The Iwo Jima Story

2010/06/09 - MARINES IN ACTION / STORIES / THEM MARINES

Life: A Dual Value.

One often hears the statement “self preservation is the first law of nature.” Is that really true? Here is a surprising Robert L. Humphrey story from the battle of Iwo Jima that sheds light on this question. Humphrey was a rifle platoon commander on Iwo. As you read, ask yourself, if you were the young platoon leader, whether you would think that life was a selfish value.

The Iwo Jima Story.

On the sixth day of the battle for Iwo Jima, I took command of the only six (teenage) American Marines who were still left in a front-line rifle platoon that had more than 40 original members [Company F/,2d Battalion/, 28th Marines].

I took over my platoon in a protected area. Men were walking around. They were an experienced, confident group who had been involved in the fighting at the top of Mount Suribachi.

One young man was especially noticeable, carrying an unusual Thompson submachine gun. He oozed self-confidence and independence.

After chow that first evening, as he perfected his foxhole, he started declaring to himself in a loud voice: “I don’t volunteer for nothin’ else! Screw the Marine Corps! Screw Mount Suribachi! Screw everything except ol’ number one! That’s all that counts: gettin’ off this island alive! I don’t volunteer for nothin’!”

He shouted it so repeatedly that a couple of the other men picked it up. “Yeah! Right! We don’t volunteer for nothing!” Suddenly it dawned on me that they were obliquely speaking to me, their new platoon leader. I felt the chill of having my leadership threatened.

The next morning, as we prepared to edge out of our positions, a message came down from higher headquarters. As luck would have it, I was being ordered to send a volunteer out onto a hill in front of us on a sure-death reconnaissance mission. Hesitant to ask for volunteers after what I had heard the night before, I announced that I, myself would go. I made the excuse that, since I was new, I wanted to see the terrain. No sooner had I spoken, than the same Marine who had made the declarations the previous night said, “No, I’ll go, Lieutenant.”

“What!” I exclaimed, “You were the one last night saying that you never volunteer for anything!”

Almost sheepishly trying to cover his willingness to take my place, he answered, “Well, I just can’t trust any of you other jarheads on such a mission.” Stunned, I realized that this Marine was saying, “My turn to die, Lieutenant—not yours.”

from Humphrey, Robert L., Values for a New Millennium, Life Values Press, Maynardville, TN, 1992, p. 145-146

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