Illinois at War, 1941-1945
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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March 1, 1945


The Battle of Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest engagements of the entire war. Located some 760 miles south of Tokyo this island was strategically important in America's final offensive against the Japanese mainland during 1945. Since November 24, 1944, U.S. B-29 bombers had been attacking Japanese cities from the Marianas Islands which were 1,500 miles south of Japan. Enemy fighter planes based at Iwo harassed these missions and provided Japanese home defenses two hour early warnings of impending raids. The American Superforts were damaged often on these runs and a U.S. held base at Iwo would afford a safe haven for crippled aircraft. It also would serve as a base for less distance ranged American fighter planes which could provide the B-29s cover during their raids.

Iwo Jima is approximately four and a half miles long and two and a half miles wide. Its beaches are composed of fine volcanic ash and inland its highest point is Mount Suribachi, 550 feet above sea level. The Japanese were aware of the importance of their position there and they fortified it heavily in anticipation of an invasion and siege. Among other things they had constructed ten miles of tunnels linking hundreds of bunkers and blockhouses. The 21,000 defenders were committed to fighting to their deaths for the sake of their country and their emperor.

The American marines landed on February 19, after three days of heavy shelling by a fleet of supporting navy ships. Three divisions in all numbering 82,000 came ashore. Gains were measured often in yards. When the island effectively was taken on March 17, both sides had taken extremely high casualties. American dead numbered 4,590 with 24,096 wounded. More than 20,000 Japanese were killed and only 1,083 captured.

Points to Consider

What was the Battle of Iwo Jima and why was it fought?

Why were marines, normally a volunteer force, drafted during WWII?

What constituted "a good marine"?

What comfort would this letter have afforded the wife of this fallen marine?

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