Tuesday, March 20, 2012

WWII Marine officer remembers Iwo Jima, Saipan battles

By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

NOTHING compares to the battle on Iwo Jima according to visiting World War II veteran retired Lt. Gen. Lawrence Snowden.

Having seen action in the Pacific during World War II, and in the subsequent wars in Korea that ended in a stalemate in 1953 and in Vietnam that dealt America its first loss, the Battle of Iwo Jima, for Snowden, “is the bloodiest battle of our history.”

“There is no question that Iwo Jima stands out,” said Snowden.

He recalled, “We were fighting, hand to hand combat.”

Although he acknowledged the subsequent wars in Korea and Vietnam were intense, for Snowden, it was nothing like what they had on Iwo Jima.

He told Variety he was a 23-year-old captain when they landed on Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945.

“My company was an assault company. We were the first and second troop waves,” he said.

He narrated that once they reached the shore, the battle intensified.

“It was a terrible, terrible event,” described Snowden of their first day on Iwo Jima.

He said the Japanese were trying to obey garrison commander Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi to let the American soldiers get beyond the shores and open fire at the oncoming Americans.

“They just unloaded everything,” said Snowden describing the heavy artillery and mortar rounds.

He said, “The real problem was we were ON Iwo Jima, the Japanese were IN it.”

For Snowden, that spelled a tremendous difference for aerial bombing and naval gun fire.

He told Variety, “Some Japanese bunkers were protected by 10 feet of reinforced steel with heavy earth formations on top of that.”

He said at that time, American aerial bombs were all point detonating, “as soon as the nodule of the bomb touched the earth, it exploded.”

He said with the Japanese 25 feet below the surface, “that didn’t bother them very much.”

“Despite the tremendous shelling from the battleships and aerial bombardment, we didn’t do much to damage the heavy emplacements that they had so cleverly placed and conceived,” explained Snowden.

For 36 days, the Americans endured violent warfare to capture the island and declare that secure which up to this day is best captured in a photo of American soldiers planting the American flag on Mt. Suribachi.

“It certainly occupies a unique place in the Marine Corps and United States history,” said Snowden.

Last week, the WWII veteran visited Iwo Jima prior to coming to Saipan.

Snowden was on Saipan in 2004, along with Ret. Col. Paul Tibbets, attending the 60th commemoration of WWII.

“I fought here,” Snowden told Variety over lunch at the VFW Saipan Post last Thursday.

“We landed here on the 15th of June 1944, on the beach where the Pacific Islands Club is now located,” he said.

For Snowden, they landed on a “relatively quiet beach.”

“I lost some of my young Marines here. Some were badly wounded and carry those scars up to today,” said Snowden.

He said, “That was the price of going to war.”

Speaking before students last Thursday at the VFW Saipan Post, Snowden reminded them how freedom was bought for a high price — in human lives.

“The young people need to be reminded of that... My only suggestion is they read history and understand that they are free because of what others did,” he told Variety.

He said he enjoyed his 2004 visit on Saipan along with Col. Paul Tibbets whom he described as “a great man, a great leader.”

He also recognized President Harry Truman for his “political courage to drop the bomb,” which he said had saved over a million lives.

Addressing the students, he said, “To you young people who haven’t served yet, I think you have an opportunity to do so. We are going to need generations after generations to serve in the armed forces.”

He continued to talk about the benefits of freedom enjoyed by the present generation.

He said, “I sit in relative freedom…and having some comfort in my mind that I helped bring that about.”

Unfortunately, for Snowden, the fight to preserve freedom continues. “Where are we today, we are still engaged in the long and protracted war with international terrorists.”

He added, “We are going to keep our push to maintain our defenses against international terrorism. The job isn’t finished.”

Snowden, who lives in Florida, is a retired lieutenant general of the U.S. Marine Corps and one of the remaining elite WWII veterans still around to share his experiences with the young generation about enjoying the benefits of freedom.

Lt. Gen. Lawrence Snowden: Freedom is never free

WWII veteran: Freedom is never free
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor - Reporter

FOR visiting Ret. Lt. Gen. Lawrence Snowden of the U.S. Marines, freedom costs something.

In an interview with Variety at the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Saipan Post on Beach Road last week, the 91-year-old WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War veteran said, “Freedom is never free.”

He said the younger generations should look at Iwo Jima, the Korean War and the war in Afghanistan and recognize that freedom costs something.

Snowden, who arrived on Saipan Thursday fresh from a trip to Iwo Jima, advises the younger generations to be always on guard “against the bad guy who would do us in.”

“What I know to be true is God continues to bless America in providing young men and women who are stepping up to volunteer, who are serving and serving well,” he said.

Asked to comment on the U.S.’s role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, “It is hard to talk about that without having a mix of personal feelings.”

For Snowden, at the height of the U.S. involvement in Iraq, “I wasn’t convinced that the weapons of mass destruction were in the hands of the bad guys. I felt we went into Iraq in the wrong basis.”

Despite his opposition to going to war in Iraq, Snowden said, “Having done that, once you’re there, then we have to do whatever we could do to complete the mission.”

As for Afghanistan, Snowden believes that it is turning out to be a much longer and more troublesome process.

He noted the dominance of tribal chiefs who are opposed to a strong central government, which impacts the ways they raise their money.

Of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, he said, “Ultimately, we have to say we have done our job here and we are going home.”

However, for Snowden, whether the U.S. wants to or not may take years to find out.

Curbing post traumatic stress

For those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he said, “I don’t have any answers to that.”

But he said he knows that PTSD doesn’t surface for years.

He also said that going to war and killing people creates troublesome memories.

“Over time, either your mind handles that or it doesn’t,” said Snowden.

He remembers a friend who took part in intense fighting in Vietnam, who up to this day continues to seek psychiatric help “to help him understand the pressures of what he did.”

Describing PTSD as a “dreadful issue,” Snowden also anticipates that this may exact its toll on the country by way of rehabilitation costs for many years to come.

Universal conscription

Looking forward, Snowden told Variety he proposes the concept of universal conscription.

“I think any young man or woman ought to give some service to the nation, “ he said.

He said he believes that young men and women to be registered for service at the age of 17. However, he said, they should be given choices.

He suggested that they can serve in the Peace Corps, or as volunteers in hospitals where they are needed by various organizations, among other services to the nation.

He said, “I think everybody ought to do something for the security of the country.”

Latest visit to Iwo Jima

Snowden, who arrived on Saipan accompanied by WWII veteran Lee Marvin’s widow Pam, described his recent visit to Iwo Jima as “great.”

“We had a large delegation of Japanese come down from Tokyo,” he said.

Snowden told Variety that there were survivors of the 1944 battle that made it to the ceremony.

He said the trip brought back haunting memories of the battle.

For them, he said, it was an “emotional experience” to come back for the first time, to stand on the black sand of Iwo Jima.

He said the veterans could not contain the rush of memories. “I have had the good fortune to be there a number of times. I am kind of past that.”

Snowden said the other survivors, when the day was over, sat and thought about what they had done, where they were and what they remember. They cried, he said.

Snowden, who was a 23-year-old captain when the Americans stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima 67 years ago, last visited Saipan in 2004.

He was also part of the invasion of Saipan on June 15, 1944.

At the time they landed on the beach on what is now the location of the Pacific Islands Club, Snowden said, they didn’t see the beauty of it. “The beach had been scarred by bombs and all kinds of junk let lying around.”

“The beach is beautiful now and can be appreciated for what it is,” he said.

Having fought in several significant battles, Snowden believes he is just lucky to have survived.

He told Variety with a smile, “I supposed I am an experienced warrior.”