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By Dale Dye
Warriors Publishing GroupCopyright © 2013 Open Road Integrated Media
All rights reserved.
PACIFIC OCEAN AREAS
Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands
The view from atop Mt. Suribachi was ...
Well, sobering might work. An observer who did not have his historical sensitivity and combat experience might call it awe-inspiring or even spectacular. But Shake Davis saw too many blasted, broken and bullet-riddled specters on the black sand beaches below his perch to be impressed by Iwo Jima's desolate beauty. From the gummy, sulphur-scented terraces of the landing beaches, past the remnants of Airfield No. 1, beyond the quarry and north toward Hill 362-A which had been the focus of his attention for the past week, all he could see were ghosts.
It was the same every time he climbed the twisting trail toward the summit of the dormant volcano and ran through the sequence of the battle in his mind. From D-Day on 19 February through 26 March 1945, when the island was officially considered secure, more than six thousand American attackers and more than twenty-one thousand Japanese defenders died in just ten square miles of wind-scarred real estate. Standing near the very spot where a patrol from Easy Company of the 28th Marines had raised an American flag over Iwo on 23 February and created one of the most iconic images to emerge from World War II, he thought he could see all of them down below begging for recognition.
Turning to look over the rolling blue expanse of the Pacific toward mainland Japan some 600 nautical miles to the north, Shake hoped some Japanese bureaucrat was looking kindly on his request for at least another week prowling the island. He had some reasonable leads on finding what the samurai wanted him to find on Iwo Jima and some even better clues regarding his personal goal in probing the battlefields.
He'd sent the extension request for favorable endorsement through the same old friend that had gotten him a rare clearance to visit Iwo Jima in the first place. His pal was a modern samurai and a very senior officer in the Japanese military now but they'd gotten to know each other well while Shake was an active duty tactical advisor to the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces. They'd shared lots of time in rubber boats out on the Sea of Japan, festive dinners of squid and hot sake and an abiding interest in the Pacific campaigns of World War II. When Shake got the job that required him to poke around on Iwo Jima, he immediately contacted his old friend but permission for an extended stay on the island and freedom to nose around at will was no rubber-stamp deal.
He gave the big Marine memorial located on the summit of Suribachi a glance and smiled at the huge garlands of dog tags left on the edifice by Marines who visited the island by special permission once a year on the anniversary of the landings. There would be more added in a couple of days when the Battalion Landing Team from III Marine Expeditionary Force arrived from Okinawa to act as escorts for returning vets and families. The Japanese were bound by the 1968 agreement that returned Iwo Jima to their control to allow these visits but they didn't have to like it. There was pressure from high places in Tokyo to isolate the island and preserve it as a strictly Japanese enclave. The pressure had been sufficient recently to cause the government to officially redraw their maps and revise the name of the island to its original form: Iwo To. And surviving American veterans of the bloody fighting on Iwo Jima sure as hell didn't like that.
Shake picked up a piece of coral, wound up and heaved it as far as he could off the southern slope. It landed with a satisfactory plop among the breakers below and he hoped a ripple effect would carry up the North Pacific to somehow influence the decision-makers in Tokyo. He was close to his goals. He just needed a little more time ...and some luck. But it was out of his hands and if the extension wasn't approved, he'd be leaving Iwo Jima on the same plane that carried the returning vets back to Guam and then Stateside. It was time to return to his digs so he started down the trail to the landing beaches six hundred feet below the summit of Mount Suribachi.
He trudged slowly across the third terrace of black volcanic sand above Green Beach and felt the familiar cloying tug on his hiking boots. The smell of rotten eggs rose to assault his nostrils with each step. There was no question in his mind why early explorers called this inhospitable flyspeck Sulphur Island. Every surviving veteran talked about that smell but after ten days on Iwo, Shake was slowly getting used to it. Climbing up onto the runway of Central Field, the only active airstrip on the island, Shake paused and stared down the long strip of crumbling concrete. It had been constructed over the southernmost of three airstrips built by the Japanese during the war. Shake nodded at a couple of Japanese sailors grooving their golf swings by knocking balls out into the surf. From what he'd seen during his time on Iwo, there were some serious PGA tour prospects among the four hundred or so Japanese troops who were stationed there. They had a hell of a lot more interest in golf, satellite TV broadcasts and videogames than they did in military history, which was just fine with Shake Davis.
