You can take the boy out of the West Side, but you can’t take the West Side out of the boy

There are reunions and there are reunions

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West Side Market – my old stomping grounds.

Returned to Cleveland yesterday for a reunion with friends, which included a quick visit to the West Side Market.

For me, it was kind of like coming full circle. When I met these folks 36 years ago, I was an under-educated working class kid. I was driving trucks for a living, with little hope or regard for the future. Such was the fate for most the people I grew up with on the West Side. You graduated from high school, got a job and slogged through life, resigned to living and dying in that world.

When I met them, all that changed. (I was backing a truck up to a dock in Lorain, Ohio, when I first met two members of the group. They later introduced me to their circle of friends, who were connected by virtue of living in Shaker Heights, an East Side suburb.) Though much younger than I, they were well-educated and worldly. The things they talked about and their passion for living inspired me to go to college.

Eventually — very eventually — I was able to parlay raw writing talent, temper it with education and discipline and write for a living. Meager as it was.

I confess that the discipline was a battle. I pissed away years, way too many years, drinking, partying and generally fucking off. But eventually it happened.

The evolution came full circle during the 17 years I spent writing for the Ashland Times-Gazette, a small-town daily in North Central Ohio. There I learned that the world didn’t revolve around me. I learned that my job as a journalist wasn’t about Irv Oslin, it was about honestly and fairly chronicling the lives of the people of Ashland County — regardless of how I felt about their politics or way of life.

I came to know them and appreciate them for who they were.

That brought me around to Buddhist philosophy — losing the self. It brought me back, really, because I’ve always had a strong undercurrent of compassion, a desire to do for others.

I was reminded of this when I drove to the West Side Market yesterday to be reunited with the people who, so long ago, took the boy out of the West Side

I saw a middle-aged black woman getting into a car parked on Lorain Avenue and pulled up behind, waiting for her to vacate the spot. She got out, rooted around in the trunk, then closed it and walked around the car and opened the rear passenger-side door. It occurred to me that, had I been impatient and self-centered, I would have been annoyed at the delay.

The woman retrieved an umbrella from the back seat. It was sprinkling and chilly, so I figured she wanted to have it handy for when she reached her destination. Not so. She walked up to an old white man in wheel chair. He was waiting for a bus. She gave him the umbrella, got back into her car and drove off.

 

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Reunited – Later in the day at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Can’t thank these people enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Algonquin it ain’t – Charles Mill Lake canoe trip, part 3

You are NOT alone

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One of two bald eagles that watched me break camp.

There was no one else around at my Muskrat Bay campsite, but I was not alone. Lucy kept me company all evening and, when I crawled out of my tent in the morning, she was still there.

Lucy was a Canada goose. She appeared to have been injured and unable to fly. She swam around in front of my campsite, constantly positioning herself so she could keep an eye on me. It was sad to see goose couples come and go. Lucy watched them helplessly, perhaps longing for a life she’ll never have.

She wasn’t the only company I had. As I prepared breakfast and ate it, an osprey looked on from a tree across the bay. It flew off as I broke camp and, moments later, a bald eagle landed near where the osprey had been and stayed there until I slid my loaded canoe into the lake and paddled off. It was joined by a second eagle.

I began a day of exploring the lake north of the SR 430 bridge. Along the way, I saw a mallard, an egret and a plastic goose. I also rousted thousands of cormorants, which have become something of a plague on Charles Mill Lake.

There are suitable Islands for camping and a site — complete with a picnic table — on a peninsula at the southeast entrance to Big Turtle Bay. The downside is they’re situated between US 30 and SR 430 and the sound of traffic never stops.

I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon paddling along the shoreline on the northern end of the lake. Because of the highways, Eagle Point campground, a boat ramp and houses, it’s less appealing than the southern part of Charles Mill Lake.

In short, it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to stay there.

In Camp Harbor on the west side of the lake, I came upon what I hope wasn’t a familiar sight — a scuttled dredge. Years ago, while working as a reporter for the Ashland Times-Gazette, I wrote an article about the naming of a new dredge. It was dubbed “Sedimental Journey.” Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District had purchased the dredge. The plan was to dredge the channel under the SR 430 bridge, which separates the northern and southern parts of the lake, then take it to other MWCD lakes.

