I (Karen) would like to take this opportunity, as on February 19th it will be the 72nd anniversary of the landing on Iwo Jima, to tell about a man I learned about from my swim teacher Bill Hudson, an Iwo Jima Marine.
Realizing the Vintage Aero Flying Museum exists because Dr. James Parks was collecting stories while the men were alive and available, I decided to write about Iwo Jima vet Bill Hudson for a generation that will never meet him. I was able to give Bill Hudson the finished book before he died, and he was pleased with it, but said I shouldn't have written it about him; it should have been about his platoon sergeant, "the bravest, most courageous person I have ever known."
To put this quote in context, you need to understand that Bill Hudson's first day of combat was 19 February 1945, the bloodiest day of the worst battle in US Marine Corps history. Hudson landed with the first wave of troops. He would have been one of only three in his platoon to still be with the platoon at the end of the battle, but he was wounded the day before they reached the sea. His platoon sergeant, Manuel Martinez, was one of the two left.
Hudson explained that Martinez led the platoon after their lieutenant was killed next to Hudson on the first day, and did very dangerous things that saved the lives of the platoon. For instance, normally nobody walked around at night because the Japanese were trying to infiltrate the lines, slit Marine throats, and find water. Marines were to stay in their holes, shoot first, and ask questions later. But Martinez went out at night in spite of Japanese knives and Marine bullets, scouting ahead to see where the platoon should go. Furthermore, everyone knew on Iwo Jima that you don't go in a cave if you want to come out alive, but Martinez once walked in a cave where there were 15 Japanese and won that battle unscathed. His action was used as an example by Martinez' battalion commander Justice Chambers, who himself received the Medal of Honor, of what was meant by "uncommon valor" on Iwo Jima.
Reading war stories from a hundred years ago, and knowing that people lie and exaggerate, it is easy to ignore "bravest thing I ever saw" statements, thinking cynically that there was probably more, or less, to the story than was written for the folks back home. But hearing from a straight-talking Marine I knew, about the actions of a man he knew very well, in a war that is still in living memory, tells me that there really were impressive deeds done in both world wars, things that should be remembered and honored.
The last I heard, Manuel Martinez is still alive in New Mexico, an old man whom people probably pass by without even wondering what stories he could tell.
The book about Bill Hudson is Fighting the Unbeatable Foe: Iwo Jima and Los Alamos. You can read more about the book at iwojimabook.com, Half the book's proceeds go to the Wounded Warrior Project, at Bill Hudson's request.