Son traces father’s footsteps, returns piece of WWII history

The tag on the Japanese Navy uniform jacket that Cliff Hadley Sr. took from Iwo Jima 60 years ago.


By FRED ZIMMERMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 15, 2005

IWO JIMA, Japan — Most veterans returned to this Pacific island this weekend to pay tribute to the dead and remember their place in history. But one man had two other missions: learning more about his father and righting a wrong.

Cliff Hadley’s father, Cliff Hadley Sr., was a 19-year-old Marine private first class when he hit the Iwo Jima beaches with the 4th Marine Division. The young Marine was a radioman that was “a good shot,” his son said.

After taking part in battling for Hill 382 and fighting at the “meat grinder, turkey knob and amphitheater,” Hadley said, his father’s unit began clearing caves — and Hadley’s father snagged a war trophy that remained a family mystery for almost 60 years.

“I heard rumors that he had it but I never believe it existed,” the son said. “He never showed it to us.”

When Hadley told his mother he was heading to Iwo Jima for the battle’s 60th anniversary, she asked if he would return the item. Hadley’s father died two years ago at age 77. His mother said they didn’t need it anymore, that it didn’t belong to the family.

After all the years, Hadley finally learned the rumor was true and got a glimpse of the war trophy. His mother went to her bedroom and pulled out a plastic bag. Inside was a Japanese navy sailor’s uniform jacket.

“On one job he went into a cave and on the way out, he saw the jacket and snatched it up,” said Hadley, who added that his father didn’t remove the article from a body; it was simply lying on the ground.

The item wasn’t worn, washed or removed from the drawer for 60 years, Hadley said; it remained in exactly the shape it was in when it left the cave. Hadley said he was told it was preserved that way because some type of identification tag was stitched into the collar.

Translated, the tag shows the uniform was made in December 1942 and issued in October 1943 to Sannosuke Akitaya. The sailor apparently was from the Maizuru military supply department in Kyoto Prefecture.

After Saturday’s commemoration ceremony, Hadley gave the uniform jacket to Japanese official Rosa Ogawa. He said returning the uniform felt good. “It’s a relief. … Even though he (his father) didn’t desecrate anyone when he took it as a 19-year-old, I think he’d say now, ‘I took something that wasn’t mine.’”

After taking care of one his reasons for coming to Iwo Jima, the son then set out to see where his father fought. He said he had about a two-mile hike down the beach to the spot where he thinks his dad landed 60 years ago.

Said Hadley: “I’m going to see how many of my dad’s footsteps I can follow.”

Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

Cliff Hadley holds the Japanese sailor’s coat his father, Cliff Hadley Sr., took out of a cave during fighting on the island in 1945. The uniform sat in a drawer in his father’s house for the last 60 years before Hadley returned it to the Japanese on Saturday.