I can’t imagine it would have been scuttled without being used more.The average depth of Charles Mill Lake is only five feet. That’s down three feet from the original depth. The bottom of the lake is covered with a gooey layer of silt, the byproduct of irresponsible farming, logging and construction practices. I’d like to think that this was another dredge, one replaced by Sedimental Journey.

Ironically, as I explored the lake for three days in April, 50,000 gallons of drilling clay had been dumped in a wetland upstream — a byproduct of the Rover pipeline project. It might not reach the lake, but the harm to wildlife and the wetland is disheartening just the same.

Here are a few photos from the final day of my three-day canoe trip:

 

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Lucy, my constant companion.

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A mallard duck doing some morning yoga, north of the SR 430 bridge.

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An egret looks for fish in the shallows along the eastern shoreline.

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A plastic goose lurks in a tree trunk near Sites Lake, a residential area on the north end of Charles Mill.

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A scuttled dredge in Camp Harbor. Note the disintegrated oil boom around it.

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The cab of the dredge. I was concerned that the interior of the hull reeked of oil.

Click on the link below for a map of the lake:

Charles Mill Lake Map annotated

 

Previous posts on this trip:

Part One

Part Two

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Algonquin it ain’t – Charles Mill Lake canoe trip, part two

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While paddling around Bushman Bay, waiting for my friends to arrive at the lake, this tree called out to me.

Sitting around the campfire after a day of exploring the western part of Charles Mill Lake, I thought about the traffic on nearby SR 603. Like a lot of rural state routes, traffic dies down at night. It was far enough away and masked by trees and the sound of water going through the dam that I could barely hear the occasional truck going by.

I thought about how many times — thousands — I had gone up and down that road to and from work. About 13, 14 years. Tires over the bridge now; I’m retired.

On the second day of my trip, my friends Kevin and Theresa joined me for a day paddle.

We spent several hours exploring the east side of the lake, from Charles Mill Dam north to the main campground. Part of the mission was to explore islands, looking for other potential campsites.

I’d always thought Harbor Island at the southern end of the lake looked promising. Like Mud Lake — mentioned in the previous post — it was not. It, too, is choked with multiflora rose and too close to civilization. There are several houses nearby.

From previous experience, I knew Applegate Island was suitable for camping. Kevin Theresa and I found Barb Island to be good also. It’s small, but isolated enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to camp there. Except during duck hunting season. Duck hunters have staked claims on most the islands and other spots along the shoreline, posting their names and phone numbers. It’s a good lake to stay off of during waterfowl season.

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Theresa and Kevin check out turkey vultures that were checking us out in Muskrat Bay.

We were particularly impressed with Muskrat Bay. Isolated and shallow, it was teeming with wildlife including great blue heron and belted kingfishers. As we headed out of the bay, I told Theresa that the islands there had camping potential. Those words proved to be prophetic.

After we parted company, I headed north. I planned to paddle upriver on Black Fork of the Mohican River and, perhaps, camp on one of the islands.

However, it had rained a lot the previous week, leaving the islands muddy. I found a few suitable spots, but they were too close to SR 603, which follows the river pretty much from US 42 to SR 30.

So, I grabbed a six-pack of Molson XXX from Molly’s Cheese House and headed back downstream to the lake. (Another story for another day.) I paddled back to Muskrat Bay and found another perfect campsite on one of the islands.

Here are a few more photos from day two of the trip.

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Great blue heron in Muskrat Bay. Notice how shallow the water is.

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Waning full moon over Muskrat Bay

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Turn on yer Bud Lite — I “repurposed” a discarded beer bottle found on the island and made this swell candle holder.

 

Click on the link below for a pdf map of the lake.

Charles Mill Lake Map annotated

Next – Breakfast with friends in Muskrat Bay and dredging up memories.

 

 

 

Algonquin it ain’t – Charles Mill Lake canoe trip, part one

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Perfect ending to a perfect day – sunset from my campsite in Bushman Bay at the southern end of Charles Mill Lake.

You’ll never mistake Charles Mill Lake for one of Algonquin Provincial Park’s pristine lakes. But I didn’t have to drive 10 hours to get there. As the crow flies, it’s 13 minutes from home.

