Iwo Jima was it. That’s what he did in the war, Edward Roy says.
“I was there for 35 days. I fought for my life every day.”
Then he was injured. Then he spent a month in the hospital. That was it.
Much of what happened in between, Roy doesn’t want to say. People who weren’t there “just don’t know. They wouldn’t know. And you can’t tell them.”
They wouldn’t believe it all anyway, he figures.
Roy was born in Massachusetts, but grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. After graduating high school in 1943, he wanted to join the United States Armed Forces. He thought about the Navy, but joined the Marines instead. They trained in San Diego, Calif., and Roy was ready for warmer weather.
Iwo Jima was an important base for the Japanese. From it, their airplanes could intercept American B-29 Superfortress bombers. It was a haven for the Japanese Navy and a base from which to attack the Mariana Islands by air. The Americans wanted it, and its three airfields, as a staging area for an eventual invasion of Japan.
Intelligence sources believed Japan’s defenses would fall quickly.
“It was supposed to be three days. Quick,” Roy said.
“It didn’t turn out that way.”
The Japanese used bunkers, hidden artillery and miles of underground tunnels to cover their attacks.
Roy landed in the afternoon of the first day. Wading through the water, all he could see was that black beach and dead Marines.
“It was a terrible place.”
Days, he fought. Nights, he dug in. Where there wasn’t sand, made from the volcanic ash, there were rocks he had to dig around. Three times he was injured, small fragments lodged into his legs “and so on,” Roy said.
He made his second landing at night, cannons, bullets and mortars firing. Always.
“I was just a kid. I was just barely out of diapers. I couldn’t do it today.”
The Japanese fortified their cannons on Mount Suribachi, using tunnels dug throughout the mountain to hide. They could fire, close metal doors covering their caves and be protected before the Americans could return fire. Some Marines used flame throwers to clear the caves and tunnels.
On his 35th day, he spotted a Japanese soldier behind cover. Roy watched him throw the hand grenade. Saw it come. The explosion hit him in the arm and butt.
In the field hospital that night, as he lay on his cot, he heard a Japanese attack too close. By then, the Japanese must have known they were defeated. They resorted to suicide attacks.
Roy didn’t even have a rifle. He listened as the yelling came closer. He heard them cutting through other hospital tents
“They just attacked and hollered ‘banzai!’ They were just ready to die,” he said. “They had their swords and rifles and that was it.”
The attack never made it to Roy’s tent. The next day, he was flown off the island, as the remaining U.S. Marines secured it.
The Battle of Iwo Jima lasted 36 days, from Feb. 19 to March 26, 1945. Nearly 7,000 Americans were killed or reported missing, more than 19,000 were wounded. Only 216 of the more than 18,000 Japanese soldiers on the island were taken prisoner.
“I forgot 90 percent of it. It’s a good thing because I dreamed about it,” Roy said. “I remember some things. I just don’t want to talk about it.”
He’ll talk to some guys, those who were there. Last summer, he was invited to Greybull for the dedication of a memorial to Donald J. Ruhl, recipient of the Medal of Honor for throwing himself on a grenade at Iwo Jima, protecting other Marines around him. Roy attended with half a dozen or so other veterans.
They ate dinner, told some stories.
“They knew what I was talking about,” Roy said.
On Feb. 23, 66 years ago, American Marines raised two flags on Mount Suribachi, just four days after the start of the battle. Roy was fighting his way to other side of the island. Marines around him started to raise hell, shooting their guns in the air. Roy didn’t know what was going on.
It’s the American flag, a Marine told him, pointing to the volcano.
Then the Americans raised a second, larger flag. Joe Rosenthal took a picture. Roy could see the stars and stripes clearly.
Coming home, he landed in San Diego. All he wanted was a donut and a glass of milk, but the Red Cross wanted to charge him 35 cents. He walked down the street to the Salvation Army and got them for free.
Now that he’s in his 80s, Roy says he gets more respect than he ever has in his life. He went on the latest Honor Flight in September, flying to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., with a hundred other Wyoming veterans. People clapped for him and asked to shake his hand. They took his photo in front of a bronze statue sculpted after the famous photograph.
He goes to the Senior Center these days and it’s like he’s a hero or something.
When he came home from war, he went to work. Everybody did. Now, he figures, they all have time to look back and consider what it was all about.
“The older people, they know about the war,” he said. “They were just glad it was over and that was it.”