"We Took That Mountain"


                      Paul Andrew Mitchell
                      (All Rights Reserved)

     I often  wonder what  it was like.  You have trained hard at
Parris Island,  slogged through  mud on  your belly,  50 calibers
whizzing two  feet overhead.  Some guys just lost it, went crazy,
sent home.  I often wonder.

     What would  be going  through  your  mind  as  you  see  Mt.
Suribachi approaching  in the  smokey distance,  a narrow slit on
the horizon  framed by  your helmet  and the  lip of  the landing

     Your eyes  turn left,  just as a shell takes a direct hit on
the next  craft over,  bodies and  body parts  go flying in every
which direction.   You  close your  eyes and  ask yourself:  they
were no different from us.

     The Navy  behind  you  is  pouring  in  12-inch  guns  at  a
ferocious pace;   they  scream through  the air near the speed of
sound, and  echo back  delayed  destruction.    You  trust  those
gunners;  their aim is awesome, always near the mark.

     The waves  are changing shape, the water is getting shallow.
More fifty  calibers are  whizzing by,  this time getting closer.
Some ping off the craft, a metal wash tub with twin diesels.

     You reach  the crest  of a wave, and then surf into hell, as
the ramp falls and it's the moment of truth.

     You don't  have time  to ask,  what am I doing here, because
you are  running for  dear life.  You recognize the sound of your
captain yelling,  hit the  sand and crawl in, men.  Dig in beyond
the water line.

     The Japs  are ferocious  too.   This is  their last air base
before the  mainland.   Two runways,  actually.  One at each end.
These fascists will stop at nothing to defend their Emperor.

     We huddle  in our makeshift sand castles, trying to keep our
powder dry.   My job:  get the machine gun close in, take out all
buildings, and secure the first runway.

     We sit  while the  Navy pours  it on,  big guns now, every 5
seconds.   The roar  is deafening.   Men  are  dying,  screaming,
bleeding.  What am I doing here?

     The captain over there loses it, goes crazy.  A GI yanks him
in a  trench and  knocks him cold, our new squad commander, ok by
me.   The Navy is relentless, big guns every second now.  How can
they reload  so fast?   American engineering:  we machinists know
all about it -- the best ever, bar none.

     The smoke  is choking  us alive, thick and black, sulfurous,
hot ashen coral raised to plasma temperatures.  Why would anybody
want to work here?

     The Navy  waits, to  let the smoke clear, assay the damages.
Eerie silence.  There is nothing in front of us except black sand
with huge  meteor craters,  freshly made.  Move out, we hear, and
our training kicks in.  No time to think, just keep moving.

     My buddy  comes near.  We take  inventory:  one water cooled
machine gun,  one thousand  rounds, more  for the asking, tripod,
carbine, back  pack, portable  shovel, pick,  what we're wearing.
That's it.  Move out.

     We come upon bodies, lots of them, still, mangled, lifeless.
Don't look down;  just look forward.  We drag heavy loads through
black sand and ash.  No color anywhere;  just black and white and
grey, lots of it.

     A shot  from behind,  a Marine down, killed in action, right
in the  back.  So, they lay there feigning injury, only to pop up
as we  pass by.   Ok,  that's it.   No  prisoners.   We pull  our
butcher knives  and go  for throats.   Grisly,  effective.  Every
Marine is  priceless, every  one expendable.   Like  Lawrence, of

     Time starts  to fade  into slow motion.  We inch along, take
this tree, that palm, this bunker.  Charlie gets a flame thrower,
we watch  in muted  shock.   Nothing is too terrible now;  we are
going to TAKE that runway.

     Night falls,  sleep impossible.  Charlie screams his insults
in strange  Jap accents.   Almost  funny, almost.   We  count our
losses:   Billy, Johnny,  Efraim, Christopher, Sassy Brooks, Zeb,
Mack and Danny.  All gone, all dead, going home now.

     The sun  rises in  front of  us, framing  another rising sun
flapping in  the breeze.   The  runway, not far ahead, beckons to
our instincts, the killer kind.

     We creep  in silently,  no resistance.   Japs are gone, only
snipers high  up in  the  palms,  sitting  ducks.    Stupid  too.
Kamikazes with no planes, brain washed.

