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The Lions of Iwo Jima: The Story of Combat Team 28 and the Bloodiest Battle in Marine Corps History

The Lions of Iwo Jima: The Story of Combat Team 28 and the Bloodiest Battle in Marine Corps History

4.6 21
by Fred Haynes USMC-RET, James A. Warren

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"In 1945 my father, John Bradley, and other members of Combat Team 28 raised a flag on Iwo Jima. Now with The Lions of Iwo Jima, [Haynes] helps America understand how it was done."—James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys

Combat Team 28, one of the greatest units fielded in the history of the U.S. Marines,


"In 1945 my father, John Bradley, and other members of Combat Team 28 raised a flag on Iwo Jima. Now with The Lions of Iwo Jima, [Haynes] helps America understand how it was done."—James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys

Combat Team 28, one of the greatest units fielded in the history of the U.S. Marines, landed on the black sands of Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. The unit, 4,500 men strong, plunged immediately into ferocious combat, and by the time the battled ended, 70 percent of the men in the team's three assault battalions were killed or seriously wounded. The stories told here, many for the first time, will seem too cruel, too heartbreaking to be believed. As one veteran remarked, "Each day we learned a new way to die."

Major General Fred Haynes, then a young captain, is the last surviving office in CT 28 who was intimately involved in planning and coordinating all phases of the team's fight on Iwo Jima. In this astonishing narrative, Haynes and James A. Warren recapture in riveting detail what the Marines experienced, drawing on a wealth of previously untapped documents, personal narratives, letters, and interviews with survivors to offer fresh interpretations of the fight for Suribachi, the iconic flag-raising photograph, and the nature of the campaign as a whole.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A competent account of the key World War II battle. Military historian Warren (American Spartans: The U.S. Marines: A Combat History from Iwo Jima to Iraq, 2005, etc.) intermixes his narrative of the origins and conduct of the fighting with the reminiscences of veteran Haynes, who survived five weeks of brutal fighting on the Japanese island. Haynes was an officer in the Marines' 3,250-man Combat Team 28, which landed at Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. Its assignment was to capture Mount Suribachi, a four-day achievement immortalized in the famous flag-raising photograph but followed by another month of deadly fighting. Activated a year earlier, Combat Team 28 included only 40 percent combat veterans, but eight months of intense training under experienced senior officers (all given admiring mini-biographies) produced a superbly disciplined organization that never lost its elan in the face of massive casualties. Despite the Marines' superb training and brave leadership, Iwo Jima was an exercise in mutual slaughter, a mind-numbing series of brutal small-unit actions characterized by courage, endurance and carnage on both sides that proceeded relentlessly until the last Japanese died. The authors work hard to include anecdotes, colorful characters and philosophical musings, so military buffs will have no trouble finishing the book. The average reader, however, may decide at some point that enough is enough. One sign that Iwo Jima has entered its final resting place as a glorious national myth is the authors' admiring portrait of the enemy; they extol commanding General Kuribayashi for his brilliant defense and praise his soldiers, who refused to surrender. Readers wondering whyAmerica's current opponents in the Middle East are labeled suicidal fanatics, while Japanese who fought to the death in 1945 were valiant warriors, can take dubious comfort from the fact that our parents called the Japanese fanatics, and our children may possibly call jihadists valiant warriors. Do we need another history of Iwo Jima? Not when it's this reverential tome with little new to add.

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The Lions of Iwo Jima

By Fred Haynes, James A. Warren

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2008 Major General Fred Haynes (USMC-ret) and James A. Warren
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3792-4



In early February 1944, trainloads of men and matériel for the newly activated 5th Division — the fifth of six divisions created during the war by a Marine Corps that numbered fewer than twenty thousand men on the eve of the conflict — came down the spur of the Santa Fe Railroad into Camp Pendleton. The largest Marine base in the world, Pendleton was the ideal place to organize and train a new division for combat in the Pacific. Men and equipment flowed into the base day and night from Parris Island, Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and Navy bases and barracks around the world.

The 28th Marines, under Col. Harry Bluett Liversedge, was activated on February 8. The division's three combat teams, CT 26, 27, and 28, would spend close to a full year preparing for their first and only battle. The operations and training officers for CT 28 were the beneficiaries of a wealth of new knowledge and experience gained by the Marine Corps in more than two years of fighting against the Japanese.

Moreover, the Marine Corps that sent CT 28 into this great battle had been remarkably prescient. For twenty years, it had anticipated war against the Japanese. Amphibious warfare had been a Marine Corps' raison d'être since the early 1920s. Between the two world wars, the most imaginative minds in the Marine Corps had fashioned the first coherent doctrine in military history for conducting assaults against defended beaches — a type of operation that the vast majority of military strategists in Europe and the United States felt to be doomed to failure in light of the disastrous campaign waged by the British Commonwealth and French forces against the Turks at Gallipoli in 1915.

