That was the end of the mortars.
BM: You became a rifleman.
HK: I, spent, the next, uh, see, that would be D-Day, second, third, I spent the next two days in, in the command post with the mortar squad. And then I got to feelin', bad, because we didn't do anything, just layin' on our belly all day. And here our other guy, our other, squads were up there, fightin' with the rifles, so I went to the captain and volunteered to be a rifleman. And of course they needed riflemen cause we were losin' 'em like crazy. And I went up to be a rifleman.
BM: And that means, you went up Suribachi at that time?
HK: No. It was the fourth day, and, this squad had met back and got a bit of relief, and got some chow, back in the CP, and I joined that squad. And I don't even remember what squad it was, just some of the guys from the Company. And we spread all out. You never, was in a group, you'd just spread out. And started walkin' toward Suribachi. We had already gotten up to the base of Suribachi, the third night.
And we're walkin' along, and, an interesting story. We had a fellow by the name of Joe Blow. And all during training, the captain would say, "Now we're in combat." And the captain had been in combat before. He said, "If Joe Blow gets shot don't run over to Joe Blow." And Joe Blow would always say, "Captain, use another name. Don't use Joe Blow!"
HK: And, uh, right to my right, as we're hiking back up to the base of Suribachi, which we'd been there the night before, a single shot rings out and it's Joe Blow. And he's dead. And finally we got up to the base of Suribachi. And, it was just sort of moppin' up. The guys had already done the job, and we're just sort of securin' the caves and so forth and I'm on sort of an incline shootin' into a cave with my M-1 I've got an M-1 now.
And Murphy, another good buddy of mine, on the third day had gotten, and he's a battler, there was a brave Marine. He had shot a bunch of Japs and he had gotten their rifles and he got six Jap rifles and went back to the beach and traded 'em to a Navy guy for a Tommy Gun. And I was a lousy shot, so I said, "Hey, Murph, if you get shot I want your Tommy Gun." He said, "Well, White's got it first, you're second." I had it within a day. They both got shot and I had the Tommy Gun right up till I got shot.
BM: Hmm╔ So, going up Suribachi, is, was that a memorable experience to you?
HK: Uh╔ Fifth morning. We're going around, I'm going with Sergeant Callahan who's got a great big handlebar mustache. And we're goin' around cleanin' up the base. You know, I've got the M-1 and I'm shootin' into caves. And then he'd come up and shoot flame into 'em, to, to secure it. And we'd done about four or five caves and we looked up and we saw a flag up there. And we said, "Oh my God, they've taken Suribachi, they've gotten up to the top." Well, that was a squad of E Company, who had been in reserve, behind us, had gone up there, raised a flag, and evidently, uh, the Japs started shootin' at 'em. And they came back down the hill. So, but the flag was up there, and we, saw it, it was, had been taken.
Then a squad, four guys from our company &endash; Watson, Murcer, White, and Charlough [?], the Indian &endash; uh, went on a patrol and went clear to the top of Suribachi and back down without firing a shot, never seein' a Jap. And, we had been cleanin' up these caves, and oh I've got to tell you about Callahan. We came to one cave and I shot into it and he came up close, put the flame thrower in there and shot and it, the cave made a turn, and the flame hit the, the turn of the cave and bounced back and burned his mustache clear, right off. And he had been spendin' all the time we had been in Hawaii growing that thing. And now he looked a mess. With that╔ We give him hell how, about what a flamethrower expert he was and this and that.
BM: Did you ever run across any Japanese yet?
HK: No, hadn't seen a Jap yet.
BM: Haven't seen one.
HK: Not one.
BM: Did you ever see one?
HK: Oh yeah.
HK: And, the Captain called and said, "We've got the honor, Company F, of taking Mount Suribachi. I need volunteers." I'd been only on the lines, that, that, the day before. And he took three of us, and we went ahead of the Company, and just started walking up Suribachi. It was a bit spooky. You know, you, you thought Japs were gonna keep comin' out all around. Still hadn't seen a Jap. And then you'd hear a grenade go off, and a Jap would come tumblin' down the hill. It surprised me so much I wouldn't even shoot him, you know. He'd come tumblin' right past me. Three or four Japs committed hari-kari on our way up, and blew themselves up and would blow right out of a hole.
