Saturday, February 19, 2005

Iwo Jima 60th Anniversary

Today is the 60th Anniversary of the begining of the Battle of Iwo Jima, which is a battle that my father played a small a role in aboard the USS Bougainville, which was a Casablanca Class Aircraft Carrier.

The USS Bougainville

Of the 6,800 American who died in that battle, obviously most of them were the brave Marines that stormed the beaches. However, this was also the first battle in which Kamikaze attacks were the primary use of Japanese air power.

At Okinawa, in which the Bougainville also participated, Kamikaze attacks sunk more than 400 ships. So these battles were no picnic for the men supporting the invasion from the sea, either. For example, the USS Bismarck Sea, which was an identical Carrier to the Bougainville was sunk after being struck by two kamikaze planes. 318 sailors went down with her.

The aft end of USS Bismarck Sea CVE-95 explodes, minutes after she was struck by a Kamikaze, 21 February 1945.

My father had very vivid memories of these battles, the kamikazes, and the shot up plans returning to the flight deck. He had hearing problems for the rest of his life due to his maning of anti-aircraft guns during the war.

He also was struck by the devastation he saw when the Bougainville docked in several Chinese ports after the war. He saw people starving in the streets, and people fighting over the trash his ship threw overboard. Girls were being sold on the street to whoever wanted to buy them (not rented as prostitutes, but sold).

While poking around on the net for information, I stumbled across a picture of members of the crew of the Bougainville celebrating the end of the war when they first got the word that the war was over:

Click to enlarge

After the war, my father just worked hard until he retired. He had 7 Children. Never was one to complain, despite the fact that he had to endure many hard breaks during his life. One of his favorite maxims he learned from his father was a beatitude not found in the Bible: "Blessed are they that don't expect much, for they shall not be disappointed." That sort of hard as nails stoic approach to life seems to be in shorter supply these days, in which were are encompassed about by whiners. But we see in the troops in Iraq today that at least some Americans still know how to deal with real trials and difficulties.

My father passed away this past April.

Guss Leon Whiteford
December 3, 1925 - April 2nd, 2004

Update: See this collection of posts and articles on Iwo Jima at Black Five.

See Zell Millers article on what would have happened if contemporary reporters were reporting on the battle of Iwo Jima.