Veteran recalls Iwo Jima battle: 'I must have had an angel sitting on both shoulders'
By SAMANTHA MCDANIEL-OGLETREE | Jacksonville Journal-Courier, Ill. | Published: February 18, 2020
JACKSONVILLE, Ill. (Tribune News Service) — As he landed on the steep, dune-like beaches of Iwo Jima 75 years ago, one Virginia native had no idea what awaited him in the forests and mountains of the Japanese-held island during World War II.
On Feb. 19, 1945, and over the coming days, more than 70,000 U.S. Marine Corps troops landed on the island, including Warren Musch, who landed about 1 p.m. that day.
Quiet at first, the Japanese held their attack, waiting for the right moment to attack the landing Marines, Musch said.
“They waited until we had a lot of people on shore and they turned everything loose on us,” Musch said. “I landed on the beach right between two dead Marines. That’s when it really hit me.”
The battle of Iwo Jima was a five-week battle to capture the island, which held three airfields that could have been used as a staging area for attacks by the United States and allied countries during the war.
Though ultimately not used, the airfields and island came under U.S. control, but the battle for it resulted in nearly 7,000 Marine deaths and the deaths of all but roughly 200 of the 21,000 Japanese forces.
Musch enlisted while attending Illinois College and left for training immediately following his graduation before shipping out to Iwo Jima.
Though it was decades ago, Musch said he still remembers everything about Iwo Jima.
“It’s hard to realize it has been 75 years,” he said.
The battle of Iwo Jima was the first and only conflict Musch, then 23, saw during his time in the Marines.
Overwhelmed at first, Musch said he somehow pulled himself together during the five-week battle.
“I don’t know how I did it, but I was terrified at first,” Musch said. “Then, somehow, after the initial shock, I had no fear of getting wounded or killed. I can’t explain why or how I carried on with no fear, but it’s how I survived the entire 36 days.”
As a intelligence officer for his battalion, Musch traveled from command post to command post, making him a moving target.
“I was a moving target and somehow, the Japanese never picked me off,” he said. “I must have had an angel sitting on both shoulders.”
Musch said he feels it was by the grace of God that he left the island without injury and, thankfully, with no serious injuries in his unit.
“There was a day, we were up in the top terrace and I started to raise up, but I hesitated,” Musch said. “I don’t know why. Seconds later, Japanese machine gun fire knocked ash into my face — six inches above my head. I can’t explain it, but if I hadn’t hesitated, I might not be here today. It saved me and those with me.”
Despite the horrors of the battle, Musch said, there were a few good memories, including the moment Marines captured Mount Suribachi.
Four days into the fighting, on Feb. 23, Musch was just 100 yards down the mountain as Marines raised the first flag on Mount Suribachi at roughly 10 a.m., he said. Though not the flag shown in the iconic photo taken by Joe Rosenthal, Musch said it was an iconic moment for many of those watching.
“We were very elated,” Musch said. “It was a wonderful boost, because things hadn’t been going well. It was a big morale booster for the troops. None of us knew (the battle) would extend for 31 more days.”
The flag shown in the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo was one that was raised later that afternoon.
“The general wanted a bigger flag, so he sent a larger one up the mountain,” Musch said. “By that point, I was already back at work, so I got to see the one raised in the morning.”
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