And we got to the top of the island, or the top of the mountain. And, then, Callahan and I went around blowin,' doin' the caves again, same thing. We spent about an hour up there and pretty soon everything was pretty secure. Oh, and we broke into a big cave with a quartermaster corp.
And we'd, I forgot the night before I'd spent the night, and it was, this is before we went up to the top, that night, the fourth night. And it was hard diggin' because there's rocks there, and you had to dig in and there's all kinds of rumors that the Japs were comin' out and this and that. And I found, a ditch. And I got two of my buddies, I said, "We don't need to, bust our, buns, diggin' a hole, get in this ditch." It was about fifty degrees that night, cause we were chilly. Real chilly. Cause we'd been trainin' in the hot weather.
And it started rainin'. And this ditch turned out to be the drainage ditch of Mount Suribachi. And about two in the morning, I felt water runnin' over my behind. And then pretty soon it's just gushing down up over our belly buttons. And we were just, so miserable. But you couldn't get up. You get up, you'd get shot. That was a long night, spendin' that night.
So when we broke into this quartermaster corp, up at the top, I got me a, Jap raincoat. And put it on. Of course the sleeves came to about here ╔ points to his forearm... And, uh, I was real proud of that, and it was warm! You know, just for the dungarees. And then we climbed down the mountain, and went into the volcano &endash; it was still steamy.
BM: You mean you went into the crater.
HK: Into the crater. And it was gravel. And we'd walk around on that, and our feet got real hot, from that, so we climbed back up, and we were just elated. For the first time, all the pressure's off. And we're so happy, probably fifteen, twenty of us are in a big hole, and you just looked around the island, and there was nine hundred ships out there. It looked like two thousand ships, you know. And we thought we had taken our objective and we were goin' home tomorrow. You remember they said forty-eight hours. And this is five days, and we were just elated! And we were just, pickin' out what ship we're gonna go home on, the typical comment, "Gonna go home on that one!" And, "No, no, let's go home on this one! See it's settin' lower in the water, it's got more chow on it!" And things like that.
And somebody behind us hollered, "Give me a hand with this pole!" About two or three of us jumped up and started back your Marines in order [?], and it was another private like us, tryin' to pull this pole out of the ground. That was the flag raising. And we told him what to do with his pole. And went back to picking out our ship. And they raised the flag and we never ever, paid any attention to it at all.
BM: You didn't see that moment.
HK: Didn't see it. I wish we had, now. Two weeks later we got our first mail, on the island, and every letter had a picture, uh, letter had that picture from the newspaper in it. And the guys, the comment was, "Why didn't I grab that pole?"
BM: Yeah, you might have been in the news! But you never met any of the flag raisers, or╔
HK: No. That was E Company
BM: That was E Company.
HK: Yeah. We just didn't, you didn't know anybody from E Company.
BM: Okay. So, from the moment that you got out of that hole, after saying "I'm going home on that guy," what happened?
HK: Well, we spent that night up there. And, that night, I guess, the Japs tried to bomb Iwo, from Tokyo. And nine hundred ships shootin' off, tracers &endash; I've never seen a fireworks show in my life, like it. Just, there wasn't a speck of black hardly anywhere, just all bullets, everywhere, goin' up in the air. And then the shrapnel started falling down, and we had to get our, uh, uh, what did they call it, our╔ I got my raincoat up over my head and held it and you'd feel that hot metal, comin' down all over you. And that lasted probably about twenty minutes or so.
HK: And so we spent the rest of the night on top, and then next night we went down below, and again it was hard to dig in so we didn't dig in, we just bunked out on the ground, and the Japs from the other end of the island shelled us. And all night long we just laid around and bounced ╔pounds the table╔, like that. And you know, I don't think of anybody gettin' hit. By all that shelling. And it was all amongst us, all around us.
So the next day we said, "That's enough of that!" About, what was there, five of us. We got our shovels out and found a shell hole, and then rounded out that shell hole and then went to a Jap emplacement, pulled out these big timbers, and put 'em over the top of our hole. And then we left a little opening where one guy could sit in it and the other four could sleep. We were snug as a bug in a rug. And they shelled us the next night and we didn't, we fell asleep. No big deal. And, we still expected to go home.
