Below are exerpts
from an e-mail received from the daughter of USMC PFC Robert
Hall Ayers who served on Iwo Jima at the time of the
invasion of the island in February 1945.
"...My dad's unite
was attached to the 5th Amphibious Corps during this
assault. He has never been able to talk much about Iwo.
Today he suffers from late stage Alzheimer's Disease which,
dreadfully, has him locked firmly in the day-to-day battles
of Iwo Jima. His caregivers and family work very hard every
day to try and keep his mind actively aware of the present
day, but sadly, he seeks out Japs behind every tree, chair,
rock. He lives in terror. It is heartbreaking.
I have been blessed
with the care and custody of over sixty letters he wrote
home, in their original envelopes and in mint condition,
during his three year stint in the service. I have scanned
every page and envelope, and am currently in the process of
transcribing each and every letter. Please allow me to share
some excerpts, and a few whole letters, from the period of
deployment in 1944 to his time on Iwo, to his voyage from
Nagasaki to Tientsin, China in 1946. You can notice, sadly,
how his demeanor changes throughout this selection-from
excited boy to hardened man--as the ravages of war takes its
worked hard for 8 hrs. with a pick, shovel, and wheelbarrow
breaking up a rock ledge. I didn't mind the physical labor
but my hands were sure sore when I finished. I honestly
believe that was the first real outdoor physical labor that
I have done since I (rest of page cut off with scissors by
I went on liberty a
couple of days ago and got a chance to see the city
&endash;some place, but not as good as I expected. It is
fairly modern but the natives are all dark and the
servicemen are everywhere. This morning we played the
officers a game of baseball and beat them 11-8. I played
second base. It has been so long since I have played that I
was pretty rusty. Everyone had a swell time though. Boy!
Will I ever have a lot of mail when it reaches me. I haven't
received any since I left "Little Tokyo"
... We sleep on the
deck every night and the rain is enough to send us below but
we don't care as it is cool. Some fellows bring their
mattresses up but they get soggy with rain water. I just got
thru washing my dungarees and shirt but as we have to use
salt water and the salt water soap is all gone, we find it
hard to make suds. We heard the news of the Philippine
Invasion by the army. It seems very doubtful that we,
meaning the Marines in the Pacific, will see any action. The
only action we would see is if the army loses ground we
would be sent to regain it&emdash;but the army has plenty of
men to cover up her blunders...
...I think I'll ask
all these gals I'm writing to to send me a can of beans or
soup a month. After all I may as well capitalize on my
investments. They all tell me to say the word and they'll
send me anything. Boy, a can of pork and beans really tastes
good! We get all the grapefruit juice and spam that we
...I feel fine here
and am not sleeping with one eye open for slope heads as
there aren't many loose here...
...The people in the
states seem to think this war is almost over, believe me
they are sadly mistaken. As far as I can see, the boys in
Europe are just playing safe. After being overseas for a
couple of years they aren't just going to rush the Germans
and get killed. Why should they? ...We definitely
aren't ships' company as we are standing by now. We are a
battalion of combat engineers. If the 5th Amphibious Corps
goes to action we might go with them. The same goes for the
3rd Amph Corps. But we'll go regardless of the outfit we get
assigned to... "
Now, here are some
letters from when it all went to hell...
This Vmail was
written on D-day at Iwo. His battalion hit the beach the
next day. To get past the censors, not a word is mentioned
about where he is or what he is about to embark upon. He is
not on an island and there are no 'snow flowers'-- these are
codes to his mother. His tenacity is amazing:
your letter about three days ago but have been too busy to
answer. They have us working pretty hard!
By the time I get
home the roses on that trellis will be way up in the
clouds. We don't have many tropical flowers on this
island for some reason or other. The only flowers I've seen
was something that looked like a snow flower. I just
happened to come across it.
The weather must be
nice in Fresno now, if it is 60's, but the wind will be
coming up soon.
Our chow is about
the same, maybe a little bit better. It should get better
all the time as we are winning the war &endash;at least in
Will write again
soon. Hope you are all well. Received a letter from Janet
and must answer soon.
Later, from Iwo,
D+16; Mar 6, 1945:
There isn't much in
the line of news to talk about but will write just to let
you know everything is okay up to now. And am still at "Iwo
As you know this is
a volcanic island and there is very little vegetation here.
I only wish that this was our last campaign&emdash;but I
expect another before next year.
The weather here is
exactly like Fresno at this time of the year. There is
a slight breeze and the sky is blue with white clouds and
the sun comes out then a cloud will hide it. When my pencil
gets dull I sharpen it on a perforated Jap helmet by my
Are the Japs still
stationed at Pinedale? I suggest they be sent out of the
country for their own good, for when some of these boys get
back they don't relish the idea of walking down the street
next to a Jap. It may sound silly and prejudiced but after
all you know how well they were liked before the war.
What do you mean,
"Maybe the Japs don't know when they are
beaten"&emdash;don't you read the papers or go to the show?
We have to burn them out of
will give up before the Japs.
