Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)
The last cabinet level Secretary of the Navy, and the first Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal was not content to remain in Washington. As Secretary of the Navy during World War II he often visited the sites of active combat operations. Thus it was that he was present on Iwo Jima when the flag was raised on Mount Suribachi. What he said then has entered the lore of the Marine Corps:
The raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years.
Appointed the first Secretary of Defense in 1947, Forrestal fought against budget cuts proposed by President Truman that he thought endangered the nation’s security. He also opposed the proposal to unify the services which would gut the Navy and eliminate the Marine Corps. On March 31, 1949, Harry Truman, angered over Forrestal’s opposition to his policies, fired him. Tragically, Forrestal, who had worked non-stop on Defense issues since he joined the Roosevelt administration in 1940, had a nervous breakdown. While undergoing psychiatric treatment he committed suicide by jumping from the 16th floor of the National Naval Medical Center. He left behind a note with a quotation from Sophocles’ Ajax:
Fair Salamis, the billows’ roar,
Wander around thee yet,
And sailors gaze upon thy shore
Firm in the Ocean set.
Thy son is in a foreign clime
Where Ida feeds her countless flocks,
Far from thy dear, remembered rocks,
Worn by the waste of time–
Comfortless, nameless, hopeless save
In the dark prospect of the yawning grave….
Woe to the mother in her close of day,
Woe to her desolate heart and temples gray,
When she shall hear
Her loved one’s story whispered in her ear!
“Woe, woe!’ will be the cry–
No quiet murmur like the tremulous wail
Of the lone bird, the querulous nightingale– Continue reading
They told me to get you into shape so you can handle a piece of this war.
That’s what I’m gonna do and that means I’m gonna tell you what to do every day,
how to button your buttons and when to blow your noses.
If you do something I don’t like I’m gonna jump and when I land it’ll hurt.
I’ll ride you until you can’t stand up. When you do, you’ll be marines.
John Wayne as Sgt. John M. Stryker, Sands of Iwo Jima
Something for the weekend. The Marines’ Hymn. Seventy years ago the battle of Iwo Jima was underway as the Marines took a giant step forward towards Tokyo. The film Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) earned John Wayne his first Oscar nomination as best actor. (Broderick Crawford would win for his stunning performance in All The King’s Men.) Wayne was initially reluctant to take the role, partly because he had not fought in World War II, and partly because he saw script problems and didn’t like the character of Sergeant Styker as initially written in the screen play. (There is evidence that Wayne, 34 at the time of Pearl Harbor, and with 3 kids, did attempt to volunteer in 1943 for the Marine Corps with assignment to John Ford’s OSS Field Photographic Unit, but was turned down.)
Wayne was convinced to take the role because the film had the enthusiastic backing of the Marine Corps, which viewed it as a fitting tribute to the Marines who fought in the Pacific, and to help combat a move in Congress to abolish the Corps. Marine Commandant Clifton B. Cates went to see Wayne to request that he take the role and Wayne immediately agreed. (Thus began a long association of John Wayne with the Marine Corps, including Wayne narrating a tribute to Marine Lieutenant General Chesty Puller.)
Appearing in the film were several Marine veterans of the Pacific, including Colonel David Shoup, who earned a Medal of Honor for his heroism at Tarawa, and who would later serve as a Commandant of the Corps, and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Crow who led a Marine battalion at Tarawa. The Marines’ Hymn is sung in the film after the death of Wayne’s character, one of ten films in which a Wayne character died, and as the raising of the flag is recreated.
Taking part in the flag raising were Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes and John Bradley, the three survivors of the six flag raisers. (The three men who raised the flag and subsequently died in the battle were Franklin Sousely, Harlon Block and Michael Strank.) (First Lieutenant Harold Schrier, who led the flag raising party that raised the first, smaller, flag on Mount Suribachi, and who was awarded a Navy Cross and a Silver Star for his heroism on Iwo Jima, also appeared in the film.) The flag on top of Mount Suribachi could be seen across the island, and was greeted with cheers by the Marines and blaring horns by the ships of the Navy. A mass was said on Mount Suribachi at the time of the flag raising and I have written about that here. Continue reading
You cannot exaggerate about the Marines. They are convinced, to the point of arrogance, that they are the most ferocious fighters on earth – and the amusing thing about it is that they are…You should see the group about me as I write- dirty, bearded, their clothing food-spattered and filthy- they look like the castoffs of creation. Yet they have a sense of loyalty, generosity, even piety greater than any men I have ever known. These rugged men have the simple piety of children. You can’t help loving them, in spite of their language and their loose sense of private property. Don’t ever feel sorry for a priest in the Marines. The last eight weeks have been the happiest and most contented in my life.
Father Kevin Keaney, 1st MarDiv Chaplain, Korean War
Resolved, That two Battalions of marines be raised, consisting of one Colonel, two Lieutenant Colonels, two Majors, and other officers as usual in other regiments; and that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken, that no persons be appointed to office, or enlisted into said Battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea when required; that they be enlisted and commissioned to serve for and during the present war between Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by order of Congress: that they be distinguished by the names of the first and second battalions of American Marines, and that they be considered as part of the number which the continental Army before Boston is ordered to consist of.
Ordered, That a copy of the above be transmitted to the General.