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.

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