Veterans tell personal stories of the iconic 1945 island battle.
In his third oral-history collection, veteran journalist Smith (The Few and the Proud: Marine Corps Drill Instructors in Their Own Words, 2006) interviewed 22 retired soldiers, all over the age of 80. Readers accustomed to today’s wars, in which a single American death makes headlines, may recoil at the mass slaughter these men witnessed. Several marine flamethrowers relate the gruesome mechanics of their specialty. A surviving medic (nearly 200 died) reveals the equally horrific duties that won him a Medal of Honor. A sailor who participated in minesweeping before his ship’s landing recalls how, despite never touching shore, dozens of his shipmates died. An operations officer describes the weeks during which almost all his fellow officers and friends fell. Perhaps the most moving subject is Samuel Tso, a Navajo from a poor family who never saw them during four years at a government high school in which officials forced students to speak only English. Drafted into the legendary code-talkers, he and his fellow tribesmen used the formerly forbidden Navajo language as a secure method of communication between units during battle. Several crewmen describe missions during which an emergency landing on Iwo saved their lives. Since each veteran summarizes his life history, readers will learn what it was like to grow up in Depression-era America, when nearly everyone struggled. Thankfully, all of the stories contained here have happy endings.
Exemplary oral history.