The Corps studied the Gallipoli campaign closely and reached a different conclusion. The assault there cost the lives of more than forty thousand Allied troops. It failed not because the Turks were better fighters than the British, Australians, and New Zealanders, but for lack of proper amphibious doctrine and equipment. Particularly glaring problems concerned the absence of specially designed landing craft and adequate supporting fire from ships and aircraft.

It was Maj. Earl "Pete" Ellis, among the Corps' most driven and eccentric officers, who in the early 1920s envisaged the basic outlines of an amphibious war against Japan. Ellis also was among the first strategists to conceive of the amphibious assault as a complex tactical movement, the success of which depended on shock troops with specialized training focused on moving from ship to shore while covered by accurate air and naval gunfire.

In 1934, drawing on the work of Ellis and Maj. Gen. John Lejeune, the Corps published The Tentative Manual for Landing Operations. It was the first manual in the history of warfare to lay out systematically the basic principles of bringing combat power from sea to shore. It broke down its subject into six discrete parts: command relationships between the Navy and Marines; naval gunfire support; aerial support; ship-to-shore movement; securing the beach and logistics; and the loading of specialized ships and landing craft in such a manner that the force ashore could get what it needed in the correct sequence. "Combat loading," as this procedure was called, was part art, part science, and if it wasn't executed with meticulous planning based on good intelligence, the chances for a successful invasion of a well-fortified beach were slim indeed.

In the years between the manual's publication and the Battle of Iwo Jima, the senior planners and logistics specialists, headquartered at the Marine Corps Schools in Quantico, Virginia, worked closely with their Navy counterparts to refine procedures, tables of organization, and equipment. Perhaps most importantly, the Marines realized the vital importance of striking the right mix of landing craft and specialized supporting arms to bring combat power from sea to shore. By the time CT 28 began to plan in earnest for the invasion of Iwo — October 1944 — the Corps had been able to procure an ample supply of excellent amphibious tracked vehicles, called amtracs or LVTs (landing vehicles, tracked) for short. These LVTs could bring about thirty-five combat-loaded infantrymen across a defended beach effectively. More heavily armored tractors equipped with 75mm cannons, LVT(A)-4s, could provide fire against enemy positions as the troops hit the beach. These amtracs, along with wheeled amphibious trucks (called DUKWs) and a wide variety of other heavy weapons and equipment, were transported to the operations area in large landing ships, such as LSTs, "Landing Ship, Tank" in military parlance.

Personal weapons and communications equipment and procedures had improved over those used in the earlier battles, such as Guadalcanal and Tarawa. So, too, the organization and tactics of tankers, demolitions teams, and infantrymen had been revised and integrated in the light of earlier combat experience.

By the time the 28th Marines were forming up, extraordinary progress had been made in coordinating the movement of troops ashore with supporting air and naval gunfire. By this time, it was widely recognized that large-caliber naval guns had to be used to knock out the largest enemy installations in advance of the landing and that such naval gunfire had to be highly accurate if the operation was to succeed without drastically high casualities.

Leadership was equally important. Weighing in at about 250 pounds and standing six feet three inches tall, Col. Harry Liversedge was a living legend in the Marine Corps. Widely known as "Harry the Horse" for his loping strides, he had set the intercollegiate record for the shot put while a student at Berkeley, where he also starred on the gridiron as a tackle just before World War I. He was the first West Coast player to make Walter Camp's All-American collegiate football team. When the United States entered World War I, Liversedge, a junior at Berkeley, felt the pull of patriotism and adventure, so he joined the Marines. Although he arrived in Europe too late to see combat, he served in postwar northern France and was subsequently selected to join the Navy's team in the 1920 Olympics, where he entered several track and field events. He won a bronze medal in the shot put in the games.

Liversedge served briefly in Haiti and with the 3rd Brigade of Marines in Tientsin, China. He coached the Marine boxing team in China, and upon his return to the large Marine base at Quantico, Virginia, played football for several of the outstanding Marine teams in the 1920s.

He was a modest man, unswervingly decent and utterly fearless in combat. I never heard him say anything that could be construed as self-aggrandizing. I had the opportunity to see him daily throughout the entire time he commanded the 28th Marines. Never once did he show the slightest sign of fear or confusion during the Iwo Jima campaign, despite being surrounded by a great deal of both.

Harry Liversedge may have been modest, but he exuded a quiet self-confidence that was infectious. Liversedge is remembered by the surviving men in the 28th Marines as fearless in combat, but also compassionate and understanding. When two enlisted men were caught by MPs hunting outside the boundaries of their training camp on the big island of Hawaii, Liversedge deliberately pretended to understand that they had fired their rifles inside the camp — a lesser infraction resulting only in additional KP duty.

