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The Sailors of Iwo Jima

Naval History and Heritage Command’s Communication and Outreach Division

The Battle of Iwo Jima began on February 19, 1945 as Sailors and Marines faced Imperial Japanese forces over the control of the island. The island was a critical point for the United States as it planned their attacks on the Japanese main islands.

The 36 days of battle are considered some of the bloodiest and fiercest fights of the Pacific theater during World War II.

At the beginning of 2020, we asked our social media followers to submit photographs of their friends and family members who served in the Navy at Iwo Jima as we honor the 75th anniversary of the battle.

As at Iwo Jima, individual Sailor and Marine contributions will make the difference between victory and defeat. America’s integrated Naval Power-the Navy and Marine Corps – cannot succeed without the other and we’re proud to share some of their stories below.

“Robert E. Custer September 26, 1922 – January 18, 2014. This is an excerpt from a journal entry about his experience at Iwo Jima: ‘In 1943, I had carrier flight training at Glenview Lake, Michigan. This is where I learned how to land on aircraft carriers. There was a modified cruise ship on the lake. Each pilot landed on it eight times – and then was sent to war. USS Bismarck Sea (CVE-95) was sunk by Kamikaze aircraft off Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, February 21, 1945. I was in the Ready Room when the Kamikazes hit. I was knocked unconscious and when I came to, I heard the announcement that we were abandoning ship. I climbed up to the deck. The ship was on fire, lights were out, debris was flying. Sailors were standing in line to lower themselves into the water, but because of the high winds they couldn’t swim away from the ship. I decided this was not a good time to wait in line. The ship was tilted at 45 degrees. I knew the plane elevators were down and I wouldn’t survive if I fell into one. I slowly climbed my way across the deck and jumped off the starboard side. My life jacket didn’t inflate, so I had to tread water for a couple of hours alongside a fellow TBF pilot, before the destroyer, Edmonds, was able to get on the scene and pick us up. Although it made treading water difficult, once aboard, I was thankful I had left my boots on. Later I was able to witness the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima.'”

Lee Arlo Dosch, LT (j.g.) was a radar engineer (trained at Harvard & MIT in 1943-44) assigned to ComDesRon 56 but was on temporary duty aboard USS Bryant (DD 665) during Iwo Jima landings. The Bryant provided fire control and close-shore bombardments for the landings as well as picket duty. He once mentioned how horrible it was to watch the landing craft Marines get blown apart before even getting to shore while all they could do was watch from a mile out, firing over their heads to try to stop some of the Japanese artillery.

“Arthur L. Setchfield, USS Indianapolis survivor. He entered the Navy from St. Louis, MO and boarded Indianapolis November 23, 1942. He participated in nine of the 10 battles Indianapolis was involved and earned 9 battle stars. According to his naval record: ‘Participated in the assault, bombardment and occupation of Iwo Jima commencing 19 February 1945.’ The special entry page is signed by J.A. Flynn, Commander.. He was honorably discharged after being successfully rescued by USS Cecil J. Doyle on August 4, 1945.”

“Donald Roy Preston from Sheridan, Wyoming. Enlisted 12/29/1941 in Salt Lake City. Pharmacist’s Mate, on Iwo Jima as Corpsman with H Company, 27th Marines H+3. Separated 12/25/1945. Re-enlisted 3/3/1947 stationed various places before ending up at Bethesda Naval Hospital in the Dental School. Stationed various places including Naval Air Station Patuxent River for four years with last tour on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, retiring 12/11/1963, Chief Dental Tech. Died 5/16/1977.”

“Norman Swanson served aboard USS Edmonds (DE-406). He and some of his shipmates jumped overboard to save the crew of USS Bismarck Sea (CVE-95).”

“John L Marshall served aboard LST-726 and was aboard at Iwo Jima. He only talked about his experience in World War II after a family member joined the Navy in the 1980s. He was proud of his service to our nation.”

“Linden E. Labbe, of Dover, NH, enlisted in the Navy on his 17th birthday. He served on the USS Newberry and piloted a boat that transported troops from ship to shore. He was at Iwo Jima and present at the flag raising on Mount Suribachi. He recently passed away at the age of 92.”

“Pharmacist Mate 2nd Class Francis R Ebenkamp, Company B, 5th Medical Battalion, 5th Marine Division. He landed with the 9th wave on Dday.”

“Hugart Moyne Misskelley, left, standing. Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class, USS Pittsburgh (CA 72). The group picture of him with his brother and sisters who all served during World War II.”

“Joseph Yacona, was on the flagship for the pre invasion bombardment, the USS Estes. On the 17th they were fired on by shore batteries, sustaining slight damage and a couple of sailors were wounded. A few days after the landing, he was sent onshore to assist in burying the dead.”

“Linus Eugene Hitt,(August 5, 1923-December 21, 1958) served aboard the aircraft carrier, USS Saratoga during World War II. He enlisted on December 23, 1940 and was assigned to this carrier when war was declared. He held the rank of Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class and was a specialist in deep sea diving while aboard Saratoga. He served for the duration of the war, on that carrier. He was in the Navy for 18 years.”

“Samuel F. Pace served on USS Little (DD-803). The Little furnished fire support for ground forces at the Battle of Iwo Jima in Feb, 1945. Then on May 3rd, kamikazes sunk her at the Battle of Okinawa. Sixty-two of the Little’s 200 sailors perished, while 27 suffered injuries –he was one of the survivors.”

“Wilford H. Ross, Jr. (November 27, 1926-January 18, 2018). He served on USS Langley from September 1944 through the end of the war. He was an Aviation Electrician’s Mate 3rd Class. He was at the Battle of Leyte Gulf when he was 17. A wonderful father and husband. He was always proud of his Naval service.”

“Landing craft crews from USS Hinsdale (APA 120) the day before Iwo Jima. Their family member was Paul Justice, 2nd row 5th from right.”

“LT (j.g.) Joseph Vance Beaty SB2C HELLDIVER pilot. Bombing Nine.”