As the crow walks, it’s considerably longer.

At any rate, it’s a fun lake to explore with a few surprisingly nice campsites tucked away in the shallows. For three days in April, I canoed and camped there, exploring the backwaters.

Charles Mill Lake is an impoundment of Black Fork of the Mohican River. When Charles Mill Dam was built in the 1930s, it created one big lake out of several, which were formerly known as the Mifflin Lakes and, before that, the Petersburg Lakes.

On the first day of the trip, I explored the back bays of what had been Mifflin Lake, Bell Lake and Mud Lake on the west side of Charles Mill.

I’ll let these photos tell the rest of the story.

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Anglers try their luck on Mud Lake. As I paddled between the shore and the tree root, a mink swam by.

 

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A disposable lighter among goose eggs I found on Mud Island. My explanation? A crow decided it would be fun to fuck with the geese. Some islands on Charles Mill Lake are suitable for camping. This isn’t one of them. It’s choked with multiflora rose and litter – and too close to SR 603.

 

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Dwarfed! While I had stopped for lunch at Charles Mill Marina, the launching of the Queen Mary was in progress. That’s my Old Town Pack on the right.

 

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After a day of exploring the west side of the lake, I found a quiet and scenic spot to camp in Bushman Bay.

 

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A beam of sunlight shining through the clouds created an interesting effect on the water in the bay.

 

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The only visible sign of civilization from my campsite — Charles Mill Dam.

 

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A cistern? I explored the ruins near my campsite of what had been a farm. I also found a building foundation and what might have been a couple wells.

 

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I bushwhacked through multiflora rose to get a view of the sunset on Charles Mill Lake. Fortunately, I found a deer path on the way back to my campsite, which made for easier – and less painful – going.

Next: Day two of my Charles Mill Lake canoe trip.

 

 

 

 

Inauguration day – and the sun still rose

img_6660At 7:49 a.m. eastern time, the sun rose here. A lot of us couldn’t see it, but it did.

Depends on your perspective.

Four years from now, the sun will also rise. America will not be great again. Just like the “Audacity of Hope” somehow came up short. As did the slogan before that and the slogan before that.

Truth is, our culture is in decline. Our species is in decline. How can you believe in American exceptionalism when you can’t believe in human exceptionalism?

Nothing will change that. There are too many of us — competing for resources or clawing at one another for worldly gain. Or, worse yet, spiritual gain. Go figure.

Still, there is beauty in the world. Beauty in the grandeur of a breathtaking landscape or in some minute detail. I’ve resigned myself to focusing on that – with my eyes and with my camera – and taking joy in sharing that.

That’s beauty. That’s love. That’s all we’ve got.

Remembering Iwo Jima

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Cledith Skeen reflected in the glass of a commemorative montage of Marine memorabila

One of my editors asked if I wanted to interview a couple of guys in town who fought on Iwo Jima. Talk about a rhetorical question.

On Nov. 29, I had the privilege of talking with two Marines who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima — two guys who ended up living less than a mile from each other in a small town in north central Ohio.

The story ran on Pearl Harbor Day in the Ashland Times-Gazette. Here it is.

ASHLAND — Cledith Skeen sat in a plush recliner in his Belmont Towers apartment. In a chair to his left sat Tom Winemiller, clutching a wooden cane tipped with a shiny brass knob.

 “Until I met this fella, in 72 years I had met only two other Marines who served in Iwo Jima,” Skeen said, gesturing toward Winemiller. “I don’t know if there’s many of us left.”

 “I’ll bet you’re correct,” Winemiller agreed. “There can’t be very many. I hate to say this, but we left a lot of them on that island.”

 “That’s the sad part,” Skeen said. “I don’t want credit. Any honor, any credit, goes to those guys who laid it down, almost 7,000 of them didn’t walk away.”

Skeen, 90, and Winemiller, 91, met for a brief interview last week. They had visited each other twice before after discovering a few months ago that they live less than a mile apart. Skeen, formerly of Canton, moved to Ashland a year ago with his wife, Margaret. She passed away in April. Winemiller and his wife Jeanne are longtime Ashland residents. They live just outside the city on Township Road 853.

