Night Time Exposure of Mt. Suribachi, 1965 by Joe Richard



Iwo Jima Memoirs


Ronald Armstrong
A/2C. Water Plant Operator at the Air Base on Iwo
February 1957-February 1958
United States Air Force




     It is always good to know that we are not alone.  Other than veterans from actual battle, I have never met anyone who served on Iwo after the war.  As I said before, I was on Iwo from Feb. 1957 to Feb. 1958.

     A C-47 took off from Iwo and lost one engine.  The pilot could not get enough power to get back up to the runway, so he had to ditch in the ocean.  We did not have a boat, so some of the crew had to swin, while others came to shore by rubber raft.  The plane floated for about 45 minutes.  The swimmers came ashore covered with sea dye and shark repellant.   Later, we learned that the two in the rubber raft were the pilot and the author, James Mitchler. 

     We had to do all sorts of crazy things to maintain our sanity.  One of the things that we would do was to check out weapons and go target shooting.  My pal and I were walking along the beach with M1-carbines when we spotted a bird high in the sky.  My friend said, "I'll bet you that you cannot hit that."  I gave the bird some lead and shot.  It glided for awhile and then came down into the water.  I went in after it (Smart move considering it was bleeding).  I brought the bird it and it had a wing spam of about 6 feet.  We had no idea what it was.  So we took it to the small island library and found a book on bird identification.  It was an albatross.  You might know.  Now I was in for bad luck.  Iwo was bad luck enough.

     One morning after fishing for sharks we came upon an overturned weapon carrier.  Upon further investigation we found that an airman had his legs pinned under the windshield.  He had been there all night.  We could not get it off of him, so I ran to the medics.  They flew him off to Japan.  Later, we were told that he lost both legs.

     While I was on the island we expereriended  two typhoons.  We had to live for days in caves while the storms passed over.  We ate C-rations and chased rats away.  While we slept, they would chew on our boots.  They would also do this when we sat on the benches at the outdoor theater.  We had so many rats that during the day airmaen would go out in a jeep and shoot them with 22 rifles.  We also tried to kill them with the poison, decon, in peanutbutter  balls.

     We were not told, but the US Marines had planned a mock invasion of IWO.  They landed and we thought it was a real invasion.

     We collected VO ribbons all year, so that we could wear our FIGMO ribbons on our uniforms after we got our orders for our next assignment.  

     The moral was not good on IWO.  The base commander told me that I had to get the swimming pool running.  The pool had been idel for several years.  It took me weeks to get it going, but after a couple months the water supple became very low and we had closed the pool.  I don't know if it ever opened again.  The only water on IWO was water that ran off the runway and apron into two resevouis during the rainy season.  

     There was an older airman first class that came to IWO with marked cards and crooked dice. He was sending thousands of dollars a month back to the States.  He was the only one to ever request a second tour on Iwo.

     While I was on Iwo, a shipment of sand for the water plant filters was piled up near the water plant.  No one was in a hurry to replace the sand, so it sat out in the sun for weeks.   During this time, scorpion eggs hatched in the sand.  Many of the creatures moved out.  I was wondering whether scorpions had become a problem later.  Our biggest problems was rats.

     We are not vets of a shooting war, but we are survivors of a year on Iwo.  I learned an important life lesson while on Iwo.  I saw three types of individuals on Iwo.  The first hated the island and felt sorry for themselves all the time they were there.  The ate, worked, and laid in their bunks the rest of the time.  We had to put some of these individuals in straitjackets and send them off to Japan.  The second group didn't like being there but just made the most of it.  They left the island the way they came. The third group looked for adventure and excitement.  They make things happen.  My buddy and I hiked the island over, went into caves, went shark fishing, fired off all types of weapons.  We made things happen.  Life is what you make it.  No matter what the  situation, look for the good around you...

     While in high school I applied for the Air Force Academy and was sponsored by an Indiana senator.  I went to Illinois for a series of physical and mental test.  They found that I had 20/30 vision in one eyes and was rejected.  In those day eyes had to bee 20/20 uncorrected.  I was fascinated by airplanes, so I graduated from high school on a Sunday and the next day I joined the Air Force with 3 of my buddies.  I went to Oakland (Parks Air Force Base) for basic and on to Ft. Bolivar (Army base) near Washington, DC.  I went to water supply school (none of my 3 career picks).  I volunteered for overseas shipment, but they sent me to a SAC base in Roswell, NM.  I was there for 3 months and a shipment came in for Guam.  I was he only one to request it, so I went home for a 30 day leave.  While I was home I got a letter stating that my shipment had been switched to Iwo Jima.  I had seen the movie, Sands of Iwo Jima, so I  thought Iwo sounded  cool..  We flew on two Pan Am planes out of San Francisco to Japan.  The planes were routed into a typhoon, and the other plane went down somewhere on the way.  They never found any any remains of the 200+ people on the plane.