Toward the brutal climax of the battle for Iwo Jima, when a high-ranking career officer of the 28th Marines was immobilized by exhaustion and could no longer bear to send his battered platoons against enemy emplacements in the rugged northern end of the island, Colonel Liversedge quietly relieved him of his command, assigned a young captain to look after him, and gave him time to rest and regain his composure. The officer in question was put back in command of his unit a few days later.

The relationship between Marine officers and enlisted men was (and is) different than in the other American services. Marine officers tend to be closer to their men, in part because the Corps has always been smaller than the other services and has a more people-centered culture. Liversedge embodied the guidelines set down governing the relations between officers and enlisted Marines by Maj. Gen. John Lejeune in the Marine Corps manual of 1921 — guidelines still honored today: "The relation between officer and enlisted men should in no sense be that of superior to inferior nor that of master and servant, but rather ... should partake of the relationship between father and son, to the extent that officers, especially commanding officers, are responsible for the physical, mental and moral welfare, as well as the discipline and military training of the young men under their command."

A Japanese-language officer who served with Combat Team 28, 1st Lt. John K. McLean, recalled that

Liversedge was a superb field commander, greatly respected by his troops. Col. Liversedge was never bombastic or flamboyant — no macho displays. He was self-assured and quietly confident, born of his experiences as a successful commander in earlier Pacific battles. He enjoyed the complete respect and confidence of his troops. But there was more to him than that. The colonel had a sense of humanity and a deep regard for his men, which inspired all to perform to the best of their ability.

One day while we were still training in Camp Pendleton, the word was passed that the colonel would hold a troop inspection. I failed to get the word that it would be formal and showed up without my field scarf [Marine lingo for "necktie"]. To my horror, I saw all the officers were wearing theirs. One asked me, "Where is your field scarf, Lieutenant?" I could have crawled into a hole, certain I would be chewed out royally. Col. Liversedge looked at me for a few seconds, then turned to his officers and said, "Gentlemen, the inspection will be without field scarf!"

I venture to say that there was not a man in the 28th Regiment, from the highest-ranking officer to the lowest private, who would not gladly have followed Col. Liversedge to hell and back. And at Iwo Jima every one of them did.

Harry Liversedge was a man of few words who did not suffer fools gladly. Fair-minded and flexible when solving disputes and personnel problems within the unit, he could on occasion get angry. A lifelong bachelor, he liked a good bourbon and had a passion for playing slot machines. First Lieutenant McLean remembers, "One evening Colonel Liversedge came in and started playing the slot machines, which were in a room adjoining the bar. All of a sudden there was a loud crash. We all raced to the scene of the noise to see what had happened. There stood the colonel. He had thrown the slot machine through the window of the bar."

Liversedge had distinguished himself in combat leading a Marine Raider battalion in the Russell Islands early in the war. His second in command of the 28th Marines, Lt. Col. Robert Hugh Williams, was also a decorated combat leader. Although a study in contrasts, the two men got along very well. Liversedge was a large, hulking man, with a plebian demeanor. He reminded several of his Marines, including Fred, of Abraham Lincoln. Williams was more patrician in manner and outlook than his commander. Although he had grown up on a Wisconsin farm, he was the son of a highly regarded Presbyterian minister and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin. Unlike his boss, Williams was of average height and build.

Married into a prominent Washington family, Williams also had a keen ear for classical music. A well-published military writer, he possessed a deep understanding of the subtleties of military operations. He had known from the age of ten that he wanted to be a soldier. A cousin of his in the Lafayette Escadrille in World War I was a major influence on Williams as a teenager. "He loved pageantry," his wife, Alice, wrote in a letter to Fred, "likened himself to Tristram, and believed it was man's God-given duty to improve himself. He considered himself out of place in the 20th century, but he fit the Marine Corps like a glove."

At CT 28's second training ground at Camp Tarawa on the big island of Hawaii, Colonel Williams quietly got together with the captains and majors in the regiment and indicated that he felt we should have "batmen" to clean our tents and uniforms and make up our cots each morning. He suggested that we find a few privates willing to undertake this task and that we pay each one seven dollars a month. So each one of us ended up hiring a young Marine. After a month or so, we quietly dropped the project, without telling anyone up the line.

Williams was a great believer in the value of military tradition. Bob deeply admired Great Britain's Royal Marines, a very small but superb military organization. Williams may very well have adapted some of their tricks of the trade in setting up our training problems. The Royal Marines certainly seemed to influence his bearing, as Bob was always immaculately turned out. Even on Iwo Jima he found time to shave each morning, which was quite striking under the circumstances.

