By Sgt. Melissa Karnath, Defense Media Activity
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- I met James Krodel and his wife Mary on the first day of the Iwo Jima Survivors and Family Association 70th anniversary reunion. I toured part of a museum at Fort Sill, Oklahoma with James.
He taught me about the weapons he used in battle. He showed me a list he carries with him, which names all of the ships he had been on along with his dog tags.
James agreed to allow me to share his memories. He wrote the papers after a doctor told him to record everything he could remember to help him sleep. James and Mary graciously sent me a copy of his memoirs with a note and a picture of James and I together taken on the last day of the reunion. This is his story.
James Krodel didn’t travel far from his home growing up in Quitman, Texas. But with the start of World War II he knew he would do his part.
I didn’t want to be drafted. I thought the Marine Corps had the best looking uniform. I enlisted May 14, 1944, at the age of 17. Even though I was married, my mother was required to sign a permission slip for me to join.
Three of my friends Billie Joe Jordan, Jackie Nichols and Jackie Suggart enlisted the same day. We were the first Texans to be sent to Parris Island, South Carolina for recruit training.
After the completion of basic training, he was given 10 days of leave. It took two, long days to travel home.
Boot camp was the longest time I had ever spent away from home and I was so homesick. It was wonderful seeing my wife, family and friends, but the six days passed too quickly and soon it was time to say so long— again. The two-day trip back to camp was long. It was made longer by knowing I would soon be going overseas and the dread of an unknown future.
We arrived at our destination at Camp Pendleton, near San Diego, California on schedule. Our stay was long enough for a total of 21 injections and paper work. We sailed out to sea from San Francisco November 1944, going under the Golden Gate Bridge headed toward Pearl Harbor.
My mind flooded with so many mixed emotions and thoughts of leaving loved ones behind. I felt lost and alone. My greatest fear was the unknown: Where am I going? What is expected of me when I get there? All my thoughts were troubling and my imagination ran wild.
Prior to reaching Guam, we docked at Eniwetok, Marshall Islands [now referred to as the Enewetak Atoll. We were in enemy territorial waters. A Japanese submarine had been following us for days. We learned that an enemy submarine had destroyed and sunk several U.S. supply ships earlier in this area. One of the destroyed ships contained salvageable canned food. I volunteered to help unload the cargo, because I was so sick and tired of being aboard ship so long.
The seawater had ruined all the labels. The volunteers were allowed to open cans as long as we ate all of the food. The canned peaches, cherries and pineapple tasted so good.
We continued our journey to Guam. I stayed on deck most of the time to watch the naval drills and moving target practice, which really fascinated me. While on deck one day, I observed the destroying of an enemy submarine. The submarine destroyer from our ship convoy fired a depth charge that made an arch about 50 feet into the air then down into the water. The noise was loud and deafening. Moments later a huge underwater explosion occurred. Debris and oil came floating to the water surface. This may have been the submarine that was following us.
As soon as we arrived on the shore of Guam, each Marine was required to have the same 21 vaccine injections again. The medical records were lost, misplaced, destroyed or delayed during our sea travel. Duties continued as usual with jungle warfare and hand-to-hand combat training.
When our convoy departed for Iwo Jima, our destination was unknown to us. We had been trained in every detail of wiping out pillboxes, concrete emplacements and heavily fortified positions. Fighting gear was squared away, knives and bayonets were sharpened and all the assorted weapons were cleaned, oiled and ready.
We attempted to land February 20. We climbed down the ship’s cargo net with weapons and ammunition packs strapped to our backs to board the Higgins boat, which would take us to shore. Enemy bullets and mortars made a zing-zing sound as they hit the ship around us. Due to very rough water, heavy enemy fire, the congested beach and limited space we had to return to the ships.
The next morning we sped toward shore, under heavy enemy fire, in the Higgins boats. Our boat hit a sand bar or an underwater object. The ramp came down and we had to unload in chin deep water. Marines were killed and wounded on the boat and in the water. Bullets, mortars and shells were bursting everywhere. The noise was louder than you can imagine.
I finally came ashore with Billie Joe Jordan right there by my side, both of us exhausted. We crawled on a surface of soft, black, lava sand, which gave way and made every movement a lingering effort. We crawled around disabled machinery, guns, jeeps and bodies of the dead and wounded. All this time we were being fired upon and couldn’t return fire.
