Iwo Jima Stories
The Dual-Life Value

I

I took over my platoon in a protected area. Men were walking around. They were a experienced, confident group who had been involved in the fighting at the top of Mount Suribachi--site of the famous flag raising.

One young man was especially noticeable, carrying an unusual Thompson submachine gun. He oozed self-confidence and independence. After chow that first evening, as he perfected his foxhole, he started declaring to himself in a loud voice: "I don't volunteer for nothin' else! Screw the Marine Corps! Screw Mount Suribachi! Screw everything except ol' number one! That's all that counts: gettin' off this island alive! I don't volunteer for nothin'!"

He shouted it so repeatedly that a couple of the other men picked it up. "Yeah! Right! We don't volunteer for nothing!" Suddenly it dawned on me that they were obliquely speaking to me, their new platoon leader. I felt the chill of having my leadership threatened.

The next morning, as we prepared to edge out of our positions, a message came down from higher headquarters. As luck would have it, I was being ordered to send a volunteer out onto a hill in front of us on a sure-death reconnaissance mission. Hesitant to ask for volunteers after what I had heard the night before, I announced that I, myself would go. I made the excuse that, since I was new, I wanted to see the terrain. No sooner had I spoken, than the same Marine who had made the declarations the previous night said, "No, I'll go, Lieutenant."

"What!" I exclaimed. "you were the one with the big mouth saying that you never volunteer for anything!"

Almost sheepishly trying to cover his willingness to take my place, he answered, "Well, I just can't trust any of these other jarheads on such a mission."

II

In my rifle platoon, two of the teenage Marines had "stressed-out" after 34 of their 40 man platoon had been shot in the first five days. The two were no longer staying alert. I warned them that the Japanese would soon sneak into their fox holes, beat them to a shot and kill them. They did not respond. I raged at them, repeatedly, with the same warning about their impending death. It still did not work.

One of the platoon's wiser young riflemen, son of a Texas rancher, advised me quietly that I was telling the men the wrong thing. He said, "Tell them, Lieutenant, that the Japanese will get past them and kill us others." To my shock, that worked.

Adapted from "Values For A New Millennium"
by Robert L. Humphrey

HOME