Time to close, hope
everyone is fine.
Finally, this letter
from Iwo dated March 24, D+34. After watching The Pacific it
hits hard. Written after witnessing 6,000 comrades
die, and has himself killed God-knows how many men, this
19-year-old's opening line is as profound as it gets. I
cannot convey how much I love my father.
P.F.C. Robert H.
Co. A, 2nd Sep Eng
I have neglected my
writing until now but complications set in and I was unable
to find the proper moment.
Anyway, the isle has
been secured and I am okay and waiting for the next one with
great anticipation. I wouldn't miss this show to get a
chance to get some of those --------- for anything in the
I found out many
things while on that campaign&emdash;mainly that my fear is
pushed out of sight by the hate which I have for them.
It is something far stronger than anything I ever felt
before. You might call it a craze&emdash;ha
I have read
clippings about what MacArthur could have done on Iwo.
I hope you are broad-minded enough to realize that his
assertions are false. If you could have seen the
conditions and terrain. These armchair commandos that
write an article denouncing the Marine Corps are in my
estimations&emdash;nothing but agitators trying to stir the
people into a turmoil against the leaders of our forces.
Sure it was rough, but when you tangle with a cat you're
going to get scratched. I daresay that we had that
island secured in less time than any other branch of the
service could have.
family wants its son to come home unscathed but that isn't
the way wars are won. We have, since Guadalcanal, ceased
fighting a war of today; this war is a fight for the
protection of tomorrow. A life is cheap out here, so cheap
that to sacrifice a few lives in order to bring this war to
a close one month or one day earlier is in my estimation a
rightful thing to do.
This probably sounds
like a lot of blarney to you but that last paragraph is to
me the same difference between the Marine Corps and the
Army, as in success or failure.
I have many letters
to answer so will have to come to a close. I hope everyone
is fine at home.
letter dated 4-9-45, just after Iwo.. Dad says, "I can't
tell you what division we were attached to..." (his
unit was attached to the 5th Amphib Corps, landing D+1.) He
talks about swords; sometime after this letter he got two
swords, which he brought home. Again, the tenacity in his
tone is amazing:
Things have slowed
down considerably in the past month; consequently there
isn't too much to say. I received your letter of March 25
about 6 days ago.
How did Barbara
happen to phone you? Surely not merely to say she had heard
from me? &endash;Ha&emdash;so she still has the idea I'm
coming home soon.
By the way, when
we're on a push we know all about the casualty list and when
the fighting is taking place and etc. But it is still
interesting to read the newspaper clippings to see how much
they tell the public.
I can't tell you
what division we were attached to but it doesn't make any
difference. When a push comes up we usually are attached to
the 3rd or the 5th. Other than on a push we are a Sep. group
A couple of fellows
from our outfit got samurai swords but I wasn't so
fortunate. Any way &endash;I'm not a souvenir hunter. Next
time if I run across one I'll grab it. That's about all for
now. Hope you all are okay.
P.S. How about
sending me a fruit cake
Lastly, this sad,
happy, funny letter was to his sister, written just out from
Nagasaki, en route to China:
Last night was New
Years Eve and what a racket. All the ships in the harbor
were blowing their horns and the fellows were firing rifles
and pistols and tommy guns. It was a mad house. Flares were
going up and it was just like Iwo, except no blood.
Every time a weapon
is fired the Japs run and hide in their houses. They must
have thought we were on a rampage. They respect us for our
mechanical supremacy and for being kind to them. This place
has finally got their eyes open and they respect us for what
we are and not what they were led to believe. Most Japs in
Kyushu and in many towns in Honshu had never seen a white
man until we came.
Tomorrow we are
going to China on a "P.A." Passenger Assault" transport.
None of us particularly appreciate it but then&emdash;what
can we do. It will be another experience and as I'm single
and have no ties, don't care so much. It is my belief that
when we get there the 40 pointers will go home so don't
expect to be there long. As soon as we can make out money
orders, I'll send home about $250.00 that I won in a craps
game. Would like to get as much money in the bank as
possible before becoming a civilian&emdash;A civilian! that
sure sounds funny. What I'll do I don't know but
then&emdash;not many people do.
I just threw away my
1945 calendar and was thinking that it has been the saddest
year since I was born. Let's hope I never have another one
Am aboard ship now
and this is our second day out. Most of the fellows got
sick&emdash;even a lot of the Swabbies were sick as this
China Sea can get rough. We are heading north all night for
the weather is cold and we have been getting sprinklings of
snow. None of our clothes are warm enough.
We are going to
Yient Sin, a city just below Peiking (sic). They say the
temperature goes down 10 &endash; 20 degrees below zero!
This ship is pretty clean and the chow is good. Any time any
of us Marines get on a ship we feel like we had to put on
party manners as they have trays to eat on and a clean table
all the time. It's like snapping in for stateside, with
radio going all the time, and it's not cold below decks.
Everything is painted white.
write again when I hit China in a couple of days.
Hope everything is
going okay with you. Be good and be careful.
Say hello to the
folks for me.