     We take  turns, it's  a shooting  gallery.   This isn't even
funny.  We take their guns, worthless rounds, and break 'em.

     The eerie  silence is  broken now  by fading  gun shots.   A
moment of calm descends upon this seething smoking inferno.

     We hear  the faint drone of a Jap Zero, headed for home.  He
never got  word:   this runway  is history.  He glides in, bouncy
landing, taxies  to one  end.   Marines watch, reload quietly, no
orders this time.  We all know what we're going to do.

     Pilot cuts his engine, opens the canopy, we open up.  Shells
pour in  again, this  time from  M-1's and  machine guns, dozens,
hundreds, thousands  of rounds  shred  the  Zero  into  bits  and
pieces, glass,  rubber and aluminum flying every which direction.
That plane  is history  too.   We revel,  leave it  to block  the
runway.   Some take  souvenirs.   The rest  reload.  I pee in the
barrel jacket again.

     One down.  One to go.

     Time again  slows down.  How many days now?  Two?  Three?  I
can't remember.   We trudge along.  More ammo arrives.  Food too.
C-rations.   Yumm.   We urinate  into the  barrel to  save water.
This place  is hot,  very hot,  almost too  hot.    Too  hot  for
comfort, for sure.

     We set our sites for runway two, in that clearing, up ahead.
Mortar fire,  first  scattered,  then  regular,  now  a  frequent
problem.   My buddy and I move in, stake out a position, start to
dig, his  shovel worthless  against the  hard-packed coral.  They
rolled this runway, very hard, asphalt nowhere.

     My pick  is working,  thank God.   I dig, he removes debris.
It's still slow going.  We dig for our lives.

     More mortars. Oh, no.  They've zeroed our position.  You can
tell as blasts come closer, faster.  This one, right now, you can
hear, is coming right in.  Billy, take cover, I yell.

     He dives  in one  direction, I in another.  The blast almost
takes his hands off, the ring in my ears unbearable.  Through the
smoke, I see Billy's hit, hit bad, motionless, moaning.

     I crawl  to him,  he's still alive.  Japs figure our machine
gun's out, they re-target.  Billy goes over my left shoulder, and
two carbines  over my right.  Forget the machine gun;  too heavy;
takes two anyway.  We're now one and a half, Marines that is.

     Billy breathes,  but barely,  can't talk,  bleeding bad.   I
trudge through  deep sand,  echoes of  smoke  fill  the  air,  me
yelling Medic!   Medic!   Billy  needs help,  OVER HERE.   Nobody
hears, too much chaos.  I trudge, I trudge.

     Something is  hot, liquid,  near my jaw.  I been too busy to
check myself.   I  raise my right hand to feel my pulse, blood is
pouring down  by wrist.   I  am hit.  I don't even know it.  What
gives?  Is this some bad dream?

     I realize,  that's IT.   I'm  OUT OF  HERE.   Next stop, the
hospital ship.   Medics  near now.   I  collapse in  their  arms,
totally, completely,  utterly exhausted,  and pass out, and dream
of my  beautiful bride,  Anna Marie,  slender,  loving,  chestnut
hair, sea blue eyes.  This must be heaven, at long last.

     That was  my birthday, 1945.  Billy made it, docs worked two
miracles, one  on each  hand.   We ran  into each  other  on  the
hospital ship.   First  time, he  didn't recognize me, my face so
heavily bandaged, after several surgeries.  The shrapnel had just
missed my spine.  God's little miracles, for sure.

     Everything got  mixed up  -- time,  space, where, when, how?
It didn't matter.  We were alive, and we were on our way home.

     The commander  wanted me  back.   You can  wear your  Purple
Heart on  your lapel,  he said.   I  told him, I'd rather take it
home and show it to my son.  Thank you anyway.

     I later saw that photo, 6 "Gyrines" raising old Glory, right
atop Mt.  Suribachi.   I knew  those red  stripes were  soaked in
blood, the  whites were  stained as  well.  6 guys, just like me,
their names forever written on the wind.

     Next stop  for them,  the Japanese  mainland.  Next stop for
me, a farm in Oregon, cows, chickens, dogs and geese.  And a time
to recuperate  from shell shock, and a time to thank God for this
country.   We left  fascism behind  when we  came back from hell,
where it belongs, where it should stay.

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Paul Andrew Mitchell