Colonel Williams was particularly fond of swagger sticks. I think he may have slept with one in his rack! One of our officers, Maj. Red Williamson, owned an ancient car that had a rusted-out hole in the floor in front of the right-hand front seat. Colonel Williams usually rode in that position, and one day when we were on our way back to our Pendleton training area from the weekend with our families, his favorite swagger stick evidently fell through that hole. He did not notice it was missing until we arrived at Tent Camp 1. This was a favorite stick of his, made of rosewood with sterling silver tips, with one end having a small Marine Corps emblem. It was not known generally, but the next day we changed the plans for one of the rifle companies, which was scheduled for a ten-mile conditioning hike. Instead of the hike being conducted entirely on the Camp Pendleton ranch, the company was sent out on the Pulgas Canyon Road and then north on Highway 101 and told to keep their eyes open for this highly prized swagger stick. It was found, much to the relief of Colonel Williams and, indeed, to the rest of us who had to ride back and forth with him!

* * *

LIVERSEDGE'S COMBAT TEAM was assigned to Tent Camp 1 in Las Pulgas Canyon because there was no room in the built-up area of Camp Pendleton to provide the regiment with permanent barracks. The 5th Division's training regimen commenced quickly and efficiently; it had to be built into a formidable fighting machine within six months.

Tent Camp 1 consisted almost entirely of pyramid-style tents, where the officers and men were billeted, and a few wood frame buildings, including an officers' and a noncommissioned officers' (NCO) club, and a couple of office huts. The camp was in the approximate center of the Pendleton Ranch, about four miles from the Pacific Ocean and about the same distance from the areas where training with small arms such as grenades, rifles, pistols, and Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs), as well as indirect-fire weapons such as mortars and artillery, was carried out.

Camp Pendleton had diverse terrain, including rolling hills, mountains, valleys, and steep-sided canyons. It even had rocky areas similar to some of the terrain CT 28 encountered on Iwo Jima. It contained about eighteen miles of Pacific coastline that made for ideal amphibious exercises.

The reinforced 5th Division consisted of about 25,000 Marines. It was commanded by Maj. Gen. Keller Rockey, a veteran of World War I who had been awarded the Navy Cross for valor in France. Marine ground divisions at the time were (and indeed, remain) triangular in nature: three infantry regiments are in a division, three infantry battalions are in a regiment, three companies in a battalion, three platoons in a company, three squads form a platoon, and three fire teams form a squad.

The principal fighting element around which Combat Team 28 was built was the 28th Marine Regiment (approximately 3,250 men). The combat team had a Headquarters and Service Company (320 men), which prepared all orders and coordinated planning, training, and operations, as well as providing logistical support, communications, and medical services for the Team.


Excerpted from The Lions of Iwo Jima by Fred Haynes, James A. Warren. Copyright © 2008 Major General Fred Haynes (USMC-ret) and James A. Warren. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Major General Fred Haynes USMC (Ret'd) commanded a combat team during the Vietnam war, and as a colonel, was the top operations officer of all Marine forces in that conflict in 1967. As a general officer, he went on to command both the 2nd and 3rd Marine Divisions. He is a contributor to The Marine Corps Gazette and The Naval Institute Proceedings, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and is chairman emeritus of the American Turkish Council. He lives with his wife, Bonnie Arnold Haynes, in New York City.

James A. Warren is the author of a highly acclaimed history of the U.S. Marines from Iwo Jima to Iraq, American Spartans, and Portrait of a Tragedy: America and the Vietnam War. A contributor to MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, he lives in Narragansett, Rhode Island.

Major General Fred Haynes USMC (Ret’d) commanded a combat team during the Vietnam war, and as a colonel, was the top operations officer of all Marine forces in that conflict in 1967. As a general officer, he went on to command both the 2nd and 3rd Marine Divisions. He is a contributor to The Marine Corps Gazette and The Naval Institute Proceedings, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and is chairman emeritus of the American Turkish Council. He lives with his wife, Bonnie Arnold Haynes, in New York City.


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Lions of Iwo Jima 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
MelvinOfTheApes More than 1 year ago
This book is an awesome read, and tells the story of the Battle for Iwo Jima in a different way than the others I have read. Major General Hayes commentary and memoirs are excellent, and paired with quotes and interviews from other veterans who were there. It provides a complete look at the 36 day battle from start to finish. This book is incredibly easy to read, and it almost impossible to put down. I highly recommend this to any fan of Marine Corps history or World War II history buff.
Melissa Chadborn More than 1 year ago
Very moving and informative. A very good read,
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was ok. Nice jod.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting, really brings back some memories. A bit heart pumping too, nice touch with being a bit graphic. Mine aren't on nook, and yours deffenitly out does mine. Even for the first chapter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was a great storie!!! Loved the action. Cant wait to read the next chapter of it! :)
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greg233 More than 1 year ago
This is a great book of Combat Team 28 who were the flag raisers on Mt Surabachi. They trained for a full year before making this landing. You will not be able to put this book down once they "hit the beach". As a Marine from a long time ago it brought back memories of the "Old Corp". Great book for Marine or none Marine.
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