They'd been curious about his mission at first, and then mostly ignored him. Shake had brought along his own rations and camping gear, so he was self-sufficient and no drain on the island's meager military resources. When he asked for help or borrowed tools, the Japanese island commander granted his requests with a smile and a nod. The commander on Iwo had a copy of Shake's permission letter from Tokyo locked in his desk drawer and that meant his gaijin guest was both political and well-connected. The less he knew about what the American was doing poking around the island, the better. And there was no indication in the letter that one of Shake's missions on Iwo—in fact, the reason high-placed contacts in the Japanese Self Defense Forces had granted it in the first place—was an effort to finally find out what had happened to the general who commanded Iwo's garrison during the U.S. invasion.
The remains of General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the 53-year-old commander of the 109th Division and the Ogasawara Army Group on Iwo Jima had never been found. There was intense disagreement among historians. Some said he had committed hara-kiri late in the battle when it became obvious he'd lost the fight. Others swore he died while leading a last-ditch counterattack near Airfield No. 2 during the last days of the fighting on Iwo. Professional military men in Japan—led by a Japanese officer who was a close friend of Shake's—really wanted to find out the truth so the argument could be settled once and for all in the ultimate hope that Kuribayashi's remains could be located and taken to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where he would rest with Japan's revered war dead. Given Japan's penchant for revisionist wartime history, conducting their own investigation was out of the question but Shake's request to nose around the island looking for American remains gave them a unique opportunity. And Shake's high-placed buddy assured all involved that the matter would be handled delicately. That did the trick and got him the OK to spend two weeks on Iwo Jima for "purposes of historical research of great interest to the government of Japan."
It also gave Davis too much to accomplish in too little time. The search for Kuribayashi was interesting and vital to his Iwo access but it leached time from the search for what he was really after: the remains of Marine Sergeant Bill Genaust. He expected to find that somewhere up ahead, past the remains of Motoyama Airfield No. 2 and the remnants of the old U.S. Coast Guard LORAN Station demolished in 1994. Somewhere near or on what appeared on wartime maps as Hill 362-A.
There were a lot of unsung and under-appreciated heroes of the fighting on Iwo Jima, but Bill Genaust, a Marine Corps motion picture photographer attached to the V Amphibious Corps for the assault, was unique. It was Joe Rosenthal, a civilian photographer for Associated Press that captured the hearts of Americans with his photo of the second and most impactful flag-raising on Iwo—one of the most iconic images in history. But what few Americans know about the flag-raising is that the entire sequence was captured in 198 frames of Kodachrome motion picture film shot by Genaust, who was standing near Rosenthal and cranking away with his 16mm Bell & Howell.
Genaust would not live to realize it, but his color foot-age was shown in movie houses across America and appeared daily for years as an overnight signoff segment on TV stations. Practically everyone has seen that sequence but only a few know who shot it. During the war, regulations did not provide credit to motion picture photographers although still images released to the public usually carried a credit. That was one reason Bill Genaust never got the recognition he deserved. The other reason was that Sgt. Genaust was killed on Iwo Jima and his body was never recovered. Shake Davis was digging around a collapsed cave on Hill 362-A in hopes of correcting that situation. He was bound to locate Genaust's remains and returning them to U.S. soil.
Eyeing the small dent he'd made in the mound of crushed coral, sand and lava rock where he'd been digging for the past week, Shake felt confident he was in the right place. Somewhere behind that mound, pushed into place by a Marine bulldozer to seal the entrance to the cave where Genaust and another man were killed searching for Japanese snipers, he'd find what was left of a fellow Marine who deserved a better hand than the one dealt to him on Iwo Jima. But as he shoved more shoring into the short tunnel he'd made in the base of the pile, Shake realized it was going to take more time than he had left to break through to the cave. If his extension didn't come through in the next two days, Bill Genaust would remain buried on Iwo Jima with all the other ghosts that haunted this island.
