Subscribe
Elmer Rome stands in silence as taps is played Saturday at the 60th anniversary commemoration of the battle of Iwo Jima on the island. As a Navy Seabee with the 133rd Naval Construction Battalion, Rome landed in the second wave on Iwo Jima. He called the black sand beach home for 17 days.

Elmer Rome stands in silence as taps is played Saturday at the 60th anniversary commemoration of the battle of Iwo Jima on the island. As a Navy Seabee with the 133rd Naval Construction Battalion, Rome landed in the second wave on Iwo Jima. He called the black sand beach home for 17 days. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

Elmer Rome stands in silence as taps is played Saturday at the 60th anniversary commemoration of the battle of Iwo Jima on the island. As a Navy Seabee with the 133rd Naval Construction Battalion, Rome landed in the second wave on Iwo Jima. He called the black sand beach home for 17 days.

Elmer Rome stands in silence as taps is played Saturday at the 60th anniversary commemoration of the battle of Iwo Jima on the island. As a Navy Seabee with the 133rd Naval Construction Battalion, Rome landed in the second wave on Iwo Jima. He called the black sand beach home for 17 days. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

Elmer Rome, center, stands on the black beach of Iwo Jima with three of his children, from left, T.J. Rome, Jayne Schultz and Mary-Anne Osborne. The father brought all 10 of his children to the 60th Anniversary commemoration of the battle of Iwo Jima.

Elmer Rome, center, stands on the black beach of Iwo Jima with three of his children, from left, T.J. Rome, Jayne Schultz and Mary-Anne Osborne. The father brought all 10 of his children to the 60th Anniversary commemoration of the battle of Iwo Jima. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

IWO JIMA, Japan — On Saturday, Elmer Rome stood again on the black sand beach of Iwo Jima that he called home for 17 days in 1945.

Sixty years ago, he first set foot on the island as a young petty officer third class with the 133rd Naval Construction Battalion. The unit, attached to the 4th Marine Division, was in the second wave of troops to land on the island — just eight minutes after the first wave. Rome said they had to jump over the landing crafts’ sides and wade to shore, but he doesn’t remember the water being too deep.

“We were 1,014 guys who had no idea of what we were getting into,” he said. “I saw all the ones that were killed or maimed lying there on the beach,” Rome said. “I was never scared and never hurt … I was too focused on my job.”

The U.S. forces were taking so many casualties that every time he and his fellow Seabees ran supplies to the front, they returned carrying stretchers bearing the wounded. He said a photo of him carrying a stretcher was on a 1945 Look magazine cover.

After living on the beach for 17 days, Rome said, the Seabees moved almost directly across the island, where they built water tanks at a desalination site. He also helped build some barracks near the site.

Rome had returned to Iwo Jima just once, in 1995, when he brought a daughter to the commemoration. This year, he brought all 10 of his children.

Rome’s children said that growing up, they knew little of what their father did on Iwo Jima.

“He just wouldn’t talk about it,” said daughter Mary-Anne Osborne. “Until he came back for the 50th anniversary. Then he would talk about it occasionally.”

Son T.J. said he’d learned things from his father this past week that he’d never heard before — such as how he went to the cemetery to visit the graves of seven friends who had died.

T.J. said the family was able to get their hands on some of his history. They found and purchased two copies of the Look magazine issue with him on the cover.

“I think they paid about $10,” said the elder Rome.

T.J. replied, “It was a lot more than $10, dad. But you don’t need to worry about how much it was.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now