Veteran remembers Iwo Jima: 'I became cold and tough'
By GREG OLSON GOLSON | Jacksonville Journal-Courier, Ill. | Published: February 19, 2014
The past 69 years have not dimmed Warren Musch’s memory of his experiences on the volcanic island of Iwo Jima, the scene of some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting of World War II.
For Musch, then a 23-year-old Marine second lieutenant from rural Virginia, Iwo Jima was where he got his first and only taste of combat.
Besides Musch, two other area men served in the Marines on Iwo Jima — Jerry Lowe of South Jacksonville and Raymond “Rip” VanWinkle of rural Roodhouse. Neither was available to talk this week.
Musch could hardly see Iwo Jima for all the smoke and dust created by heavy bombardment of the Pacific island as he and other Marines waited on the USS Lubbock, anchored about a mile offshore. U.S. military forces wanted Iwo Jima and its three airfields as a staging area for attacks on Japan’s main islands.
Around noon on Feb. 19, 1945, Musch and 35 other Marines, including 17 men in the combat intelligence section he was assigned to, boarded a landing craft and headed toward the place a reporter later described as “a nightmare in hell.” Musch’s landing craft hit the black sandy beach of Iwo Jima in the 13th wave of Marines to go ashore.
“I hit the beach and fell down,” said Musch, now 92 and living in Jacksonville. “There were two dead Marines with camouflage-painted faces lying on either side of me. I realized I could die at any time, so I became cold and tough. Being surrounded by death, you develop an inner strength to live. This is when the [Japanese] came out of their caves and began firing on the beaches. I realized the beach was no place to be as machine guns and mortars were raining shells all over the place. I started to raise up on the beach at one point and machine gun fire knocked sand in my face about four inches above my head.”
Musch and the 17 men he was with were responsible for keeping a map showing the advancement of the 3rd Battalion and making daily reports to the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Charles E. Shepard Jr., of the 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division.
On the battle’s fifth day, Feb. 23, Musch saw a fellow officer he knew — 1st Lt. Harold Schrier — lead a 40-man patrol up Mount Suribachi, where they raised an American flag — the first foreign flag to fly on Japanese soil.
“I knew Lt. Schrier, but I didn’t know any of his men,” Musch said. “Lt. Schrier was a very good leader. He and I trained together at Camp Pendleton and then in Hawaii.”
Later on Feb. 23, five Marines and one Navy corpsman put up a second and much larger flag on Mount Suribachi, a flag raising immortalized by Joe Rosenthal’s photograph, an iconic image that has come to symbolize the Battle of Iwo Jima, the war in the Pacific and the Marine Corps itself.
Musch said he and his men did not see the more famous flag raising because they had moved away from Mount Suribachi and had their backs to the scene.
The five-week battle for Iwo Jima ended on March 26, 1945, but at a heavy cost. According to the Navy Department website, the 36-day battle resulted in more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 dead. Iwo Jima was the only battle in which the overall American casualties [killed and wounded] exceeded those of the Japanese, although Japanese combat deaths were three times those of the Americans.
Of the 22,000 Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima, only 216 were taken prisoner. The majority of the rest were killed in action, although there were estimates that as many as 3,000 continued to fight in the island’s cave systems well after the battle was declared won.
Musch and the 17 men in his combat intelligence section escaped the carnage of Iwo Jima relatively unscathed; two of the men suffered minor wounds. Musch said he believes that of those men only one is still living.
“The biggest thing I questioned for a long time was the amount of casualties we suffered on Iwo Jima and whether they were all necessary,” Musch said. But at an Iwo Jima survivors reunion in 1988, Musch met a World War II bomber pilot who said he believed the Marines died to save the lives of 27,000 airmen who landed on the island after the battle.
“After he spoke, I felt relieved that the effort was worthwhile,” Musch said.