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Toothbrushing on Iwo Jima

iwo jima marines wwii

Iwo Jima, Saturday, 3 March 1945:

On this day, the Marines broke the Meat Grinder. Late in the day, they were able to secure Hill 382, and now the Amphi­theater was outflanked. Meanwhile, another unit relieved the worn-out RCT 25 and cut off the pocket of Japanese at Turkey Knob.


The Japanese defense was broken, but at great cost. The Fourth Division had 6,591 casualties, 2,880 from the Meat Grinder alone, and its men were exhausted.


Hudson’s platoon lost a Marine who sprained his knee, but later he returned and finished out the battle.


Around this time, Hudson’s unit was pulled off the line for a few days, and someone took a picture of him wearing a red necktie his mother had given him for Christmas. “I wore it all through the battle. I guess it gave me good luck.” The handle of his Colt .45 is visible in the picture as well as the toothbrush in his pocket that he used to clean his weapons.

Toothbrushes were not for teeth, though Hudson did brush his teeth during the battle at least once. One day the squad got a Red Cross package consisting of one toothbrush and two or three tubes of toothpaste.

All the squad used the same toothbrush that day. Sharing a toothbrush that had been in someone else's mouth was better than sharing the toothbrush each used to keep his weapon clean. The weapons got very dirty, and it was a matter of life and death for the weapon to be reliable when fired. The Marines would never use somebody else's weapon toothbrush.

Many matters of appearance and hygiene took second place to survival. During his time on Iwo Jima, Hudson never shaved and never changed his underwear, socks, or clothes. He had plenty of ammunition, water, and food (even if it was only K or C rations), and that was all he needed to do his job. Ciga­rettes were issued to the men; two or three came in a K ration box. Behind the lines, they may have smoked a lot, but Marines at the front were told not to smoke.

Smoking on the front lines at night created a light spot, a giveaway as to where to shoot. Cancer was no concern, but cigarettes on the front lines were deadly anyway.

Excerpts are from Fighting the Unbeatable Foe: Iwo Jima and Los Alamos, now republished as a 75th anniversary edition in paperback and Kindle.

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