Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
Veteran Recalls Battle of Iwo Jima, Flag Raising
On Sept. 10, the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center honored Prisoners of War (POW) and Missing in Action (MIA) during a POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony at the hospital.
Guest speaker for the ceremony was World War II Veteran Lloyd Dinsmore, who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima and witnessed his fellow troops raise an American flag on Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal took the image of the second flag-raising, which is one of the most iconic photos from World War II.
When Missouri native Lloyd Dinsmore, approached San Diego via train on January 1, 1944 for Marine Corps Boot Camp, he and the other Marine recruits heard chanting in the distance. But they couldn’t quite make out what was being said until they reached the train platform.
“It wasn’t long before we understood what they were saying and that was, ‘you ain’t gonna like it here,’” he said with a laugh. “Well, for the first two days of boot camp, they were dead right. I didn’t like it. But after the second day, the esprit de corps of the world famous U.S. Marines began to settle in and from then on I enjoyed all of boot camp training.”
After completing boot camp and seven weeks of tank training where he learned how to do every job on a tank and handle ammunition, he was assigned to the 2nd Armored Amphibious Tank Battalion in Oceanside, Calif.
In April 1944, Dinsmore and his unit shipped off to Maui which would only serve as a brief staging ground.
“We enjoyed seeing the beautiful Hawaiian Islands and the waving palm trees, pineapple fields and coconut trees,” recalled Dinsmore.
But his time in paradise didn’t last long. In June 1944, Dinsmore took part in the invasion of the Island of Saipan.
After the combat ended, the Marines established a base and the U.S. Navy Seabees built an airfield for the new B-29 bomber which was used to bomb the Japanese mainland.
“Our camp on Saipan was about three miles from the runway from the B-29s,” he said. “This B-29 was an awesome machine. We had never seen an airplane so big. They began a 24/7 bombing barrage from Saipan and Tinian and Guam to the Japanese homeland.”
Dinsmore said the B-29’s had to fly more than 1,500 miles to hit Japan and had no place to land if they were hit by anti-aircraft fire or if they had mechanical problems.
“They lost a lot of men because of that,” he said.
To give the U.S. military a staging ground for future combat operations and a place for the B-29’s to land, the U.S. military began preparations to take the Island of Iwo Jima.
Dinsmore and his battalion were given the mission of landing on the beach first with their tanks and providing supporting fire for the Marine infantry that would follow.
“A mock-up of the island had been made for us to see, basically what the terrain looked like on Iwo Jima,” he recalled. “We were told that Iwo Jima probably would be a three-day operation. What our (intelligence) didn’t know was how many enemy there were underground. Their aerial photos revealed what was above ground, but not what was underground.”
In February 1945, Dinsmore boarded a U.S. Navy troop ship, and a convoy of more than 600 U.S. ships departed Saipan for Iwo Jima. Dinsmore said the Marines were given a meal ration card with 21 numbers.
“Each time you went through the chow line, the crew would take your ticket and they would punch out of the number,” he said. “The closer we got to Iwo Jima, the nearer we got to that number 21. Psychologically, it was a little bit severe. A lot of us wondered if that number 21 would be our last meal and unfortunately it was for some of our battalion.”
On Feb. 19, Dinsmore and his tank crew boarded a U.S. Navy Landing Ship, Tank (LST) and traveled approximately 4,000 yards from the ship to Red Beach Two. During the journey, the Navy LSTs shook while the armada of Navy ships bombarded the island.
“The LST’s discharged us down the (ship) ramp into the ocean and we formed up on a line of departure and made our way to the beach,” he said. “The battle wagons were shelling (the island with) 16 inch shells. As we went underneath (the guns), they could almost blow us out of the water.”
Unfortunately, things went wrong in a hurry. After landing on Red Beach Two, his tank immediately became stuck in the sand due to loose sand.
“When our driver tried to back us into the ocean, our tank would not move because of an overheated clutch,” he said. “The other tanks on our part of the beach left and we were the only thing on that beach for several minutes until the first wave of infantry came in.”
Fear set in for the crew as they were sitting ducks for the Japanese.
“I can still remember as I was digging into that sand, I heard myself say ‘My God, my God. What am I doing here,’” he said. “For about an hour, we had to hunker down there behind a wall of sand and being the only vehicle on that beach for a few minutes, it was a hot old time on Red Beach Two.”
After the first wave of Marines landed, the violence around Dinsmore was horrific.
“Red Beach Two lived up to its name,” he said. “It was soon red with the blood of many young Marines who were hit as they exposed themselves over the wall of sand.”
After the tank’s clutch cooled, they proceeded to the base of Mt. Suribachi and supported the ground troops. On Feb. 23, the fourth day of fighting, Dinsmore was engaged in combat when he heard U.S. Navy ships sounding their horns and troops cheering.
He looked up and saw the second American flag being raised atop Mt. Suribachi.
“The first one was up and flying before we actually saw it, because we were pretty busy ourselves down at the base,” he said. “Of course we were mighty proud to see it up there, but we knew that we were clear down at the end of this island and we had a long ways to go to get to the other end.”
For 26 days, Dinsmore fought on Iwo Jima before being relieved.
“As the frontline moved forward, we moved with it,” he said. “We were released from our duties because we were so close down to the other end of island that there wasn’t a need for artillery.”
Dinsmore and his unit returned to the ocean and climbed aboard a U.S. Navy troop ship.
“When we climbed the cargo net and got up on the deck of the ship, they said you guys can have a hot shower or a hot meal, whichever one you want first,” he said. “Having not had a shower for about 30 days, I decided I wanted the shower. My hair was in such a mess I couldn’t even run my fingers through it.”
He later returned to Maui where his unit prepared for the invasion of the Japanese mainland. In August 1945, the battalion loaded their tanks and equipment aboard a troop ship and were within hours of departing. But when the second atomic bomb was dropped, the war ended.
“Another few hours we would have been at sea,” he said. “Probably, we would have ended up in the occupation of Japan. But as it was, we got to stay in Hawaii.”
Looking back on his time in the Marine Corps, Dinsmore said he wouldn’t trade his combat service for any amount of money.
“It was a great experience to be in the Marine Corps during World War II,” he said. “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for it and I wouldn’t give a dime to do it again.”