FEBRUARY 19, 1965
Hackensack Vets Recall Iwo
Ward 1 Companions
Served Together as Marines
By Mike Romeo
Hackensack—“What a hell-uva stinking whole,” The grimy marine, a veteran of several previous South Pacific battles, muttered as he tried to burrow his way deeper into the soft volcanic ash that covered most of the Japanese island of Iwo Jima.
He was one of 60,000 United States marines who landed on the tiny, seemingly in significant mass of volcanic ash, stunted trees, sand, and jagged rock. The invasion began at dawn. February 19, 1945 and the battle ended March 16, when organized resistance ended.
A 72- day bombardment of the island by air had been concluded with a 3-day shelling by every type of warship from the heaviest battlewagons to the smallest “tin can”. The eerie silence that followed as the cease-fire order was relayed to the invasion fleet was broken minutes later as Navy Coxswains bellowed, “Landing craft away.”
Somewhere among the huge armada of landing craft pouring into Green, Red, Yellow, and Blue Beaches were three friends – boyhood buddies who had played, studied, and grown up together in Hackensack 's Ward 1. Two of them, Corporal Joseph Peccoralo, 26 th Regiment, and Platoon Sergeant Michael Krachkowsky, 24 th had been on the same attack transport, but had been assigned to different landing craft for the invasion. That was the last they saw of each other until they met months later in a Navy Hospital .
The third buddy, First Lieutenant Carl Padovano, was company commander of G Company, 3 rd Battalion, 28 th Regiment. This was the outfit whose men fought their way inch by inch up the side of a mountain heavily fortified with enemy pillboxes, fortified caves, and the best of Japan 's soldiers, who had vowed that 10 Americans would die for every Japanese killed. This was mount Surabachi . Lieutenant Padovano was later to meet Krachkowsky for a brief interlude of hand-shaking and back-slapping on the side of the mountain when Jap mortar fire sent the former football teammates diving for shelter. Their next reunion was in Hackensack after the war.
The men in Padovano's command were demolition and flame thrower experts. Their job was to burn the enemy out of his countless emplacements, pillboxes, and blockhouses. During one of these operations Padovano was hit in the arm by enemy gunfire. He spent the next 3 days in a field hospital, and it was during this time that a squad of 20 men of G Company reached the summit of Mount Surabachi , only to be driven back by a barrage of Japanese grenades. Eleven survivors again made the assault with the American Flag tucked into the blouse of a sergeant. Six of these heroic marines made it this time and planted the first flag attached to a length of pipe. The date was February 23, 1945.
Padovano, returned to his company and 10 days later was again wounded by enemy gunfire. The citation that accompanied the Bronze Star he was awarded reads, “First Lieutenant Padovano directed his platoon in a 500 yard advance within a single day. During this time, his platoon drove the enemy relentlessly from pillboxes to caves, finally holding up on top of an elaborate cave system where he methodically employed his platoon in killing at least 30 of the confused enemy. While personally directing the operations against the enemy he was wounded. His courageous conduct was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
Platoon Sergeant Mike Krachkowsky was having his hands full – of volcanic ash. His unit was among the first to hit the beach and there it remained for three days, pinned down by a concentration of fire by everything from 90mm howitzers to small arms fire.
When after the third day, they breeched the enemy's defenses, the casualty list was so high that Mike was assigned as a stretcher bearer.
There were no front lines, Mike recalls. The Japanese were everywhere, to the front, the rear, along side, and underneath. Their technique was to pop out of their holes at night, attack, and crawl back into their hideouts. At dawn, not a single Japanese, not even the dead ones, could be seen. They would carry their dead back with them. Ironically, in some cases it was their own dead who gave them away. Hidden caves could be located by the stench of decaying bodies.
One of his most memorable recollections was on February 23 when, from two miles away. Mike saw the Stars and Stripes flying from the top of Mount Surabachi .
Mike's luck held almost to the end of the campaign. On the last day of organized Japanese resistance he, along with seven other marines, were attacking an enemy pillbox when a hidden machine gun opened up. Of the eight, three were killed instantly, and five, including Mike, were wounded.
As he lay exposed, a young corpsman crawled to him and, with complete disregard for his own safety, bandaged the wound. He had just taped the bandage when a sniper's bullet caught the corpsman right between the eyes, and he fell dead right on top of Mike, In a rage, the wounded marine charged the pillbox, but a second burst of fire caught him in the stomach. To this day, Mike still carries a Japanese bullet in his side.
Meanwhile, Corporal Joseph Peccoralo had landed in the eighth wave on Red Beach at the foot of Mount Surabachi . His Regiment was assigned to cross the island at the base of the mountain, thereby cutting it off from any Japanese reinforcements from the rest of the island.
His first night on the island was spent at the edge of Airstrip No.1. From this position the next morning they watched helplessly while enemy artillery directed by observation posts on top of the mountain wiped out an entire battery of Marine 75's.
On the fourth day of a seemingly hopeless fight against an invisible enemy, a tremendous shout went up from every marine who could see the top of the mountain. Seeing our Flag up there was just what we needed, Joe recalls. From then on, we knew we had it made, he said.
And Joe had it made until a Japanese bullet hit him in the right shoulder and came out of his back. At the time he was wounded, only 10 men were left of a platoon of 40.
But the enemy had failed to keep their vow or their island. Fewer then 100 Nipponese soldiers of the original garrison remained, and, when the final count was made, there were six dead Japanese for each of our dead at the doorstep to the Japanese homeland.
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