National Geographic : 1968 Jul
National Geographic, July, 1968 flag, and Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press recorded the scene in one of the most famous war photographs ever made (page 141). Only after 26 days of slaughter was Iwo Jima secured. We suffered 26,038 casualties, including 6,821 killed. The 21,000 Japanese fought to the end, yielding only 1,083 prisoners. "Among the Americans who served on Iwo Jima uncommon valor was a common virtue." These simple, moving words of Adm. Chester W. Nimitz leap from a plaque under the United States flag that flew night and day atop Mount Suribachi. Just before the re version agreement was signed, the flag was replaced with a copper reproduction, thus preserving the symbol of heroism-and sim plifying its maintenance. "In this constant breeze a flag is tattered in three weeks," said Maj. Paul Gerber, com mander of the U. S. airbase on Iwo. We stood on Suribachi, overlooking the en tire island. Once 50,000 U. S. and Japanese troops had swarmed over it; now only 78 Americans were there-40 at the Air Force base and another 38 Coast Guard men. The ten civilian employees included no Japanese. Ironically, the airbase had no planes, and the Coast Guard station had no boat. The Air Force maintained the 9,800-foot runway as an emergency landing field. The Coast Guard beamed loran (long-range navigation) signals from a 1,350-foot tower. Ghosts of War Linger in Dark Caves Major Gerber drove me from Suribachi down to the beach where the landing took place. It rises in a series of broad flat terraces. I sank up to my ankles; black sand filled my shoes. Every step took effort. "Imagine crawling over this stuff in a field pack with your clothes soaking wet and shells bursting all around you," said the major. It was easy to imagine. I felt even closer to the war two days later when Joe and I pushed our way through a tangle of dripping wet gin kokai to a typical Japanese cave. The entrance was scarcely bigger than a rabbit hole. We slid in feet first, dislodging a small avalanche of dirt and stones. Dust of the old burrow started me cough ing. The air was stifling. Littering the low passages lay the debris of war. I saw rifle ammunition, live hand grenades, land mines, small artillery shells, rusty helmets, long-dry canteens. Joe beamed his flashlight up a side passage, and two dusty brown skulls stared back. We had seen enough. I clambered out into a rain that suddenly seemed refreshing. The heat in Iwo's caves comes from vol canic activity. Before the war, residents mined steaming sulphur pits. Like the Bonin Island ers, they raised sugar cane and vegetables, and did a little fishing. The 1,200 Japanese on Iwo and Kita Iwo Jima, a small island to the north, were evacuated in 1944. Prewar Residents Dream of Return Shortly after the war, former residents of the Bonins and Iwo formed the Ogasawara Association to work for repatriation. In Tokyo I found members jubilant over the news of the islands' reversion to Japan. "It is like a dream," said Mrs. Ito Taka hashi. "I was born on Haha Jima, and I never have forgotten to keep wishing to return. Life on the island is much better. The cold weather here is very hard on me." We sat in Mrs. Takahashi's little house in a damp industrial district near Tokyo Harbor (preceding page). The 65-year-old widow once ran a small shop on Haha, selling tobacco, saki, and light meals. "I still have property on Haha Jima, and I'd like my sons to develop it," she said. "I'd like to have a little shop there again." Almost all the former colonists I talked with in Japan were eager to return to the Bonins. Even when I described the dense growth that obliterated the farmland, especially on Haha, they talked of sending at least a vanguard of returnees back by autumn of 1968. Imaichi Okuyama, of Chichi Jima, now on the staff of the Ogasawara Association, realizes that the Japanese Government will have to provide aid to develop the islands, particularly to promote tourism, now just a dream. His tiny, cluttered office is battered by Tokyo street sounds. As we talked, traffic hissed in the rain, horns blared, sirens wailed occasionally. But Mr. Okuyama's eyes spar kled. He was in the Bonins, blessed by the bright sun and fruitful sea. "I think fishing and agriculture will be re built first," he explained. "But I have a dream for the future. I hope we can use the special features of this subtropical land to make it a paradise for the Japanese people." I hope so, too. And I hope it will also be come a paradise for Uncle Charlie Washing ton, Willie Savory, and all the other good people I came to know on that remarkable little outpost of America in the far Pacific.