     On Iwo the selection of a friend is very limited.  I was surprised to when you said that most people on the island were Army and Coast Guard.  When I was on Iwo there were 120 Air force, 30 Army, and 15 coast Guard.  The Air Force slept in the large Quonset huts, the Army in tents below the Airman' Club, and the Coast Guard had their own plush building on the coast. The Army were construction engineers, and I think they pulled out while I was there.

     I  played a lot of double deck pinochle.  In the back of the chow hall was the steam boiler room. The men assigned to it just had to sit around and watch pressure gages.  Really nothing to do.  I hooked up with the 3 of them and we would play pinochle for 24 hours straight.  We would then take a 24 hour break and then play fror another 24 hours. We played for small stakes so no one got hurt, but we had a good time.  

     There were three types of people who served on Iwo: 

     1)  Those that left the island worst than when the arrived

     2)  Those that left the island the same as when they arrived

     3)  those that left the island better than when they arrived

     I like to think that I was in the third catagory.   I have never been sorry to have been stationed there.

     Our bulk cargo (beer, soda, etc.) came in on LSTs.  I was one of the few people on Iwo with a military drivers license.  So when a LST came in, I was asked to drive a 6 for the unloading. .I had to back over the narrow ramp and into the ship.  The ramp came up out of the ship and then down to the shore.  Like an inverted "V".  As I backed up the ramp you could not see the ship.  Then all of a sudden you were going down. The worst part was that you went from bright sunlight into the dim lights in the ship.  I would become completely blinded.  I would hold my breath and hope for the best.

     Only one channel had been cleared for the LSTs.  Out of the channel was war wreakage.  A LST came in and tied up two lines on shore.  One lines broke and the ship turned sideways, paralell to the shore.  There was no way the ship could get out.  So they sent out an SOS.  That night here were lights all over the horizon as other ships came to help the disabled ship.  It took a few days and strategic tows, but they got it out..."

     Someone found a rubber raft pulled up on shore. They thought someone was trying to observe the military installation. Our base commander called a base alert.  We were mustered into the outdoor theater and issued carbines and a clip of ammo.  The commander came out and addresses his army.  He was wearing a 45 at his hip and his helmet was on backwards.  We  were transported around the perimeter of the island and told to move toward the interior.  Well,  most any sound set off a volley of gunfire.  It was a miracle no one was hit.  No invaders were found.  That night a fight broke out in the Airman's Club (Africian Americans against whites).  Many people went back their lockers and came back with their guns ready to shoot it out.  Lines of battle were set up, but then the chaplain came running out into the middle and he got the soldiers to stop..."


------ Ronald Armstrong


Note: To view images taken by the web master on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words during his year on Iwo Jima, please click on the following link to my World War II Stories Photo Album:

WW II Stories: Iwo Jima Photo Album 1965-1966


Did YOU serve on Iwo Jima?

Did you know that there is a group of veterans who have gotten together to form an association of servicemen, no matter what branch of service, who served at one time or another starting at the invasion of the island on February 19, 1945 and continuing until the island was eventually returned to the Japanese in 1968?

Iwo Veterans Organization



We, at the Iwo Jima Memoirs web site wish to offer to Mr. Ronald Armstrong our most profound THANK YOU for his poignant story of his personal experiences -- during his tour of Iwo Jima and especially for allowing us to share those memories.


Original story transcribed on 21 October 2007


Did YOU serve on Iwo Jima?
Do YOU have a story to tell?
Do YOU have a picture or pictures
that tells a story?

Contact me, Joe Richard and I can help by adding YOUR story to my site devoted to veterans who served on Iwo Jima.


Check out my other web site on World War II. Click on the Image Below:



    If You Would Like to E-mail us, Click on the Image Below:



    image of iwo Logo

    © Copyright 2001-2007
    Iwo Jima Stories
    All Rights Reserved


    Updated on 21 October 2007...1028:05 CST





      image of iwo Logo

    Previous Page

    Next Page