By Sgt. Melissa Karnath, Defense Media Activity
WICHITA FALLS, Texas -- Marshall Harris from Elk River, Minnesota enlisted in the Marine Corps after he graduated from high school early because of World War II. Harris participated in several campaigns throughout the Pacific including Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.
Harris served as a machine gunner and radio operator with the 2nd Armored Amphibian Tank Battalion. While at Tinian, Harris was standing on top of his tank when a mortar hit and knocked him off of his tank and into the water. Harris landed on a bed of coral rock, which he said, cut him to shreds. Harris spent two-to-three weeks in the hospital recovering.
“I was afraid they’d get a replacement for me in the tank. I didn’t want to loose my crew. In the middle of the night I walked out of the hospital and got a ride in a jeep. I met back up with my crew and they called me ‘the ghost of the 2nd armored’ because they were all tanned and I was as white as a ghost.”
Harris was part of the 68 tanks that hit the black, sand beaches of Iwo Jima at the beginning of the battle.
“A lot of the tanks got stuck trying to climb a rise and had to be abandoned. We were catching small arms fire all night long so anything that wasn’t armored plated was all smashed up. Our tracks were shot off, so it couldn’t be steered very well in the water. We got a reserve tank after the first day.”
The first night after the first wave, Harris’ tank circled around the backside of Mount Surbachi to fire at targets of opportunity.
“When it got dark, we’d see a muzzle blast, but before the gunner could get his sites on it the light was gone. We used phosphorus to light up the area. We don’t know if we hit anything at night. It was pitch dark.”
Harris could see the assault on the beach as his amphibious tank floated in the water around the backside of Mount Surbachi.
“The Japanese were firing from Mount Surbachi and from a hill about a quarter mile away. The hill was the base for the Japanese commander, Gen. [Tadamichi] Kuribayashi. It was a 350-foot hill loaded with artillery. They were all shooting down on the beach area. The Marines were caught in crossfire. It was slaughter. There was no place to hide. I felt so sorry for those guys. They walked into death. We knew fear and we were scared. It was a different kind of fear. We weren’t afraid of dying.”
Marshall Harris served in the Marine Corps from June 1943 to November 1945. After Harris spent about 30 days on Iwo Jima the war was over for him and his crew. They left Iwo Jima aboard a landing craft vehicle and headed back to Maui, Hawaii on a troop ship.
“We just did what we had to do, what 18, 19 year-old kids could do.”