While everyone remembers Iwo Jima as being a Navy-Marine Team win– the Marine’s monument at Arlington includes the iconic flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi as its centerpiece– there were also some Army troops involved in the campaign.
The 147th Infantry Regiment is an Ohio Army National Guard unit that dates back to 1861 when it formed as the 6th Ohio Infantry and went on to fight at Chickamauga. After suiting up again to fight against Spain in 1898, march into Mexico on the hunt for Pancho Villa in 1916, and slug it out with the Germans on the Western Front, the 147th was called back to federal service for a fifth time in 1941 when it formed the fourth regiment of the 37th Infantry Division. When that unit was converted from a “4-brigade “square” to a 3-brigade “triangle” the 147th was cut and would spend WWII a free agent of sorts.
After seeing the elephant alongside Marine units at Guadalcanal and being used as a garrison force on Emirau, Saipan, Tinian, and Eniwetok against isolated Japanese hold outs and raids, the 147th was tapped in to relieve exhausted Marine units on Iwo Jima some 29 days after D-Day.
The unit arrived offshore 75 years ago today on 20 March 1945, some 2,952 strong.
Make no mistake, while in many places you would think that an island would be safe a month after it was hit by three Marine divisions when the 147th arrived there was still a lot of work to do. For instance, just three days after the Army troops arrived, the Japanese launched a 300-man banzai attack into a rear-area near a hospital that had to be fought off by a combination that included Army Air Force pilots, Navy Seabees, and Marine pioneers.
Relieving the 3rd Marine Division in place after landing on Purple Beach, each of the regiment’s three battalions was assigned a sector to pacify and clear.
As told by in Douglas Nash’s “Army Boots on Volcanic Sands”
On its first day of combat, patrols from the 1st Battalion (147th) killed 23 Japanese while being guided into their new area by Marines familiar with the area. Japanese troops probed their defensive positions that evening, randomly tossing hand grenades that kept everyone awake in their foxholes.
Over the next several weeks, the Ohioans would use Marine-developed “corkscrew and blowtorch” tactics against the warren of Japanese cave positions, a method that blended grenades, submachine guns and flamethrowers with the occasional bazooka, light machine gun and satchel charge thrown in for good measure.
By the end of the month, the regiment would suffer eight killed and 53 wounded, garnered while killing 387 Japanese and capturing 17 of the Emperor’s troops in the process.
In April, when a platoon of Japanese-speaking Nisei volunteers was attached to help coax out isolated and starving troops, the 147th took into custody 664 Japanese troops but still killed another 963 who couldn’t be talked into surrender.
Soon, the 147th would also relieve the 5th Marine Division and by 20 April was the only ground combat unit left on the island. They would continue their mopping up and garrison operations there through VJ-Day, in all accounting for nearly 2,500 (some say 6,000) Japanese troops while, says Nash, “the number who died in sealed up caves will never be known.”
In turn, the 147th would suffer 15 killed and 144 wounded in their often brutal Iwo Jima campaign. While elements of the unit would be siphoned off for assignments in Burma and on Tinian, the latter guarding the A-bomb, the Ohioans still on Iwo in September 1945 would deploy to newly-captured Okinawa for more mopping up duties there before returning home to the U.S., piecemeal, in 1946.
The 147th Regiment (Regional Training Institute) is still a unit of the Ohio National Guard. Their motto is Cargoneek Guyoxim – Always Ready
Named for MoH recipient Cpl. Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, the U.S. Navy commissioned its newest expeditionary sea base– USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams (ESB 4) in Norfolk, Virginia over the weekend.
Importantly, Williams, who earned his decoration while holding onto a 70-pound M2 flamethrower on Iwo Jima, where he used it like a surgeon, is the last MoH recipient from the Pacific War.
One of the most popular weapons used to root out the Japanese on Iwo Jima, 75 years ago this week, was the M2 flamethrower, and with good reason.
Defending the fortress was Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi’s 21,000 Japanese troops, which had largely evacuated the civilian population on Iwo and has spent months preparing the island’s difficult terrain to best resist the amphibious assault. They dug 16 miles of tunnels, broken up into 1,500 different bunkers, underneath the island. Most would never leave on their own two feet.
Marine CPL Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Pacific War, carried a 70-pound M2 on Iwo Jima and used it like a surgeon to successfully take on a network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, with four riflemen in support.
He is currently 96 years old.
In all, the Medal of Honor was presented to 22 Marines and five Sailors for their actions on Iwo Jima, many of those given posthumously. Adm. Chester Nimitz observed after the hellish battle that, “uncommon valor was a common virtue.”