Battle of Iwo Jima
USS IWO JIMA (LHD 7) is named for the epic battle of February 1945, in
which three divisions of the United States Marine Corps took control of
the tiny island of Iwo Jima from 22,000 determined Japanese defenders.
The United States had recovered from the disastrous attack on Pearl
Harbor, to the point where routine air attacks on Japanese cities could
be made by heavy bombers launched from the Marianas. The successful
outcome of the war seemed inevitable, but victory over the Japanese
would come only at a high price. The Japanese considered Iwo Jima a
part of mainland Japan, and an invader had not set foot on Japanese
soil for 4,000 years.
Iwo Jima was a thorn in the side of the U.S. heavy bomber crews. Air
attacks on the Marianas bomber bases, and bombers enroute to and from
Japan,were launched from Iwo Jima. An assault on the island was
necessary to eliminate these air attacks and to provide a haven for
damaged American aircraft returning from Japan.
Amphibious forces of the U.S. Pacific Fleet attacked the fortress of
Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945, with a formidable force, totaling 495
ships, including 17 aircraft carriers, 1170 planes, and 110,308 troops.
Before the amphibious assault, elements of the Air Force and Army Air
Corps pounded the
island in the longest sustained aerial offensive of the war.
Incredibly, this ferocious bombardment had little effect. Hardly any of
the Japanese underground fortresses were touched.
The Japanese defenders devised a unique and deadly strategy to defend
Iwo Jima from an American assault. Instead of building a barrier to
stop the Americans at the beach, they fortified the interior of the
island, creating a defense that could not be breached in a day.
On February 19, 1945, the first wave of Marines were launched after an
hour-long bombardment by the Navy’s “big
guns.” The Americans planned to capture, isolate and fortify
Mt. Suribachi. The success of the entire assault depended upon the
early capture of the mountain.
After an hour of calm, the Japanese defenders, hiding in their network
of caves and underground bunkers, unleashed a hail of gunfire. Mortars,
machine guns and heavy artillery rained down from scores of machine gun
nests atop Suribachi. After
the first day of fighting, 566 American men were killed and 1,755 more
were wounded. For the next several days, some of the bloodiest battles
of the Pacific were fought on the isle of Iwo Jima.
It was a battle of attrition on terrain that had no front lines; where
the attackers were exposed and the defenders fortified.
The battle for Iwo was fought desperately until March 26th, when the
island was finally secured by U.S. forces. In the struggle, nearly
7,000 Americans and more than 20,000 Japanese were killed. It was one
of the most savage and costly battles in the history of the Marine
Corps. As Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz observed, “Among
who served on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
PFC Jack Lucas was 17 when he earned the Medal of Honor, the youngest
awardee in our nation’s history. He leapt on two live
grenades, saving countless brother Marines. A doctor aboard the
hospital ship on which Lucas was treated said
he was, “too damned young and too damned tough to
die.” When asked, 53 years later, why he jumped on the
grenades, Jack simply said, “to save my buddies.”
He and his lovely wife, Ruby, are honorary crew and family members of
USS IWO JIMA (LHD 7).
Fabrication work for the new USS IWO JIMA (LHD 7) began at Ingalls
shipyard on September 3, 1996, and the ship’s keel was laid
December 12, 1997. The ship was launched on February 4th, 2000, and was
christened by her sponsor, Mrs. Zandra Krulak, wife of Commandant of
the Marine Corps Gen. Krulak, in Pascagoula, Mississippi on March 25th,
The commissioning crew moved aboard in April 2001 and made the
ship’s maiden voyage (accompanied by more than 2,000 World
veterans-many of them survivors of the Battle of Iwo Jima) on June
23rd, 2001. She was commissioned a week later in Pensacola, Florida, on
June 30th, 2001. Shortly thereafter, the ship and crew began an
accelerated Inter-Deployment Training Cycle.
Together with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations
Capable), USS IWO JIMA (LHD 7) conducted her maiden, eight-month
deployment, returning to Norfolk in October 2003.
Completing essentially four deployments in one, IWO JIMA’s
operational capabilities were put to the test as the ship inserted
marines from the 26 MEU (SOC) into Northern Iraq during Operation Iraqi
Freedom, patrolled the Persian Gulf, conducted operations in and around
Djibouti as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, and executed a
peacekeeping missions off the coast of war-torn Liberia, transiting
more tha 45,000 nautical miles.
After a post deployment maintenance period, IWO JIMA became the Flag
ship for Commander, Second Fleet in October 2004. For over a year, IWO
JIMA participated in many high visibility exercises, experiments, and
operations with U.S. and allied naval forces.
On August 31, 2005, IWO JIMA was sortied to the Gulf of Mexico to
provide disaster relief and to conduct support operations in the wake
of Hurricane Katrina. IWO JIMA sailed up the Mississippi River to the
city of New Orleans to directly support relief operations and act as
the central command center for all federal, state, and local disaster
During this critical period, IWO JIMA also served as the
only fully functional air field for helicopter operations, conducting
over one thousand flight deck operations; provided hot meals, showers,
drinking water, and berthing to thousands of National Guardsmen and
relief workers; provided medical services, including first aid and
surgical services, for disaster victims; and conducted clean-up
operations in the city and suburbs of New Orleans.
IWO JIMA was proud to serve as flagship for the commander-in-chief,
George W. Bush, and is only the second Navy ship to have been presented
the flag of the President of the United States of America.