BM: You didn't have, experience any Jap infiltration or anything like that while you were╔
HK: I guess some other parts of our line did. Japs were trying to get back out of Suribachi. And join up with 'em on the other end. I heard that, I read about that. I think E Company chopped down about twenty of 'em, or somethin' like that.
And, the next day then, after that, after we had dug this beautiful home for ourselves, here come the most beat up lookin' troops you've ever seen in your life. It was the 27th. They had gone down to the other end of the island. And, I remember one of them come walkin' up to us and said, "Oh, we're going to take over this, this bunk." We said, "Like hell. That's our place." He said, "No, you're replacin' us." And [?] said, "We are?" He said, "Oh, yeah." And I said, "Well what's it like down there?" He said, "We lost about 50% of our men." Well, we had lost 50% taking Suribachi. There was about a hundred and fifty of us left.
And by God, they blew a whistle and we lined up and we started trekking to the north end of the island. Probably walked, I don't know, I don't know how long a walk. But I remember you'd see dead Jap bodies layin' around, and you'd see Marines all covered with ponchos. They'd cover the Marines, they hadn't been able to gather 'em all up yet. And, we got up there and now E Company is the assault company and we're in reserve. And E Company bypassed a place at about, probably about noon. We got the call, one platoon of us, went up to clear out this spot that they, had, uh, bypassed. Now remember, I hadn't seen a Jap.
And this is around the last day of February. Or March the First, I'm not quite sure. And, we went up there and we finally, uh, oh goin' up there, Charlough [?], the Indian, we had to cross over a ledge. And it's big rocks, like that, on top of this ledge. And I was runnin' across with my Tommy Gun, I had my Tommy Gun. And a Jap took off shootin' at me and the rocks would just go splittin' so the first thing you do is hit the deck and I got down on the deck and I'm just coverin' up like that ╔hunches over and head down╔ and Charlough says, "Just lay there Kelley, I see 'em." And everybody had hit the deck, you know, there's nobody movin'.
One shot, and you don't see any Marines. They're all hittin' for cover. And then the next thing is, where's he from? Where's it comin' from? This and that, tryin' to identify where the bullets are comin' from. And, he'd raised up, and he had a Nambu [?], and he'd fire a burst at me and the rocks would splatter all around me, and I'm just like this, and Charlough says, "Just lay still." I said, "Lay still, hell! He's gonna kill me!" He said, "He's fast! He just raises up and fires a burst, and then he ducks back down." All of a sudden I heard that BAR take off and then Charlough said, "You can get up now." And when he got up that time Charlough had sighted in on him and got him.
So we went up and at the end of this ledge, a Jap appeared and threw grenades. And I was right next to the Captain. The Captain had come up with us.
And we ducked down and the grenades went off, and it just, the ash, blew, hit my hands and knocked all the skin off my hands. And then the Jap took off runnin' right below and the Captain shot him, knocked him down. Then I took off with the BAR, the Tommy Gun, and nailed him. And I was so, happy! I'd shot my first enemy soldier.
Anyway, it ended up we killed three Japs that day and they killed, shot eighteen of us. Cause they was so concealed. And then, no rest. We got back to the CP and they said, "Double time, up." Now it's gettin' towards dark. It's probably around five-thirty, six o'clock. And E Company had moved into this valley between two ledges. And, uh, there were forty-eight of 'em, out there, bodies layin' out there. And there's a big tank ditch, at the end of this valley so the tanks couldn't get out there and rescue 'em.
So the tanks came up and fired smoke bombs into this valley. And we got down into the bottom of this tank ditch, climbed up to the top of it. It's probably fifteen feet deep. And, uh, ran out there and we'd grab a body, a Marine, if he was alive, we'd drag him back to the tank ditch, if he was dead we'd leave him. Then that night, it's dark now, and we're diggin' in and we never, ever dug in at dark. Because at dark if you're up and around, you're dead, you're gonna get shot.
And myself and two other guys are tryin' to get us a hole dug, in this, volcanic ash a lot, and I'd taken my poncho and wrapped my Tommy Gun up because it wasn't that reliable a weapon. You had to keep it really clean or else it would jam. And, down a hill, come this, figure. Now we didn't know, Marine? Cause we, it's confused. You know, we're diggin' in at dark. And this body came, or this figure came walkin' down, and he came that close ╔fingers a couple of inches apart╔ to steppin' in our hole. And he went on by, and took about five or six steps, and a flare went off. And it was a Jap!
