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Thursday, December 17th, 2009

KITANO POINT: With time running out, we made our way down to where the Northern tip of the island touches the sea. Here and along the cliffs of Kitano Point the Japanese made their last stand. The number of shell impact marks from our destroyers firing at almost point blank range are still evident today. Beneath the cliffs are splintered fragments and shrapnel that litter the ground like the piles of waste on the floor of a high school metal shop. As we made our way back to the runway we passed two “hidden” 47mm anti tank gun bunkers, which were so well camouflaged (even today) that no Marine tanker could ever hope to spot them. Had time allowed, we would have further explored the Bloody Gorge, yet our pilot was very clear – be here at 1500 or I leave without you! And so ended our three days on Iwo Jima – yet we were able to fly over the island twice before heading back to Okinawa, and that was a panoramic view to remember – blue water surrounding an overgrown volcanic island…


Thursday, December 17th, 2009

JAPANESE NAVAL HEADQUARTERS CAVE: This particular cave/tunnel complex has poor oxygen circulation. We were told to carry a candle into this cave, and that if it went out we were to leave. Guarding the entrance, about 100 feet inside as a heavy machine gun position. We know this was for Type 92 heavy machine gun from the piles of empty 30 round ammunition strips that littered the floor. Upon closer inspection we found countless spent 7.7mm shell casings. The gunners that manned this position were well protected, being so far back from the tunnel entrance it would be close to impossible to take them out.

Behind the heavy machine gun position, at the tail end of the entrance (from the opening to this point was a good 130 feet) was a pile of metal ration and food cans. The ration cans were the typical Japanese issue, which contain all sorts from pickles to crab meat. The large cans were of a more modern “American” size, and were a civilian rather than a military issue size. It is our thought that this might be where the two Japanese hold outs hid from the Americans after the battle and up until 1949 when they surrendered. It is known that both the Iwo Jima hold-outs Yamakage Kufuku and Matsudo Linsoki were naval machine gunners – This very spot was clearly one of a machine gun position, guarding the naval headquarters cave complex. After the war these two hold outs survived off of what they could find in the tunnels and from what they could pilfer from the American airmen who were stationed on the island.

As we ventured deep into the naval complex the air did become thin, with a succession of off-shooting tunnels leading down towards the medical cave, and medical officer’s cave. These passages ways were marked with red tags, which warned of booby traps. Needless to say we did not venture further.


Thursday, December 17th, 2009

HOSPITAL CAVE: This was quite a surprise, finding a fully stocked Japanese infirmary with bottles of all shapes and sizes, medical instruments, trays, and even morphine capsules (with the morphine still inside). With each scoup of earth I found more capsules and bottles that had been preserved by this loose sand stone.


Thursday, December 17th, 2009

HILL 362A: During the battle for Iwo, this heavily defended hill complex was one of the toughest nuts to crack. The hill is the second highest feature on the island next to Mount Suribachi and Nishi Ridge. Envision a small shopping center made of rocks and sandstone, with countless entrances and exits. It’s strategic value was that it served as the west anchor of Lt. General Kuribayashi’s main defensive line. Inside the hill are five tunnel systems, four of which are inter-connected. Hill 362A is one of the most difficult spots to get access to on the island today as it’s well concealed from the tall brush that lines West road (it’s true location can only been seen from the air).

One might not be aware, but inside one of the many tunnel entrances are the remains of combat cameraman Sgt. Bill Genaust. Genaust shot the color film footage of the 2nd Flag Raising, which became the iconic image for the 7th War Loan drive – and of the Marine Corps. Genaust was following the 28th Marines (of the 5th Marine Division) in their on-going fight to secure Hill 362A. As the Marines came across yet another entrance, a rifleman asked for a light to better guide them into the complex – Genaust being a blooded combat veteran stepped forward with his flash light to lead the way. As the Sergeant entered the tunnel, the report of a Japanese machine gun was heard – Genaust and the Marine/s were cut down, and the entrance was ordered closed. JPAC have recently made a series of trips to the island in search of Genaust, yet this is quite the herculean task for with the hill being made of sandstone – the loose earth that was blown-in to close the entrance has settled over the last 64 years since the 1945 battle – so the search continues, with the hope that one day his remains, and the remains of those with him can be found and returned.

