The Battle of Iwo Jima
USS IWO JIMA (LHD 7) is named for the epic battle of February 1945, in which three divisions of the United States Marine Corps took control of the tiny island of Iwo Jima from 22,000 determined Japanese defenders.
The United States had recovered from the disastrous attack on Pearl Harbor, to the point where routine air attacks on Japanese cities could be made by heavy bombers launched from the Marianas. The successful outcome of the war seemed inevitable, but victory over the Japanese would come only at a high price. The Japanese considered Iwo Jima a part of mainland Japan, and an invader had not set foot on Japanese soil for 4,000 years.
Iwo Jima was a thorn in the side of the U.S. heavy bomber crews. Air attacks on the Marianas bomber bases, and bombers enroute to and from Japan,were launched from Iwo Jima. An assault on the island was necessary to eliminate these air attacks and to provide a haven for damaged American aircraft returning from Japan.
Amphibious forces of the U.S. Pacific Fleet attacked the fortress of Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945, with a formidable force, totaling 495 ships, including 17 aircraft carriers, 1170 planes, and 110,308 troops. Before the amphibious assault, elements of the Air Force and Army Air Corps pounded the island in the longest sustained aerial offensive of the war. Incredibly, this ferocious bombardment had little effect. Hardly any of the Japanese underground fortresses were touched.
The Japanese defenders devised a unique and deadly strategy to defend Iwo Jima from an American assault. Instead of building a barrier to stop the Americans at the beach, they fortified the interior of the island, creating a defense that could not be breached in a day.
On Feb. 19, 1945, the first wave of Marines were launched after an hour-long bombardment by the Navy’s “big guns.” The Americans planned to capture, isolate and fortify Mt. Suribachi. The success of the entire assault depended upon the early capture of the mountain.
After an hour of calm, the Japanese defenders, hiding in their network of caves and underground bunkers, unleashed a hail of gunfire. Mortars, machine guns and heavy artillery rained down from scores of machine gun nests atop Suribachi. After the first day of fighting, 566 American men were killed and 1,755 more were wounded. For the next several days, some of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific were fought on the isle of Iwo Jima.
It was a battle of attrition on terrain that had no front lines; where the attackers were exposed and the defenders fortified.
The battle for Iwo was fought desperately until March 26th, when the island was finally secured by U.S. forces. In the struggle, nearly 7,000 Americans and more than 20,000 Japanese were killed. It was one of the most savage and costly battles in the history of the Marine Corps. As Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz observed, “Among the Americans who served on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
PFC Jack Lucas was 17 when he earned the Medal of Honor, the youngest awardee in our nation’s history. He leapt on two live grenades, saving countless brother Marines. A doctor aboard the hospital ship on which Lucas was treated said he was, “too damned young and too damned tough to die.” When asked, 53 years later, why he jumped on the grenades, Jack simply said, “to save my buddies.” He and his lovely wife, Ruby, are honorary crew and family members of USS IWO JIMA (LHD 7).
History of USS IWO JIMA
(LPH-2 and LHD-7)
LHD-7 is the second ship to bear the name “IWO JIMA.” The first, LPH-2, designed from the keel up as an amphibious assault ship, was launched September 17, 1960 at Bremerton, Washington and commissioned August 26, 1961.
In September 1963, IWO JIMA (LPH 2) made her first deployment to the Western Pacific, one of six deployments the ship would make to the region. In April 1970, IWO JIMA (LPH 2) made history while serving as the Primary Recovery Ship for Apollo 13, the crippled lunar landing mission.
In June 1976, IWO JIMA (LPH 2) commenced her fourth deployment to the Mediterranean and participated in the evacuation of civilians from Beirut, Lebanon. In August 1990, two weeks after the initial deployment of troops to the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Shield, IWO JIMA (LPH 2) became the first amphibious assault ship to deploy to that area, and served as part of the coalition which ultimately drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. USS IWO JIMA (LPH 2) was decommissioned in 1993, after 32 years of service.
Fabrication work for the new USS IWO JIMA (LHD 7) began at Ingalls shipyard on September 3, 1996, and the ship’s keel was laid on December 12, 1997. The ship was launched on February 4th, 2000, and was christened by her sponsor, Mrs. Zandra Krulak, wife of Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Krulak, in Pascagoula, Mississippi on March 25th, 2000.
The commissioning crew moved aboard in April 2001 and made the ship’s maiden voyage (accompanied by more than 2,000 World War II veterans-many of them survivors of the Battle of Iwo Jima) on June 23rd, 2001. She was commissioned a week later in Pensacola, Florida, on June 30th, 2001. Shortly thereafter, the ship and crew began an accelerated Inter-Deployment Training Cycle.
Together with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), USS IWO JIMA (LHD 7) conducted her maiden, eight-month deployment, returning to Norfolk in October 2003.
Completing essentially four deployments in one, IWO JIMA’s operational capabilities were put to the test as the ship inserted marines from the 26 MEU (SOC) into Northern Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, patrolled the Persian Gulf, conducted operations in and around Djibouti as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, and executed a peacekeeping missions off the coast of war-torn Liberia, transiting more tha 45,000 nautical miles.
After a post deployment maintenance period, IWO JIMA became the Flag ship for Commander, Second Fleet in October 2004. For over a year, IWO JIMA participated in many high visibility exercises, experiments, and operations with U.S. and allied naval forces.
On Aug. 31, 2005, IWO JIMA was sortied to the Gulf of Mexico to provide disaster relief and to conduct support operations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. IWO JIMA sailed up the Mississippi River to the city of New Orleans to directly support relief operations and act as the central command center for all federal, state, and local disaster recovery operations.
During this critical period, IWO JIMA also served as the region’s only fully functional air field for helicopter operations, conducting over one thousand flight deck operations; provided hot meals, showers, drinking water, and berthing to thousands of National Guardsmen and relief workers; provided medical services, including first aid and surgical services, for disaster victims; and conducted clean-up operations in the city and suburbs of New Orleans.
IWO JIMA was proud to serve as flagship for the commander-in-chief, George W. Bush, and is only the second Navy ship to have been presented the flag of the President of the United States of America.