WWII Memoirs – 1945 – Back To The States

Three and a half months had gone by since Japan’s surrender. It seemed like ages since that night of the spontaneous celebration with tracers and live ammunition. And we all had let our hopes soar for a quick return home. But everybody on the Island couldn’t be shipped back at once, those hopes became more realistic expectations.

The military had developed a “point” system by which those with the highest point total would leave first. Points were granted for the time in service, time served in the theater of operations, and several other criteria.

So from time to time members of our outfit were bidding us “good-bye,” as our squadron slowly dissolved. My projected departure date was early December. And finally that day arrived. The first step back would be by plane. We were scheduled to fly to Iwo Jima, and catch an aircraft carrier there for the final trip to the States. So one the day before we left, an air force officer briefed us on putting on a parachute, and explained emergency other procedures.

It was dark when we took off. I still remember the the throbbing flashes of exhaust as the plane had been warming up. There was no nostalgia, and no regrets; we were glad to be leaving it all behind.

After a long flight, we landed on Iwo in mid-afternoon. And after being shown our quarters and dining, we were free to roam. I knew I had to see the beach where nine months ago our marines had landed in the face of murderous fire. I walked ankle-deep in the black sand that covered the beach, and I tried to visualize that scene of terror. Many never made it across the beach.

Our squadron was very much involved in supporting the preparations for the invasion of Iwo Jima. We had a flight of planes and men on Saipan that provided many of the photographs for that planning. The 28th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron flew missions for 69 straight days. And most of those were “dicing” missions. That is a British term, meaning highly risky flights, because the plane flew probably fifty feet or less above surface while shooting oblique photos inland.

USS Independence (CVL-22), Wikipedia

USS Independence (CVL-22), Wikipedia

We lost one pilot in those pre-invasion operations, and as I stood looking across the water just off shore I wondered where he and his plane went down? I hoped that now that we had occupied the Island, our forces would find the plane, and recover his remains. And I realized that it would be a long time before all the wounds and pains of this war would pass. Reluctantly I returned to my quarters to prepare for tomorrow’s start for the trip home.

After an early breakfast, I was on the assembly field, ready for embarking. While waiting, I engaged in a conversation with a lieutenant, who was also headed home to Portland. He had just come off an extended period of convalescence resulting from his plane crashing near Mt. Suribachi. As we chatted, he pointed up and commented, “Once in a blue moon.” There in the early morning sky was a huge, pale blue moon. “I guess that’s for us,” I replied, “We’re here only once and they hang out a blue moon for the occasion.” He laughed, and said, “That calls for a drink,” and he dug out a bottle of liquor from his luggage.

Mt Suribachi, Iwo Jima

Mt Suribachi, Iwo Jima

But that morning the object that held the interest of most of the men, lay out in the deep water, the aircraft carrier, “Independence.” It was our ride home. All its planes had been removed and it was now serving as a troop ship.

A sad state lay in store for the “Independence.” Planes would never again land on her deck. We didn’t know it at the time, but this “veteran” of the Pacific would be one of the big ships “sacrificed” in the nuclear tests at the Bikini Atoll that coming summer.

As the carrier was pulling up anchor, I took a long look at Mt. Suribachi, the most prominent landmark on the island. I was to see pictures of it and the renowned flag-raising scene many times in future years. But that was my last live look at a World War II battle zone.

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