Skeen described how they met. His daughter, Nancy White of Ashland, had taken him to a dental appointment. A receptionist at the dentist’s office took notice of his Marine Corps cap and asked where he had served. When she learned Skeen had fought in Iwo Jima, she mentioned that she knew another local man who had served there. A meeting was arranged.

“It was just a blessing for me to meet him,” Skeen said.

“And being so close,” Winemiller added. “Only about a half-mile away, as the crow flies.”

During the interview, they didn’t reminisce very much. No crowing about the good old days. No war stories — at least none glorifying their experiences on the eight-square-mile hell that was Iwo Jima. In the 36-day battle, nearly 7,000 U.S. Marines were killed — along with more than 20,000 Japanese soldiers. More than 19,000 Americans were wounded. For the Japanese, that wasn’t an option. For them, it was a suicide mission from the start. Only 216 were taken prisoner.

Skeen grew up in Hopedale, a little town in eastern Ohio between Cadiz and Steubenville. His father was a coal miner. Skeen had no desire to go into the mines. After the war, he went to work at the Timken Company steel mill in Canton. He worked there for more than 36 years. Skeen lived in Canton most of his life, where he and his wife raised three daughters. He has six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren — going on eight.

He enlisted in the Marines in January 1944. He was 17 when he signed up and 18 when he went in.

“I was a young kid and a spirit of patriotism prevailed in our nation at that time,” Skeen said. “As a young kid, I wanted to serve my country and a saw a picture of these young Marines in their dress blues and heard the Marine Corps Hymn and it got me all excited. Needless to say, I never had a pair of dress blues and I didn’t hear the Hymn very much.”

There was no time for spit and polish then. Skeen, who served in the 5th Marine Division, took basic training in California. On D-Day — Feb. 19, 1945 — he found himself aboard a landing craft poised to hit the beach at Iwo Jima.

Winemiller served in the 3rd Marine Division. His was a reserve division. There were more than 2,400 U.S. casualties on the first day of the invasion, so he was sent ashore a few days after it started.

Like Skeen, he went through basic training in California and quickly found himself headed for Iwo Jima. The movie “Guadalcanal Diary” inspired him to join the Marines. He enlisted in December 1943.

“It (the movie) was quite a stimulation at the time,” Winemiller said. “You were going to be in some sort of service if you were 17 years old in 1943. I knew I didn’t want to be a sailor. I was always kind of uneasy about the fact that you’re on a ship you’re a target every minute of the day and night.”

Winemiller grew up in Sydney in western Ohio. He lived in town, but developed a keen interest in poultry farming. After military service, he earned a degree in poultry science at Ohio State University. That led to a career in agricultural advertising. He moved to Ashland in the early 1950s after landing a job at Hess & Clark, a livestock supply manufacturer. He retired from there in 1980, but continued to work in advertising part-time before retiring for good about 15 years ago.

He and Skeen talked about arriving at Iwo Jima — part of an armada of 880 ships. The U.S. had been bombarding the island for a couple of months. All that pounding did virtually nothing to reduce the enemy’s numbers. They were waiting in ambush, hunkered down in hundreds of caves and pillboxes — some of them interconnected by 16 miles of tunnels.

“What they didn’t know was how much underground stuff there was on that island,” Winemiller said. “That’s what scared the hell out of all of us; there were more Japs underground than there were on top of that island by far.”

“There was no safe place,” Skeen added. “You’d go right over those caves and there were a lot of guys that got shot in the back.”

“I remember early on that there was a couple of guys who saw a cave opening and they decided they were going to go in and see what was in there,” Winemiller said. “They thought there’d probably be some dead Japs because they’d thrown a couple hand grenades in there. Well they never came out. They got blasted.”

The conversation turned even more somber. They recalled seeing and hearing about torture and other atrocities on both sides.

“These things happened,” Skeen said. “I wish I could forget it, but I can’t.”

“You’re doing all right,” Winemiller assured him.

They talked about their initial landing, the most dangerous part of the operation. Skeen explained that the Japanese strategy was to allow the Marines to land, then gun them down them while they were assembled on the beach. The sand and loose volcanic ash made for slow going.