And I pulled my forty-five, I had, I don't know where I got it, but I had accumulated a forty-five and I shot about eight rounds at him never even touched him. And the guy in the next hole with a BAR just leveled him. And we were wonderin', "What the hell, as long as we could see him, why didn't he see us?"
So the next morning, soon as it's light, we all run over to where he's layin' and turned him over, and his eyes were gone. He had been hit by a flamethrower and he had two grenades in his hands. He was just waitin' for a sound he was gonna jump in that, wherever that sound was and set the grenades off. He'd decided to kill himself and some Marines with us. He came that close to steppin' in our hole.
And guess what the orders were the next mornin'? Move into this valley. And I'm eighteen and I said, "That is the dumbest order I have ever heard in my life!" Cause E Company had just been in there, you know, and just got slaughtered.
And we moved in there, and I, got, out of the tank ditch, and I, hugged, the cliff. And they couldn't quite shoot down on me. Out of their holes. And, I got maybe only thirty yards into the valley and I was hunkered down with another fellow. And we got behind a big rock, and just, hunkered down and looked out and we lost ninety-six men. That was the end of our Company.
And finally, at about two or three o'clock, we made a dash for it and made it back to the tank ditch. And I ran into Murcer, who had been one of the scouts who'd gone up to the top of the hill. A great Marine! A real fighter. And, he was just disgusted. We threw our weapons down and just took off walking. I think in a daze, to be with, fellers you'd trained with for almost a year and a half, and you knew 'em so well. And just see 'em layin' everywhere. And we walked maybe a quarter of a mile, with no weapons, or anything, just walked in a daze.
And we ran into somebody, that we knew, and he took us into a cave, and he had been explorin' this cave, and he give us some rations. Ten and ones. We'd never heard of 'em. We'd just had, uh, the little K-rations, before. And we ate some of those, and got out senses back. And we looked at each other and said, "We gotta go back."
So we came out of that cave and went double time back to the CP. Picked up our weapons right where we had thrown 'em down, and got into the CP, and the Captain saw us and said, "Oh my God, you're alive! Thank God!" he said. Cause the Company's destroyed, you know. And he said, "Lieutenant Watson," - Lieutenant Watson was, a, sergeant to begin with, and they'd given him a field promotion - "is out there. And he's gonna die if we don't get him." Well, we, we loved Watson. Well, of course we loved all, of our guys.
So we got four stretcher bearers, got to the bottom of the tank, and we said, and, uh, Murcer also had a Tommy Gun. And we said, "Now we're gonna come up out of this, tank ditch, firing, to keep their heads back." And we pointed out the hole where, Watson was. Probably fifty, seventy-five yards away. And we said, "We're gonna shoot like hell, and run to that hole." So, we shot like hell, and everybody made it. Didn't get much shootin' back at us, or anything.
And they treated Watson as best they could, got him on the stretcher. And we reloaded and we said, "Now we're gonna raise up and just spray the mountain," - or this cliff &endash; "and you guys run for the tank ditch." And we did, we just sprayed the thing and then we slumped back down, and they made it.
And then all hell broke loose. They just shot all over our hole. And, Murcer turned to me and like a Laurel and Hardy guy said, "This is a fine mess you've gotten me into."
BM: ╔soft laughter╔
HK: And, we said, "Oh, boy, how we gonna get outta here?" And we just loaded up and we said, "We're just gonna shoot and run like hell for that tank ditch." Cause that was safety, when you got to the tank ditch. And, we ran, and he was a faster runner than me and he got there first, and right at the edge of the tank ditch he stopped. And my momentum, I ran right into him and we went tumblin' down into the tank ditch and I said, "Are you hit?" He said, "I felt it! I'm hit, I'm hit!" And I turned him over, and the bullets had grazed, his blouse, and broke his pen and pencil set, but he wasn't even scratched.
So we got back to the CP and the Captain said, "They captured a Nip, and they're gonna have a banzai charge." He said, "You guys gotta get out there, and what's left of our Company, get 'em set, to accept this charge tonight. And I said, "Oh, cru╔" Oh, no, before that, before that, I almost forgot, a big part of the story, too, is, the Captain came to me and said, "My exec is out there." He said, "Would you go find him for me?" He said, "I just got a letter and I opened it. It's from his wife, and they just had a baby boy." He said, "We've been expecting it. That's why I opened the letter." He said, "I want to tell him."
