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 [sic] 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 toll…”
…Yesterday I 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 censor).
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” &endash;Pendleton…
… 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…
-10/29/1944, at sea
…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 want…
…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:
Feb. 19, 1945
I received 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 the Pacific.
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 Jima.”
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 side.
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 foxholes&emdash;caves&emdash;pillboxes&emdash;the Germans 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. Ayers, U.S.M.C.
Co. A, 2nd Sep Eng Bn F.M.F.
San Francisco, Calif
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 world.
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 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.
Naturally every 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.
Another interesting 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:
April 9, Monday
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 unattached.
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 like it.
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.
Well&emdash;I’ll 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.
These letters were sent to Iwo Jima Memoirs, a website dedicated to compiling stories of Iwo Jima veterans. PFC Robert Hall Ayers was the original author, and the letters were entrusted to his daughter, who sent some of the excerpts to Iwo Jima Memoirs in order to share her father’s story.