“Going in, I could see the smoke and hear the noise, but I didn’t have fear in my heart,” Skeen said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. We hit the beach, that ramp went down and we went into that ash. It was like getting into a bin of wheat and it got into your shoe tops. After you went over the top of that, you heard a few live rounds and a couple more shells went off. I thought, ‘I’m going to die.’

“It never dawned on me until then. I dove into a shell hole when the mortars went off and about four or five guys came in on top of me. I said, ‘Keep coming, boys.’ I thought they’d give me more protection.

“I didn’t realize death could be so real, so close, until that moment. When you start hearing those live rounds going by your head and the mortar shells go off.”

Talk of life and death naturally led to talk of religion.

“It wasn’t a very pleasant thing, but the good Lord decided to let us hang around for awhile,” Winemiller said.

“When I hit that first shell hole, when I dove in there, I said, ‘Oh God, if you get me off this island alive, I’ll give my life to you’.” Skeen recalled. “They talk about foxhole religion. Believe me, I meant what I said.”

“I do believe that and I think that’s wonderful,” Winemiller said. “It took me a lot longer to do that, but that was an important part of it.”

“I was afraid I was going to die and I knew I wasn’t wanting to die or ready to die.” Skeen said. “Those things are memories that are almost like they happened yesterday. ”

“You’re never going to get rid of it,” Winemiller responded.

“No. I pretty well got over most of it for awhile, but I had a difficult time with it,” Skeen said. “But I’ll tell you one thing, I am proud to have served my country. I don’t know that I did anything really to win the war, but I was there attempting to help and I’m thinking of all those who died there.”

“You did your share,” Winemiller responded. “That’s all you can say.”

Both recalled seeing the American flag flying atop Mount Suribachi, a 550-foot volcanic cone at the southern tip of the island. Six members of a Marine patrol hoisted the flag on Feb. 23, 1945. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the event in what would become an iconic image from World War II. At the time it also boosted the morale of the troops as well as civilians on the home front.

They also talked about steam from subterranean volcanic activity seeping through cracks in the ground and filling the air with a stench of sulfur.

“It was so hot a lot of times, our foxholes were very warm,” Winemiller said. “You could bury C rations in it and they’d be nice and warm by lunchtime.”

“It was so hot underground, it was 90 degrees all the time,” Skeen added.

Skeen, a corporal, served with a recon company on Iwo Jima He spent 38 days on the island. When it was all over, he returned to Hawaii, where his division regrouped and prepared to invade Japan. However, after the U.S dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered.

“I don’t know how a lot of people feel, but I think that is one of the best decisions that President Truman made,” Skeen said. “It was very very bad that they had to drop those bombs and kill those people but, from what I saw over there, we would have probably lost millions on both sides because they were suicidal. They had no regard for anything — their own lives or anyone else’s.”

He compared Japanese soldiers, who were expected to die in battle, to modern terrorists.

From the fall of 1945 until May 1946, Skeen served in Japan with U.S. occupational forces.

“We went in and basically our job was to destroy all their military installations, their coastal guns and stuff like that,” he said. “For awhile, we saw no people (except for what he believed to be Japanese police officers). The women and children were taught that the Marines were the most savage men in the world, that all they did was rape and kill. They were very fearful of us. But it wasn’t very long before they realized we weren’t what they’d been told and they warmed up to us.”

Winemiller, who also made the rank of corporal, was assigned to the Joint Assault Signal Company. During the Battle of Iwo Jima, he worked on the front lines, communicating by radio or telephone to the ships, directing naval gunfire.

“I heard a good many shells go over my head,” he said. “Thankfully, they all went over. These weren’t always naval shells; there were artillery shells. At the end of their trajectory, they’d start to wobble and you could hear them coming. I don’t tell you that because it was an exceptional experience. I’m sure every guy that was in the frontline situation had that experience.”

He acknowledged that it could be unnerving, but he and the others didn’t dwell on it.

“I think most Marines I was around were dedicated to the job that needed to be done and weren’t just sitting around worrying about whether they were going to get killed,” Winemiller said.

After the Battle of Iwo Jima and Japan’s surrender, he was sent to north China to help repatriate Japanese soldiers who had been stationed there. His unit also helped Chinese nationalists, who were being threatened by Chinese communists active in the region.