I said, "Captain, I've been out there twice. I don't want to go out there again." He said, "Personal favor, go find╔" I think his name was Zoober [?] or something like that. He was his executive officer. So I went to the very far end of the tank ditch to get as far away from this, uh, ledge as I could, and came out crawling. And not a shot fired. Pretty soon I got up on all fours and was crawling. Not a shot fired. I got up on my feet, and started running, ninety-six guys had been shot that, just hours before.
And I have surmised, cause they did come out that night, that they were back celebratin', havin' a big, party of drinkin', their sake, getting' drunk. And that's why they didn't shoot at me. And, then I went runnin' from hole to hole and there's holes everywhere and bodies everywhere. And I got almost to the end of the valley, and I found Lieutenant Zoober. And he is dead.
So I, turned around and I started trottin' back to the CP, and one Jap started shootin' at me, and just the bullet, very quiet, but the bullets would come bouncin' up, at your feet. And I dove into a hole and I hit a body, and we went rollin' down to the bottom of the hole. And, as I turned him over, it was this Lieutenant who had defended me, from the 27th. And he was dead.
So I made it back to the CP, and then, he told us about the, banzai charge. And get up there and, and, uh, get the line set. There's, what, probably fifty of us left, or so? Well, there's six of us that were organizing the thing and we took the fifty guys and put 'em out here we're advancin' that way and we thought the banzai charge was gonna come from that way. And then we dug in about twenty yards behind it. We said, "We're the officers, we're gonna let them take the first, blow!" And then we'd back 'em up.
And, nothin' happened, they fired flares, and about five in the mornin' we heard, "Malina [?], die! Malina, die!" And we're facin' this way, it's comin' back, in back of us. And we turn around, and it's right from this cliff where all the firin' had gone before. And, uh, we tried to get a machine gun back to our thing, but everybody's afraid to move at night and it was spooky and unorganized.
And, I saw the first Jap crawlin' on all fours off to my right, and I pulled the trigger on my Tommy Gun and it went "kloomp!" It sounded like, just a horrible noise, it sounded so loud. I pulled it back, "klunk" again, the guy next to me with a BAR, would say, ╔whispering╔ "Where's he at, where's he at?" And I said, "Just look down the barrel." And he got behind me and he looked down he says, "I see him!" And about that time my Tommy Gun worked, and his BAR worked and we just lifted him up right up in the air.
Then after that, they just came runnin' at us, one and two and three at a time. And we just, it was a turkey shoot. We never got scratched. And we shot, and the phone finally rang, they had cut our lines and they got the lines back, and I answered the phone, it's the Captain, he said, "What was all that shooting?" This was daylight, the next morning, and I said, "Well they came out, and we shot 'em." He said, "How many?" And I said, "Must be two hundred of 'em." He said, "Well, great, give me a count!"
Well, I knew where one was playing possum. So I went runnin' out of my hole with my Tommy Gun and I fired it in the air to make sure it was workin', I got it warmed up, and I walked up and I kicked him right in the ass &endash; 'scuse the word, ladies &endash; and he whirled around with his weapon and, I just, blasted him. He was waitin' for somebody go [?]. So we went around and I counted 'em and I think I counted thirty-six. Which was a big disappointment from two-hundred down to thirty-six.
BM: Well, what point did you get wounded?
HK: Well, that was March 1st. I got shot March the tenth.
BM: Oh, you lasted a pretty long time.
HK: Yeah, there was just, less than thirty in my Company left. I was in charge. Our Company was destroyed there. So they took, half of the men that were left, which was twelve, and assigned them to E Company. And we went up to E Company, and then they used us as Guinea Pigs. We╔ Now we're foreign troops to them. They're not goin' to assign their men, they're goin' to assign the difficult thing to us.
And, we had a bunch of crappy jobs to do, and, what, the first day they sent us out into another ledge, same deal, and guys got shot. And I got pinned down with one of E Company's guys. And he had an artery come down to his arm. Blood was shootin' out that far and I reached up and I pinched it and I remember from first aid, you had to let it go about every twenty minutes or gangrene would set in. So I'd let that go and that thing would flop around and I'd pinch it again, and the Jap was shootin' right over our heads. We was in a very shallow hole.
