Sunday, April 24, 2011

Letter from Jimmy Michels

Jimmy Michels in the foreground in this photograph of the first flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima.

He signed this letter Jimmy Michels but everywhere else he's called "Michaels." I figure the guy would know how to spell his own name as he writes a very good letter! Jimmy was one of the initial flag-raisers on Iwo Jima and he is seen in the foreground of the above-photograph. This letter was given to me by a vet who knew Jimmy personally and was very upset about all the attention given to the flag raisers in the iconic Joe Rosenthal photograph.

April 28, 1945

Dear Fellow Workers –

It gives me great pleasure after a tough campaign on Iwo Jima, being back at our previous camp once again for a good rest and to reorganize, and be able once again to resume my correspondence with you.

First of all, I wish to thank the Whiting Corporation and the Whiting Girls’ Club for everything they have sent me. Whiting, I must say, certainly lives up to its slogan “Whiting Never Forgets.” To this I will say “I will never forget Whiting.” Might I say there is a very outstanding part the workers of Whiting have played in this war. To this I refer to blood donors. In action on Iwo Jima I have seen what an important necessity it was in saving many a fellow. To these donors, I wish to express my highest praise and pray their health may always be of the best.

And now I would like to give you a brief story of our campaign on Iwo Jima. The length of it was 36 days, D-day being February 19. The first 3 days we spent advancing towards the base of Mt. Suribachi on the South end of the island. This was done under heavy mortar fire from the Japs. The third day after reaching a point approximately five hundred yards from the base of the mountain, I met with my first slight mishap. Five of us fellows were occupying a 10 foot crater, and a mortar landed directly in the center of it. It wounded 2 other boys, and I caught a small piece in my thumb. Fortunately for us, the crushed volcanic ash (resembling cinders) kept the mortar from spraying the hole completely. The remaining 500 yards we had to advance through heavy brush and many pillboxes. As we did this, I saw for myself what a splendid job our Navy and Aircraft had done in demolishing the greatest percentage of them. After reaching the base, we made our way to one side of the hill and stayed there that night. We also stayed there the next day with some opposition from the Japs on the hill. The following morning we received word that we would ascend the 540 feet to the top of the hill. The honor of this was bestowed on our platoon. So with one of our lieutenants in the lead, we did this and received no opposition until reaching the very top where the Japs threw grenades at us from caves. Several of our boys spotted them, and they were hastily removed from the battle with flame throwers.

A big thrilled followed as we places the very first flag on the top of Mt. Suribachi. Later in the day another of our platoons came up with a larger flag and pole and replaced the smaller one.

We remained dug in on the hill for four days. Several nights Japs tried to creep up and tear down the flag, but the boys were always on the alert and they were extinguished rapidly. The next day of the campaign (or the 4th on the hill), we received word that progress on the north end of the island was very slow, and we were needed badly. So shortly after noon, we packed our equipment and marched 3 miles down a dusty road (very hot also) to the north end. Arriving late in the evening, we stayed several hundred yards behind the front lines, dug in, and had a fair night’s sleep.

The following morning, we moved up and relieved another outfit from the lines. It was here a very great surprise awaited us. As we were advancing close to the lines, we saw we would be confronted with ridge after ridge, and that meant up and down the rest of the way out with caves everywhere. The first week on the north end Jap opposition was heavy and our casualties were very high. After this it turned out to be a battle with snipers. Every time we crossed an opening or had to advance over a ridge, we usually had a least one man hit. Fortunately for me, the Lord was always with me, and I made it safely on these occasions. The latter half of the campaign turned out to be one grenade battle after another. This was especially at night. (Oh, yes, we did use grenades on the Mt. Suribachi end, and our casualties were very heavy there also.) The Japs crept up on our foxholes and would throw grenades. For every one they threw, I believe we sent ten back and chased them away. I’m sure those who came back the following night were different ones and did not know what a reception was in store for them. The Jap attacks at night proved to no avail as our casualties were very small.

The 12th last night of the campaign I met with my second little mishap. While sitting slightly high in our foxhole, a bullet grazed off the palm side of my left hand. Lucky for me, it only formed nothing more than a callous.

The third last day and my last mishap was a bruise on my left arm muscle from a large piece of rock. At that time as we were having a battle with the Japs, one of our other outfits was flowing a cave. This large piece of rock came hurtling towards our foxhole and struck me before I could avoid it. The pain was very great for an hour leaving the arm useless. However, it eased up, but the arm was sore for two days.

The following day we were informed the island was considered secured, and that we would move back. This also was very good news. The morning of our departure indeed was a very sad one for me. Our entire regiment, that is what was left of it, marched down to our 28th Regimental Cemetery, and a ceremony was held. As I entered through the large gate, I actually broke into tears thinking of all the swell buddies I had lying there. After the ceremony I attended our Church Services and offered up prayers for the boys. The cemetery was a pretty place with a white picket fence all around it and all white cross grave markers.

It certainly was a pleasure to board ship later that day and once again sail the Pacific – and I hope never to see Iwo Jima again. That concludes my little story of our first campaign, and I do hope you enjoy it.

Our camp here is the same as we had left it. Oh, yes, we do have a few new additions. These are Red Cross huts where we can acquire coffee and doughnuts. We also have several more snack shops where we can purchase steak, hamburger, and hot dog sandwiches. These spots certainly meet with our approval, because between supper and breakfast, or I should say in the evening, our appetite usually bothers us. Our movies are as many as ever, and here lately I have become a bug for them – attending them almost every night.

Our new training schedule will begin this coming Monday. From all appearances, I am sure these boys with their training under their belt completed, will once again make “E” Company of the 28th Regiment a very good outfit. Of course, that is my judgment, and I hope I am correct.

I believe now I had better bring this letter to a close. And might I ask one little favor of you? Previously I had promised Charlie Wells and the night shift welders to write them of my experiences. If this letter is given to Charlie, it would save me a considerable amount of time writing so much again. I am sure you will do this, and my thanks for such.

Until I hear from you, best regards and the best of health to everyone.

Sincerely,

Pfc. James Michels

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