WWII Marine hopes Iwo Jima visit will wash away memories
Stars and Stripes March 11, 2006
IWO JIMA, Japan — Sixty-one years have passed since George Nowacki last set foot on this island — years filled with daily memories of what happened here. He thought maybe, just maybe, if he visited, those memories would fade.
“It comes to your mind every day, all the [crap] we went through … maybe it will go away now,” Nowacki said as his eyes filled with tears. His wrinkled hands quickly wiped the tears away.
Nowacki first landed on the island on Red Beach 2 with his fellow Marines of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 27th Marines. He was a young private first class serving as a Browning automatic rifle gunner. When they hit the black-sand beach with the first wave, he was surprised.
“We didn’t get too much resistance,” he said. “The Japanese were waiting for more people to land. When the second and third waves hit, they were tore up … the Japanese were zeroed in on the beach.”
The unit punched straight across the island in about four hours, Nowacki said. That’s where they hit their first heavy resistance.
“They killed a couple of Marines so we holed up and stayed on the other side for about a day,” he said.
In a short time, Nowacki said, Japanese snipers were learning to aim at two-man machine gun teams.
“If you had a machine gun, you were dead,” he said. “So after a couple days, they were starting to hang back.”
While he was able to stay safe for 21 days, being too close to a machine gun team may have cost Nowacki. He said a team was setting up about 10 yards to his right when the assistant gunner was hit in the arm. Then, he said, the Marine manning the machine gun was hit.
Nowacki said he looked forward and saw Japanese troops waving a white flag in a cave.
“I think they were just trying to get my attention,” he said.
Then it happened: Nowacki was shot in the chest.
“It just felt like someone reached out and touched me, but when I pulled my hand away, it was covered with blood,” he said.
The Marines were told to get out of the area, and Nowacki was able to get up and run about 40 feet.
“I fell down and when I woke up they were already bandaging me up,” he said.
The doctor told Nowacki he didn’t know how the bullet missed his heart but it did. The bullet exited his back, breaking two ribs along the way.
Nowacki was transported to a hospital ship after about a week in a field hospital, then stayed in hospitals in Guam, Hawaii and San Diego.
Sixty-one years later, Nowacki said the island looks nothing like he remembered.
“This is so different,” he said, sitting on a stool on a hill overlooking one of the invasion beaches. “When we landed here there was nothing here — everything was either blown up or burned. Now it’s full of trees.”
Nowacki said he can’t be sure his daily battle memories will ease but, “It’s nice to be back in a way. It’s nice to see it in a different, peaceful state.”