Although the Marines who attacked Iwo Jima had practiced and practiced - for nearly a year at Camp Pendleton, then in Hawaii - this, for many, was their first real battle. Experienced veterans, barely in their mid-twenties, remembered other difficult invasions and battles to liberate Japanese-occupied islands. Tarawa, Bougainville and Saipan had been brutal stepping stones to Sulphur Island.
Light Japanese tank dug-in near Airfield Number 2. USMC photo.
As the Japanese defenders, from their excellent vantage points, rained down armament on the approaching assault teams, boys who had not yet reached adulthood dropped dead on the black sand. Buddies who had promised to look after each other were quickly separated by life and death:
Killed in action: 501 Wounded in action: 1,755 Died of wounds: 47 Missing in action: 18 Combat fatigue 99 TOTAL D-DAY CASUALTIES: 2,420
John Basilone, who'd won a Medal of Honor for heroic bravery during the Battle of Guadalcanal, was one of the Marines who attacked Iwo Jima on D-Day. Although sent back to the States, to help sell war bonds, he quickly tired of the glamour and requested a return to action. Military leaders finally agreed and sent him to Camp Pendelton.
While there, Basilone met Marine Sergeant Lena Mae Riggi. The two fell in love and married on July 10, 1944. The next month, John's orders required him to ship out. His ultimate destination was Iwo Jima where he became a D-Day casualty. His widow, who never remarried, died in 1999.
Most of the Marines never saw a single hidden Japanese during the entire battle, even while they experienced the full brunt of the island's defense system. And had it not been for Navajo code talkers, whose communications were never understood by the Japanese, D-Day casualties would have been far worse.