Shake Davis was on intimate terms with wartime ghosts. He'd spent a lot of years exorcising his own demons from combat tours in Vietnam and trying to shed some light on brothers listed as missing in action from a long and ultimately inconclusive conflict. That effort had kept him on active duty longer than he'd planned and nearly cost him his life a decade past, so when he finally left active duty he was determined to permanently retire Marine Gunner Sheldon Davis and find a good-old-boy name of Shake Davis spending his days somewhere between a barstool and a bass boat.
He should have known better. No master plan ever survives the first round downrange. And that round was fired by his wife, who emerged from the Betty Ford Clinic free of a debilitating addiction to vodka and ready to begin a new life divorced from all her old bad habits—one of which was Shake Davis. It was inevitable he decided when the lawyer plopped the papers down in front of him on the porch of Gus Quick's old cabin in the Ozarks. Fortunately, it was also amicable and his wife didn't want an oversize bite out of his retirement pay. She'd leave him enough to squeak by on, but the cabin willed to him by the old sergeant major and the bass boat had to go on the auction block. Daughter Tracey was on a seagoing sabbatical from her studies at the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterrey and working on research sponsored by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, so she was self-supporting. His overhead was minimal but Shake still needed a job.
There were lots of folks out there—old contacts from his active duty or special operations background—ready to offer him one at sizeable salary but they all seemed to involve long tours in crappy locations or hustling hardware for defense contractors. He'd had enough of that so Shake cut expenses to bare bones, rented a little cabin on the Mississippi River in southeast Missouri where he'd grown up, and settled down to pursue his life-long hobby of reading military history with a particular—and perfectly understandable—emphasis on Marine Corps operations in World War II. Something would come along bearing a suitable paycheck and enough enticement to keep him from wasting the rest of his life drooling in a corporate cubicle.
He was living on a steady diet of fresh-caught, deep-fried catfish and bourbon whiskey when his cell phone buzzed and Chan Dwyer came back into the picture. Shake had been in semi-regular contact with her since the Vietnam thing and had seriously considered making a romantic run on Chan. But she was focused tightly on climbing to the top of the military intelligence heap. She'd left the active Army ranks for a high-level analyst slot at Defense Intelligence Agency and she'd been thinking about him lately. When Chan said she'd be delighted to see him any time he was Back East it got Shake to thinking of how lonely he'd become.
She also said she had a lead on something that might interest Shake if he had time to drive up to St. Louis and meet with Ken Moore, who ran an independent organization called Moore's Marauders, which specialized in finding the remains of wartime MIAs and returning them to their families. Moore had been probing around intelligence circles for years searching for information on MIAs from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He was well-respected for his willingness to undertake search missions that the U.S. government couldn't—or wouldn't—handle through the Pentagon's Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command.
It was Moore who got Shake interested in Bill Genaust. He couldn't offer a big salary but he could support travel and expenses. What Moore needed was someone well-versed in Marine Corps history who would be capable of focused investigation. That person would need connections in Japan to be able to gain access to Iwo Jima. Chan Dwyer had told Moore that Shake Davis might be the perfect fit and after he and Moore shared a few beers in a downtown St. Louis pub, Moore knew that Chan was right. The mission came together in short order after that initial meeting.
Shake made his contacts in Japan and discovered he'd have to decline Moore's offer of high-tech ground-penetrating radars and staff archeologists to assist on the mission to Iwo. Given the General Kuribayashi angle that was driving Japanese cooperation, the trip would have to be strictly low-key and involve low-tech grunt work. Shake didn't realize just how much pick-and-shovel would be involved until he started kicking around on the island. After twelve days, he had nothing more than a six-foot hole in the side of Hill 362-A to go along with some credible hunches about what happened to the Japanese general.
Excerpted from Peleliu File by Dale Dye. Copyright © 2013 Open Road Integrated Media. Excerpted by permission of Warriors Publishing Group.
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