Hill 362A has been of great personal interest to me, because of the key part it played in the battle for Iwo, and as the location of combat cameraman Sgt. Bill Genaust… After careful study of the battles that raged around the hill complex, the Battle Rats were able to plot a course that would lead them to what they surmised to be the nerve center of the hill complex. The route chosen took us about 2 hours to wade through a sea of cactus that surrounded the rear of the hill. Once at the hill’s base, the Rats began to find signs of battle – some of the most impressive were the numerous impact marks in the earthen walls of 362A made by the 75mm guns of Marine Sherman tanks (some of the shells did not explode and can still be seen embedded in the sand stone) to a blown section of M4 Sherman tank tread. Atop the hill were found a complete set of unopened WWII Marine canned field rations.

Now the task at hand was to find an entrance, while the first two that the Rats encountered were blown (or caved-in), the third was still open. To date the Battle Rats are the first film crew to film inside the elusive hill/tunnel complex of Hill 362A. As they entered, it was not without some reservation as the ceiling and walls were all of loose sand stone was coming down on and around them as they made their way through the maze of tunnels.

As expected there were several levels, the rats explored three, with each being interconnected to another seemingly endless passage way. During their exploration of the complex the Rats found discarded personal items of the Japanese defenders such as Bakelite rice bowls, beer and sake bottles, ammunition and hand grenade crates, and small ration tins that once held the likes of pickles and crab meat. Several broken entrenching tools lined one uncompleted passage way – while venturing down into this lower chamber the hand carved earthen stairs gave way, sending the host down into the bottom. With the verbal guidance of Mastriano, I made his way up and out of the “pit”. The most impressive find was an officer’s quarters, which included a crude officer’s bed and chair fashioned from wooden ammunition crates, and his uniform – which you see in the one hour Iwo Jima episode.

With more time, we would have made a more extensive search of the tunnels, yet with the 118 degree heat, foul “sulfur” air, and a hard departure time the rats had to leave and make their way North to the Bloody Gorge and Kitano Point.


Thursday, December 17th, 2009

STORAGE TUNNEL: This was a find, some 300 55 gallon metal drums, all in a line, stored in a tunnel that ran parallel with what was once Motoyama #2 (the 2nd Japanese runway). What is especially interesting is that the location of this tunnel matches up with that from a Japanese officer’s diary. This diary was examined and translated by a Lt. Goldberg, and notes the storage of aviation fuel in large metal drums in a long tunnel, to protect them from the incessant enemy (American) bombing (the island was bombed for 72 days prior to the landing of February 19th, 1945).


Thursday, December 17th, 2009

THE MEAT GRINDER & MEAT GRINDER RIDGE: This is an area seldom explored on the island as it’s completely overgrown, and as you’ll see in this one hour episode, portions of it are even jungle-like. The rain was coming down pretty good here, yet we embraced it as nothing was going to stop us (though we were glad the worst of the typhoon and come and gone – allowing us time to come out and see more of the battlefield).


Thursday, December 17th, 2009

120MM GUN BUNKERS: Overlooking the cliffs of the East Boat Basin were three large concrete bunkers. Only one was still standing, with the other two destroyed by American naval and aerial bombardment. Standing atop this bunker you could see directly down the flank of the landing beaches. This area, the East Boat Basin was well fortified with heavy guns such as the 120MM guns that were once housed in these very bunkers. Behind these bunkers were a series of mortar positions that rained down upon the Marines and Sailors on the beach.


