By JOHN KIENER
The 75th Anniversary of the invasion of the Pacific Island of Iwo Jima occurs today, Feb. 19. This World War II Anniversary date has special meaning for Circuit Judge Eddie Lauderback whose father, Klyne, was a veteran of the campaign.
Capture of the island was important as an emergency landing and refueling strip for B-29 bombers attacking the Japanese mainland. Its importance is also etched in the minds of Americans because, according to the “History of World War II” (Armed Services Memorial Edition, 1945), it produced a dramatic flag-raising picture by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal deemed “the most famous photo of the war” showing Marines planting the American flag on Mount Suribachi.
Lauderback has a volume of correspondence written by his father during WWII, including a contemporaneous letter about the conflict penned on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 1945 and addressed to “Mother, Father and Lynn” (his brother) that read: “I guess you wonder why I haven’t written. This is the first chance that I’ve had to write. I guess you know that I’m on Iwo Jima or did you have any idea where I was? This is a pretty rugged life but I have been very lucky so far. So you need not be worried about me. I’m learning to like K. rations believe it or not.
“Call Sis & Curly and tell them you heard from me. I’ll write them when I have a little more time. This is such a God forsaken island. The soil is course sand and it is very dusty. I sure enjoyed the boat ride down here. I believe I would make a good sailor –ha! I’ll write more later. I hope everyone is in the best of health. I’m feeling swell. Write often. Your loving son & brother, (signed) Klyne.”
Klyne Lauderback graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School and was attending what is now East Tennessee State University when drafted into the United States Army. His service began in March 1943. He was assigned to the U.S. Army Air Force and operated a “homing” station to guide planes into runways and airstrips. During his enlistment he enjoyed a Bob Hope USO Show. Klyne completed his training in the fall of 1944 at Hickam Field on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.
His LST (Landing Ship Tank 723) left from Pearl Harbor on Jan. 22, 1945, to the Marshall Islands and Saipan before heading towards Iwo Jima. One of his letters written before the invasion read in part: “At Sea. I guess you are wondering why I haven’t written. Well it isn’t my fault because I’m still in a boat in the blue Pacific…” He kept a diary that in February 1945 contains the following entries: “February, Fri. 16: Worked in radio truck from 6 am till 12 noon; Sun. 17: Worked in Radio Truck from 6 am till noon. Smooth sailing; Sun. 18: Worked from 6 am till noon. Cold & Misty Rain.”
D-DAY ON IWO JIMA
The diary entry on Monday, Feb. 19, 1945 is headed: “D-Day. On duty from 6 am till 12. 1st Wave hit the beach at 0900. Naval Bombardment was successful. Mortar was hitting on both sides of our LST. Opposition was heavy.”
Remaining on board the LST, Lauderback’s diary entries continue: February 1945, Tue. 20: Gun Watch from 4 pm till 6. We cruised on the North West side of the island today. We were radar guards – raining & cold; Wed. 21: Japs came over. Made 2 suicide attack(s) on the carrier Saratoga – not much damage was done. Cold & Wet. Bismarck Sea was sunk about 7 pm. About 600 lives were lost. “ [Editor’s Note; U.S.S. Bismarck Sea was an escort carrier sunk at Iwo Jima due to two Japanese kamikaze attacks. The official death toll is 318 crewmen killed. Notably, she is the last aircraft carrier in U.S. service, to date, to sink in enemy action.]
FLAG RAISED ON
Fighting continued the next two days. On Thur. 22, he wrote: “Gun Watch from 2 am till 6 am. I saw rockets & tracers & flares all night. Cold & Raining.” Then dramatically under the date: “Fri. 23: Flag raised on top of Mt. Suribachi. I was on Gun Watch from 10 pm till 2 am. Windy. We really rolled today. Had air raid. About dusk two bombs landed on both sides of our LST but did not hit us. Sky was lit with tracers.”
At midnight on Feb. 28, nine days after the invasion, Lauderback’s LST discharged his unit ashore on Iwo Jima. While the American flag had been raised over the island, there was still considerable fighting taking place. The remaining Japanese hid in caves and attacked the U.S. troops at night.
A letter written on March 8, 1945 described conditions on the island as follows: “I had a couple of letters from you today. Glad to know that all is O.K. I’m feeling swell. Thanks for the money order. I have no use for it though. We get cigarettes, candy & gum in our C & K rations.
“Yes, mother I’m with the same bunch of boys. They are pretty swell guys. I’m writing this in our dug out. My stationery is in the radio truck so I’ll write only one page. We sleep on the ground but I found myself a mattress so I’m O.K. The walls of the dug out is bags filled with sand. We found some lumber and put a roof on it.
“After seeing some of the sights here I see how lucky I am by being in the air corps. Send me some film if you can get some. Write often. Your living son & bro., Klyne.” [Lauderback began his letter with the comment “I became a man today” – March 8, 1945 was his 21st birthday.]
By the end of March, the air base on Iwo Jima was basically secured and was being used to land and refuel planes for bombing runs on Japan. The island would provide emergency landing facilities for B-29 bombers plus a base for P-51 fighters.
Sunday night, Aug. 12, 1945, Klyne told his mother, dad and brother Lynn that he knew the war was coming to a close. He wrote, “I’m sure feeling happy tonight. We should know by tomorrow if Japan accepts our peace terms or not. I couldn‘t believe the news Friday night. We had just got back to the tent…and were listening to the radio when they announced the news. We didn’t know what to think but was happy at the thought of it. Maybe I’ll get home before long after all. I sure hope so.”
On Aug. 15, 1945, Klyne wrote a letter stating, “The war is over! The great day has come.” He had received the news listening to a radio broadcast by President Harry S. Truman. The formal Japanese surrender occurred aboard the U.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945. However, Lauderback stayed on Iwo Jima until December, 1945 when his unit was finally sent home. He was discharged from the Army on Jan. 10, 1946.
A total of 6,821 men died and 19,217 were wounded in the battle for the island. More than 26,000 B-29 crewmen landed there after the airstrip was established under the rubric of declared emergencies. It is impossible to calculate how many of them owed their lives to a safe landing on Iwo Jima.
Klyne Lauderback died at age 95 on Oct. 14, 2019. While extremely proud of his service and the role he played in the campaign, Judge Eddie Lauderback said his father “would be the first to let you know that it was the courage and sacrifice of the Marines that led to the capture of the island of Iwo Jima.”