Finally, our corpsman got up there and put a pressure bandage on it. And they brought a tank up to get us out. And he ran right up over our hole, and they dropped the bottom of the tank out. And we went out there, the corpsman got in the tank and I hunched him up. And one of my guys, by the name of Mississippi, said, "Kelley, I'm going to try to make it!" We had about a, hundred yard run, to, to a cliff. And we felt like we was safe once we got around this cliff. That was where we was aimin' to get back to, that's where we started. And I'm watching him, underneath the tank, and he gets back there and I'm watching him through the treads of the wheels, and a Jap just opens up and blasts him.
And he doesn't die. And he comes hollerin', "Kelley, help me, Kelley!" And I crawled out of the tank, got him, and got him back up there and, shoved him up in the tank. And I started to get up in the tank and they said there's no room. "Hand us the gate." Cause I had to get around the gate was quite heavy. And we put it up there, and they said, "Well just, stick real close to the tank. And I did! And, never fired a shot.
Got back, and we got around the cliff, and I'm talkin' to the gunny, who was in charge of E Company, and he gets shot, while I'm talkin' to him. And I run over and get behind a rock, and I get behind the rock the wrong way, cause you just don't know where the bullets are comin' from. And a guy from the E Company was there, and he went "kukhh," like that, and a bullet had come right up from his forehead. So I scattered around to the other end of the rock, then, tryin' to figure out, what the hell's goin' on.
And, then I went back to our CP. I had words with the E Company Lieutenant. And, he called me a coward or some damn thing. Cause I told him he had get some leadership up there or everybody's going to get killed. They give me a night's sleep, and the next morning there's ten of us left up there. And the call comes back to the Captain, that they're not gonna move out. Because E Company's used them as goats.
And the Captain says, "Oh, my God! They'll all be in court martial and go to prison." And he come and got me, and let's go get 'em out, and Sergeant Brand [?], who had been, wounded earlier, but has been patched up, he came back. Good guy. And we talked to 'em and they says, "Okay, we'll do it." They needed some leadership, too. And we had sorta been the leaders.
So they had tanks for us to go across this valley this time. And I walked behind a tank, and I saw a Jap up on the top of this ledge just like you see in the movies with leaves all around him, and a camouflage outfit. And he has the rifle and he's pointing right at Brand. And I jumped up on the tank and I had the M-1, I was out of bullets out of the forty-five slugs for my Tommy Gun. And I just fired off a whole bunch of shots from my hip and they, spattered around him and he pulled back.
And I went runnin' just as hard as I could run and, reloaded, flipped a grenade up there, probably about a twenty-foot cliff. And it didn't go off. It was a dud. And without thinking I just ran down the cliff about thirty forty yards, climbed up the cliff, come up and started walk around lookin' for him, hunched over. And I saw him. And I come up behind him. And I'm, not proud of this but, he was lookin' away and I shot him. Ahh╔ I've thought many times later that I could have captured him, but at the heat of the moment right then, there's no quarter given. They give us no quarter. And, uh, we took that hill.
And a runner then came, there was ten of us on that hill. And a runner come from E Company and said, "The bombers have dislodged two hundred Japs. They're headed this way, you're to hold the hill." We said, "There's just ten of us." Or maybe twelve, I forget the number. And they said, "That's your orders!"
So, I went back and got my Tommy Gun. And the tank, had gone out and got me some forty-five slugs and I filled up both pockets of my dungarees with forty-five slugs. And I only had two clips, and I got up there and we dug us as big a hole as we could, Sergeant Brand and I, and waited for the two hundred Japs.
Thank God they didn't show up.
But they shot mortars into us all day. And have you ever been out, watching fly balls, catchin' as a kid, tryin' to judge a fly ball? When you'd look up you always thought you was under it, but maybe it'd drop ten feet in back of you or in front of you? Every time I looked up I'd see a mortar, and I'd think it was comin' right in our hole. And I remember Sergeant Brand, laid on his back, and would just give me a description. He'd say, "Oh, this one's gonna be close. Oh, God, it's comin' it's gonna be╔" Whoosh!