Thursday, December 17th, 2009

AWAZU HEADQUARTERS CAVE: This complex not only leads under the main road, but also runs towards the runway, as the far reaching lower chambers were flooded from a typhoon that hit the island in the early morning hours. This is a massive tunnel system with three known levels, with the top level consisting of shelters and sleeping areas for the troops, to the storage and equipment alcoves of the second level, and the large meeting or administration chambers of the third level. While making our way through a partially caved-in passageway, we found a Japanese enlisted man’s dog tag (which you see in the show). While the Japanese soldier’s body was recovered, his tag has been lying there amid the rocks since the battle, and only from careful scanning of the floor did we spot this forgotten piece of history.


Thursday, December 17th, 2009

MOUNT SURIBACHI, ABOVE AND BELOW GROUND: It is one thing to climb and explore the slopes and summit, but to find an entrance into Mount Suribachi has been the quest of the life time. During our three day exploration of the island we made Suribachi a priority. As our daylight was limited by intermittent rains, we decided to climb the mountain, following the original route of the 42 man patrol. Once on top I would talk about the flag raising, and then attend to Sgt. Padell. With daylight fading, we now made our way back down the mountain to explore two tunnel entrances that we had passed on our way up. The first tunnel system was carved out of solid volcanic rock, with branching passageways running along the base of the mountain, down to the beach, and up –unfortunately we discovered that those tunnels leading up were either caved-in or blown-in.

The second entrance was nothing more than a crawl space, which brought back visions of childhood – crawling on ones belly for 60+ feet into a black hole of Tom Sawyer wonderment… This tunnel system proved especially interesting as it had several firing ports that allowed gunners and riflemen to fire down upon the Marines on the landing beaches, yet they would be fully protected by the mountain’s wall. These same firing ports were no doubt incrediblely difficult to spot from the beaches, and from the looks of these positions they were never reduced by naval gunfire, aerial bombardment, nor Marine grenades or flamethrowers. It is our thought that the men who defended this hidden fighting position left after running out of food and water – in an attempt to link up with those forces defending the main defensive line (that ran from the East Boat Basin to Hill 362A).

While exploring these tunnels we found Bakelite Imperial Army rice bowls, sake bottles, gas mask filters and lenses, and wooden shelves where rations, small arms ammunition or communications equipment could have been stored. Lining the walls were small hand carved alcoves for oil lamps, which were the main source of light in this sector.


Thursday, December 17th, 2009

LET THEM NOT BE FORGOTTEN: On New Year’s Day 2007, my friend Danny Thomas passed away. Thankfully I was able to speak with him the week of Christmas before his passing. In that conversation Danny made it known in his quite, southern gentlemanly way that when his time came, he’d like his ashes returned to Iwo. I knew he wanted to be “reunited” with his lost buddy Chick. On March 12th, 2007 I fulfilled his last wish on about the same patch of Yellow Beach II that he and Chick landed on.

National Geographic happened to be on the island filming and asked if they may record this private ceremony. I agreed, and a portion of it was included in their 2008 program – Stateside, an Iwo Marine happened to be watching this very program from his hospital bed – Sgt. Leon Padell HQ-2-24 (4th Marine Division), who remarked to his son “I want that”! Padell’s son contacted me and we spoke of his dad’s experiences with the 4th Division during the Iwo operation. Months later the sergeant passed away – yet his wish was about to be granted. On March 11th, 2008 during the filming of our Battle Rats pilot episode, Sgt. Padell was returned to Iwo.

The sergeant’s final resting spot not in question for long – Padell’s son Jeff mentioned that the only happy memory his father had during the battle was seeing the flag go up! I knew then that Sgt. Padell needed to be taken up Mount Suribachi and placed there on the summit, right where both flags went up. This memorial ceremony was originally intended to be filmed for the family and not included in our program, yet after talking with the family it was decided to share it with the world, that others might be moved by it – that they might be so inspired to do some simple gesture for their veteran – be he family, friend, neighbor or complete stranger – they all need to know that what how they were, and what they did will not be forgotten.

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