The shock of the transition from a young man's peacetime pursuits in America to a hellish island fight in the Pacific comes through in a 16-page account penned years ago by Mississippian E.J. Hayes. The compelling memoir is the latest addition to The National WWII Museum's vast collection of personal accounts from the war.
As part of a trip to Mississippi to build support for the Museum's mission Major Gifts Officer Eric Strachan and Coleman Warner, Office Director for President and CEO Emeritus Gordon H. "Nick" Mueller, took part in a ceremony honoring Hayes and other veterans at the Brookdale residential center in Meridian. Hayes's family donated a copy of the account by the 5th Marine Division machine gunner, who fought and suffered explosion wounds at Iwo Jima in early 1945. Such accounts advance the Museum's goal of preserving "WWII in my backyard" stories from around the nation. The Museum presented to Hayes a letter and challenge coin on Mueller's behalf.
Hayes is a gentle-natured man who, relatives say, never raised his voice in anger. Taking up arms as an 18-year-old and participating in the Iwo Jima invasion proved life-changing and traumatic.Through most of his adult life, as Hayes raised a family and worked for a power company, he seldom discussed his combat experiences. His written account offers a searing picture. A few excerpts follow.
From his beach landing:
"After the gate was lowered and we struggled out on the beach, I looked back at the coxswain; his face had turned white as he revved up the engine of the boat and backed off from shore. Later, I was to learn why. A fellow squad member . . . told me that the boat next to us took a direct hit from a mortar shell and that body parts were flying in all directions. I was glad I didn't see that. As we paused on the beach waiting for word to move out, it seemed that my whole world changed on that alien island. It was like going to another planet. All thoughts of home or loved ones, it seemed, had to be pushed out of my consciousness. I could never bring them into such a hellish place in my imagination."
Facing death in combat:
"As we were digging in, occasionally a Jap NHAMBU (machine gun) would fire a few bursts. We were getting used to that even if it was behind our lines. I was rising up in my foxhole trying to locate where the fire was coming from, and, as usual, never spotting anything. After I had been sitting for a while, I rose up and noticed a furrow in the dirt that I had excavated. A sniper's bullet had passed where my head had been earlier. That was the first of many narrow escapes."
Sighting the American flag at Mount Suribachi:
"We were in and out of our foxholes, mostly in, when someone said, looking at Mount Suribachi, 'Hey, look, there's the flag.' It sure looked good. The colors looked so bright as it rippled in the cool Pacific air. There I was thinking that maybe we might be losing the battle since we were taking so many casualties. But then, I knew they would have to kill all of us to defeat us."