As the interview wound down, Skeen and Winemiller talked about being grateful for their longevity and having survived Iwo Jima. For 72 years, they’ve carried the burden of painful memories. In the twilight of their lives, they have been blessed with a newfound friendship that allows them to share that burden and reflect on lives well lived.

Their experiences have given them a deeper appreciation of life — and for what lies beyond.

“The best is yet to come,” Skeen said.

 

Along with the story, I wrote what is called in the newspaper business an info bar. Here it is.

The Battle of Iwo Jima

Iwo Jima History

A small island 4.5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, Iwo Jima is part of the Volcano Islands. The islands were Japanese territory, administered by the City of Tokyo. Prior to the Battle of Iwo Jima, about 1,000 civilians inhabited the island, living in six settlements. Most were involved in sulfur mining. Some harvested fish from the ocean or raised meager sugar cane and pineapple crops on what little arable soil there was. The civilians were forcibly evacuated just before the U.S. invasion with the exception of about 400, who were detained and pressed into construction duty.

 Before the Battle

Japan had a naval installation on the island before WWII. In anticipation of the U.S. invasion, they built two airfields and were working on a third.

 Strategic Importance

Located about 650 miles from Japan, the island served as a base for Zero fighter planes, which harassed U.S. bombers conducting raids on Japan. It also provided Japan with two hours warning of impending aerial attacks. Iwo Jima was halfway between the Mariana Islands and Japan. Seized from Japanese forces in August 1944, the Marianas served as a base for U.S. bombers. American forces planned to use Iwo Jima for emergency landings for American B-29 bombers. After the U.S. took Iwo Jima, 2,400 B-29 bombers carrying 27,000 U.S. airmen made emergency landings there.

 Japanese Strategy

Led by Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, Japanese troops planned to die on the island — at the hands of the enemy or by suicide. Each man was ordered to sacrifice his own life and take 10 American soldiers with him. The plan was to inflict heavy casualties so the U.S. would lose its resolve and be reluctant to further its attacks on Japanese territory. The Marines sent in 70,000 troops and lost nearly 7,000 men. Kuribayashi knew what he was up against. He had been educated in Canada and had served as a military attaché there and in the U.S. It’s assumed he was killed March 21, 1945. In his final official dispatch Kuribayashi commented, “The strength under my command is about 400. The enemy suggested we surrender through a loudspeaker, but our officers and men just laughed and paid no attention.” His body was never found.

 Iwo Jima Today

The U.S. returned possession of the Iwo Jima to Japan in 1968. The island, marked with shrines honoring American and Japanese soldiers, is open only once a year for a guided tour limited to veterans, their family and a limited number of journalists. Last year, American and Japanese survivors were brought together to the island to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the battle and to honor those who died there. Cledith Skeen passed on an opportunity to visit Iwo Jima last year. “I could have gone, but I had no desire to,” he said.

 

Other Facts

  • In “Guadalcanal Diary,” the movie that inspired Tom Winemiller to join the Marine Corps, several Marines appeared as extras. Some of them were among the Marines who invaded Iwo Jima. Also, parts of the movie were filmed at Camp Pendleton in California, where Winemiller and Skeen took some of their military training.
  • Mount Suribachi derives its name from a Japanese term for “grinding bowl.”
  • Iwo Jima has no streams, ponds or lakes. The Japanese relied on wells and collected rainwater to survive.
  • The large flag raised over Mount Suribachi, which replaced the smaller one originally placed there, had been recovered from a sinking ship in Pearl Harbor.
  • The flag raising was also captured on 16mm film by Sgt. William Genaust, a Marine Corps photographer. According to Skeen, he didn’t live to see the footage he shot. Genaust was killed in action nine days later while searching a cave for Japanese soldiers.

 

Sources: “World War II Pacific Island Guide: A Geo-Military Study” by Gordon L. Rottman, World War II Database, the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, iwojima.com, “Combat Camera” by Patrick Brion, “Iwo Jima: Combat to Comrades,” a PBS documentary, Tom Winemiller and Cledith Skeen. Numbers of troops and casualties vary slightly, depending on the source.

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Cledith Skeen, left, and Tom Winemiller