Billie Joe and I sought shelter in a huge bomb crater. He and I had been talking quietly when Billie Joe fell over. I knelt down and took off his helmet. A sniper had shot him directly between the eyes under the edge of his helmet. I held him in my arms. I cried, and cried, as I have never cried before. I marked his location as a fallen Marine for the stretcher-bearers by sticking the bayonet of his rifle into the ground near his body and placing his helmet on top. I hated to leave him, but I had to rejoin my unit as they moved forward.
Later on this first day of the battle something struck my left knee. A jagged piece of metal the size of a silver dollar. I tried to remove the shrapnel myself but was unable to. I crawled to first aid, under heavy fire, located in a bomb crater. I was observed for bleeding for several hours then returned to my unit.
The 5th Marine Division raised the flag on Mount Suribachi. I was nearby when suddenly everyone started to yell, rejoice and shoot their weapons up into the sky thinking the battle was won. The Japanese laid low and let us rejoice. The worst of the battle was yet to come.
I was trained as a M1Garand rifleman and was the Browning Automatic Rifleman’s assistant. After about six days on Iwo Jima our BAR man was killed. My sergeant personally placed the BAR in my hands and it was my weapon the rest of the battle.
The Japanese would enter a cave before us and walk through their network of tunnels, then reappear behind us after we entered the cave. We received gunfire from the front and from the rear. We learned to blast each cave with the aid of flamethrowers. A flamethrower projects a fiery streak of flammable gel that splatters on impact then explodes into a very big, hot, intense fireball. When Marines with flamethrowers approached a cave, I heard the Japanese scream and yell in their native language, in a pleading manner, as if they were saying, “Please don’t – please don’t!”
They knew what damage a flamethrower could do.
Later our objective was to take a landmark called ‘Cushman’s Pocket’ and a landmark hill #362 at any cost. Cushman’s Pocket was the largest, strongest, best fortified and last of the Japanese resistance of the island. We battled against this resistance for eight exhausting, casualty-ridden days. I was pinned down in a foxhole for 36 hours, being continually fired upon. Withdrawal was impossible. Every time one of us moved slightly enemy bullets came flying over our heads, hitting the back of the foxhole near our feet.
A tank plowed its way to our position, while machineguns, flamethrowers and heavy weapons provided protection. The tank straddled our foxhole and pulled us to safety through the escape hatch in the bottom.
Before leaving Iwo Jima, all Marines were allowed time to visit the cemetery. I visited the 3rd Marine Division cemetery to look for Billie Joe’s white cross. It was marked by only his dog tag nailed on the cross. On my knees at each cross, I read each dog tag until I read, Billie Joe Jordan #558052. I just had to find him to say, “Goodbye, I love and miss you.”
After a prayer, I left the cemetery with a very sad and broken heart.
We sailed from Iwo Jima, April 7 on the USS Randall, returning to camp on Guam. Before leaving port, I stood on the deck looking at the island. I realized at the age of 18 years old, I had served my country for 45 days in a near continuous, bloody and savage battle against the Japanese. The clean uniform I was wearing February 14 was now filthy, ragged, dirty, smelly, blood stained and a shrapnel hole in the left knee. I realized, I had lost my dog tags somewhere on that island crawling around through the hot lava sand.
Upon my return to Guam, a huge bundle of letters was waiting for me. I read each one over and over. I enjoyed and treasured every word. I thanked God and felt so lucky to be alive. In one of the letters from my wife, Jean, she informed me of the birth of our first-born child. I realized, it happened the same day I had been rescued by a tank from the foxhole.
There was a point system in place in order to be honorably discharged and go home. I was eligible to go home as a high point Marine. The discharge physical was performed quickly: my teeth were looked at, a chest X-ray was taken and my vital signs were checked.
I was asked ‘Do you feel okay?’ If your answer was yes, you were discharged to go home.
When I left the discharge center, I carried a great treasure in my pocket. I always carried my cigarette lighter in my right shirt pocket. It was soon after we had been engaged in a heavy battle with the enemy one night that I noticed a bullet size indentation on one side of my lighter as I was lighting a cigarette. As I looked at it, I felt assured in my heart that my lighter had saved my life from an enemy bullet.
I was and will forever be a member of the 3rd Marine Division Association and the Marine Corps League. I served my country with great pride. If I was younger and the need arose again, I would quickly be wiling to serve my country.