I said, "Sarge, do you smoke?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "Give me a cigarette. I want to smoke a cigarette before I die." And I started smoking right then. And I quit years later.
BM: Well, J.R., we don't have too much time left. Could you, could we get a [?] of where you got, when you got hit, and you're back, you got a story about that evacuation╔
HK: Oh, yeah, yeah, just╔
BM: I'd like to hear that.
HK: Well, we╔ The Captain came to me, we went into reserve after that day for a day or two, and they assigned two Marines to me. I was still pretty eager, and, uh, we were supposed to, we practiced for two days how we'd get Japs if they were out there. And the Captain came to me and he, on March the tenth, and said that, "We've got five, hundred yards to go. And our battle's over." We're on a little tiny peninsula. And he said, "We just take these five hundred yards and that's it! We can go home." Boy, I was wantin' to get this thing over with.
And we went, we took about three hundred yards, and never even had a shot fired. Nothing! And we came to a cliff and a big cave, and we went to the cave first and fired, tried to secure the cave with bazookas and flame throwers and so forth. And then as we tried to go over this cliff then we'd receive fire. Not a lot of fire but fire. And we got into a grenade tossing, deal. And I threw so many grenades that my right arm, got sore. Probably threw two or three cases of grenades. And they's throwing grenades back at us. So we were then, throwing distance of each other.
And I finally said to Coffey╔ Them two guys that were assigned to us, was, to me, was Coffey and Eddie. They'd been Quartermaster Corps, on the Marines, and, we'd lost so many men they took them off the beach and sent 'em up to us. And I said, "Coff, you got a BAR, I've got a Tommy Gun," I said, "There's only a couple of them little bastards left up there." I said, I'm gonna come runnin' up over the top of this cliff shootin' my Tommy Gun. As soon as I run out, you take off with your BAR, and I'll be reloaded and I'll get up there and I'll shoot 'em." He said, "You ever done this before?" I said, "Oh, yeah."
I'd never done it before. And, we took off runnin' and I fired my Tommy Gun and I'm reachin' to reload it, and I heard the BAR take off, and, I thought a sledge hammer had hit me in the chest. I didn't realize I was shot. I didn't╔ I thought I had run into somthin' just, tremendously hard. Next thing I know, is I can see my Tommy Gun, flippin' through the air, I'm on top of my head. It knocked me clear over backwards, and my feet are still runnin'.
Then I realized I'm shot, and I'm lookin' for cover. That's the next thing you do. And I rolled into a shell hole. And I just got my shoulder and head into it, and I couldn't get any more into it, and Coffey come runnin' over and pulled me into the hole. And I rolled over on my back and Eddie then came runnin' up, because Coffey's his buddy. And he saw that I'd gotten shot. And three of us are into a hole, that's only room for, two.
And I'm tryin' to figure out where I'm shot. And I pull my blouse across, open, and a big bubble of blood was, like that. And as I took a breath in, it sucked in. And then I'd breathe out and the bubble would come, and I thought, "I'm shot through the windpipe!" I couldn't breathe. I'm just gasping for air. And I shut my eyes to die. I really did. And, I didn't die.
And now, panic is settin' in with Coffey and Eddie. It's their first time on the lines. They'd never ever experienced anything, like this. And a corpsman come runnin' up, and got into the hole with us. They were great guys! And, now there's four of us in a hole that's only for two. And this corpsman is, I'm sayin', "I've got to get my senses back. Put some morphine in me." Cause I'm startin' to hurt real bad.
And, we're jammed up like this, and he's tryin' to stick this morphine through my blouse, and he's stickin' me all the time. And I said, "Cut, cut my sleeve, with your knife!" And he cut the sleeve, and he still [?] me. I said, "Get &endash; that &endash; in me!"
And he raised up and put the morphine in my arm and got shot through the neck.
And, but not seriously, but he bled a lot. And he could talk and he says, "It's just a flesh wound." And we're layin' there. And it's startin' to get dark, I said, "We gotta get out of here." I said, "Eddie, can you see my Tommy Gun?" He says, "It's right next to the hole." I said, "Grab it." He reached up and grabs it, and I told him and the BAR man, Coffey, I said, "Just start shootin' like hell. Then, as soon as you run out, grab me by the arms and run for this cliff."
