Thursday, July 7, 2016

Daddy Went into the Heart of Hell

I read this this week.  I can not even imagine what Daddy went through.  Feb. 17, 1945 LCI 449 was among a dozen gun boats off the shores of Iwo Jima.  Underwater divers were checking for mines in the harbor.  The gun boats were shelling Iwo to distract the Japanese from the activity.  Daddy was aboard his ship, waiting to hit the beach.  449 was hit.  The book is about that.  Men were torn to pieces on the deck.  Charlie Hightower of Russellville, Ar was on the 449.  A grandson (Blocker) of Clifford Lemke decided to see what his grandfather did on Iwo after he killed himself.  He tried to find all the survivors of 449.  What he found made him understand his grandfather's torment. Clifford Lemke, tragically took his own life in 1999 decades after his WWII service. Lemke was grieving the loss of his wife to cancer and soon after shot himself.  Two years after his grandfather’s death, his mother made a special request — she wanted Blocker to find out what his grandpa went through during the war.  The Grandson visited Charlie Hightower in Russellville, AR  (from Russellville Courier)
She knew something terrible happened to him during the war,” Blocker said. “She told me how she remembered him shouting and shrieking in his sleep.”

Blocker began what he didn’t know would turn into 15 years of research on his grandfather’s WWII service.

“I interviewed over 150 people and found hundreds of letters written during the war by his shipmates who were killed in action at Iwo Jima,” Blocker said. “ I approached Pulitzer Prize-winning author Mitch Weiss and asked if he would be willing to write the book. Now, I am proud to say the book is out, and published by Penguin Books. The book is titled ‘The Heart of Hell.’”

“The Heart of Hell” follows the crew of Landing Craft Infantry 449 over eight critical months in the Pacific campaign when the course of the war was uncertain. Most readers know about the Battle of Iwo Jima, but few know the sacrifices made in the days before and how those sacrifices led to victory.

One of the men featured in the book is Charles Hightower, who owned Charlie’s Barbershop in Russellville for 57 years.

“Charlie told of holding his best friend, Ralph Owens, in his arms as the life blood flowed from Ralph’s wounds,” Blocker said. “The two had been close, and spent hours talking about their lives back home and of their loved ones and hopes for the future.

“Charlie also showed me a Japanese flag he had taken off of a Japanese soldier. They had captured who had been trying to swim from Titian Island to Saipan. It is an amazing story from beginning to end.”

“The Heart of Hell: The Untold Story of Courage and Sacrifice in the Shadow of Iwo Jima” can be purchased on or at Hastings.

After two days of the gunboats shelling the Island--the men in the harbor hit the beach and dug into the black sands.  Oh, I can not even imagine what Daddy went through.  One of the survivors of 449 wrote this poem--Bruce Hallett--

They met us there on that island beach
They met us with shot and shell
I thought I'd dropped from the top of the earth
Down to the heart of hell.

The Iwo invasion was one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific.  It began at dawn (two days after the 449 torpedo hit).  It lasted 36 days!  More than 26,000 Americans fell in the battle; 6,800 were killed.  Of the estimated 22,000 Japanese fighters, only 226 survived.    By the time Daddy left Iwo nearly 2,400 American B-2 bomber landings had taken place.  Many under emergency conditions.  Without the Iwo base they would have crashed at sea.  The Iwo Base allowed us to be able to reach the Japanese mainland.  


Linda@VS said...

Chilling! From what you and your sisters have written about your father's love and kindness, I imagine that his interest in winning the Battle of Iwo Jima was a very personal one. He must have known exactly who he was fighting for.

Margie's Musings said...

I recall my stepfather fighting and shouting in his sleep. We were great friends and I was just a child of 12 but since my mom worked nights, he told me about his war experiences. I just listened. After he got it out of his system, the night fights ended. He fought from the foxholes.