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Never in Doubt: Remembering Iwo Jima

by Lynn Kessler, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., 1999, $32.95.

When the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine divisions moved toward the beaches of Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945, men who had fought on Saipan–an island 10 times the size of Iwo Jima–expected the campaign to last less than five days. They were tragically wrong. It would take the Marines 36 hellish days to clear the Japanese defenders from the sulfurous, rocky island, and it would prove to be the bloodiest campaign in Marine Corps history. Of the approximately 75,000 Marines and Navy corpsmen participating, 25,851 became casualties, including 6,821 killed. Iwo Jima was one of the last chapters of World War II, and American victory there made it clear to Japan’s leaders that they no longer had any hope of prevailing over the Allies.

Deftly threaded together by Lynn Kessler, Never in Doubt: Remembering Iwo Jima contains the recollections of 45 Iwo Jima veterans–Navy and Coast Guard coxswains, Army Air Forces fliers and, of course, Marines. Their accounts describe the battle in a simple and unvarnished style and graphically reveal how ordinary young Americans faced the unforgiving crucible of combat and overcame a brutal and determined foe.

This collection of first-person accounts does an admirable job of describing the desperate, unyielding nature of combat on Iwo Jima. There was no letup for the participants. During much of the battle, there was not even a rear area. Everything was within range of the Japanese artillery and no one was immune to enemy bullets and shells.

Nevertheless, no matter how difficult the progress or how severe the sacrifice, the Americans were confident of success. As Maj. Gen. Graves B. Erskine, commander of the 3rd Marine Division, said: “Victory was never in doubt. What was in doubt was whether there would be any of us left to dedicate our cemetery at the end.”

Michael D. Hull