And they did, and we ran back and, tumbled down that cliff, and the corpsman got shot through the ankle gettin' back there. And Murcer was there with stretcher bearers, loaded me up, and went double timing back to the CP. And a passing Jap, evidently, just took off on us with a Nambu. And we all of us hit the deck and I rolled off the cot╔
Course I've got morphine in me, I'm not hurtin' too bad. I'm hurtin' but not, terribly bad. And, Murcer comes over to me and shows me his helmet. He had four bullet holes in the helmet. Knocked it right off his head. And he's the one had the pen and pencil shot out of his pocket.
BM: Well, J.R., we've got probably around two and a half minutes or so to go. I'd like to hear, for the purposes of the recording here, your evacuation. You were telling us about being flown back to Hawaii from Guam and I think something very interesting happened there.
HK: Oh, just, we were on a stretcher and the Air Force was flying us back, and I was on the lead stretcher next to the cockpit. And I was watching these guys playing cards, all the way back, the plane's flying themselves. I said, "Boy, what an easy job you guys have got!"
Now, I'd spent thirty days in the hospital at Guam, so I'm talkin' now. I can't walk but I'm, talkin'. And, so we got good naturedly, talkin' to each other. And I remember them sayin', I said, "Well, how do you steer this thing, how do you know where we're goin'?" And they said, "All navigation is automatic, watch when we land at Johnson Island. It's just a speck!"
And I remember, they had built runways out into the ocean and we landed at Johnson, and taxied clear across the island and turned around on another runway on the other end of the island, that was out in the ocean. And guys had╔ It was a concrete island. Just as, guys had spent their entire career, out there in the, Marines and Navy and so forth there.
And then back to Pearl Harbor, from there.
BM: Wasn't there an incident where you couldn't breathe╔
HK: Oh, that was from Iwo to Guam. And, there was an Army General, and, uh, he was goin' from bunk to bunk. We're just layin' on cots, piled up just like on the, uh, troop transport. And they'd put oxygen mask on me, and I'd get to vomiting, into the oxygen mask. And I was, really, I was about dead. And he went up and ordered the pilots to fly just above the waves, into Guam, so that the air was heavier. And I made it back to Guam.
BM: You ever see that General again.
HK: Oh no, no╔
BM: He might have saved your life.
HK: Yeah╔ So many other stories I haven't gone, while we was at Guam...
BM: Well, obviously you pulled through okay because you're sitting here across from me.
HK: Oh, yeah.
BM: It's an absolutely fascinating story that you have. I just wish we had more time to go into what happened to you afterwards. But we don't. I do know that you were, you spent a lot of time in hospitals, you also went to Camp Lejeune, and finally you were╔
HK: Discharged at Quntico.
BM: So, you had a very full career.
BM: For three years. Let's say you had a very full activity for the three years that you were in. I want you to know that we in this room, certainly the Veteran's History Project, appreciates what you've done for your country. And I really want to thank you for the time that you spent with╔
HK: Thank you.
BM: It's been extremely interesting, it's just been too damn short. Okay. But I want to shake your hand╔
HK: Thank you.
BM: Thanks a million.
A very special THANK YOU is extended to Mr. Harry Kelley for his kind and generous permission to us the materials contained on this web page. Stories such as this story go a long way in preserving yet another piece of the overall picture that was World War II.
We commend Mr. Kelley for his account of his actions during the battle for Iwo Jima and for his service to our country during one of the most troubling times in our country's history.
Thank you Mr. Kelley!
An additional very special THANK YOU is also extended to Mr. Juris Ozols who painstakingly transcribed the text in this narrative from the DVD that was sent to me by Mr. Harry Kelley.
A few of the stories on this web site were transcribed from audio tapes and DVD's. The process is extremely tedious and slow and in some cases has take me up to three months of my spare time to transcribe just a single story.
It is with a debt of gratitude that we at World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words extend a very special THANK YOU to Mr. Ozols for his untiring effort in making sure that this excellent narrative can be viewed and read as a result of his efforts.
Some of the many web sites that can be checked out that are related to Iwo Jima and related subject material:
Iwo Jima Memoirs (My Other WWII Site)
Dead Listing for Iwo Jima
The Battle for Iwo Jima
National World War II Memorial
The National WWII Museum/New Orleans
Original Story submitted 14 August 2011.
Story updated on 14 August 2011