Two Marine Corps veterans each held a small vial in their wrinkled hands, inspecting the black, volcanic sand contained inside.
Feb. 19, 1945, was one of the days forever marked in history when the United States Marine Corps invaded the island of Iwo Jima, later capturing it from the Japanese army during World War II.
Two of those Marines reside in Ardmore and were recently presented with vials of the same sands of Iwo Jima they fought on 72 years ago.
“That’s the sands of Iwo Jima right there,” veteran Bub Harvey said, looking at his vial. “I was right there on that.”
Both Harvey and Cpl. Glenn Mitchell exchanged stories about their close calls, guardian angels and final days on the island that came to memory.
A 19-year-old Harvey didn’t know where he was, what was going on and what he’d done until years after the fact.
“We just did what we were told to do,” he said, as Mitchell agreed with him. “It was a hard-fought battle and it didn’t end with that Mount Suribachi. It just began.”
Their main goal was to take control of the airstrip on the island so aircraft could land, repair their planes if needed, and go on to continue fighting. The morning of Feb. 24, Harvey said the
word was passed down they must hold the airstrip at all costs and not retreat. It was the third time it would be assaulted.
“On the way, getting ready to go make that assault, I was about as lost as I would be if I was in the jungle by myself somewhere,” he said. “But I went along and somebody came alongside of me … He said, ‘you do what I tell you to do and when to do it.’”
They were in a shell hole, listening to the mortars coming in and when they got too close, they’d move on to the next one until they were lined up on the airstrip.
“When we got lined up, ready to go across, he said, ‘now when you go to cross, I don’t want you to run across this airstrip in a straight line.’ He said, ‘you run about five yards this way, five that way,’ and he said, ‘you zig zag across that airstrip all the way, that way, they can’t really get a bead down on you and sight you in.’”
Then, all of the sudden, the man was gone. “Disappeared,” Harvey said.
“He looked for that man and never found him,” Harvey’s wife, Peggy, said.
“In my own mind, to me, it was a guardian angel taking me to where I needed to be and what I needed to do,” Harvey said.
He got across the airstrip, got up on a knoll and ran right into a machine gun nest.
“I thought, oh my gosh, what am I gonna do? I’ll tell you the honest to God truth, I don’t know what I did,” he said.
Harvey said the only thing he remembers is jumping back to go back down the knoll and getting out of the line of fire there. As he descended, he looked up and all he saw were hand grenades coming at him.
“I mean it just filled in the air. I thought, uh oh, this isn’t gonna be good,” Harvey said. “I hit the ground and laid there and I thought, well, I think I’m all the way in one piece. I moved this and that,” Harvey said, moving his elbows and knees. “Not a scratch. Not a scratch.”
Mitchell remembers leaving as a farm boy and running into the “kill or be killed” scenario. It was a shock.
“But when your buddies are laying on either side of you, shot, it doesn’t take long to bring yourself out of that and start doing your part,” Mitchell said.
He was in communications and helped with laying down artillery fire for Harvey’s infantry. He would go from the Fire Direction Center to lay telephone line to the front lines. While they had a radio, he said it wasn’t very dependable in those days.
Mitchell remembers one particular situation when he was laying the telephone wire to the front line about half way up the island. He knew he was close to the front line, but wasn’t sure how close.
About four or five Marines had pulled back, resting from fighting on the front line, and he asked them where to go.
“They said, ‘we think that rock up there, that big rock,’” Mitchell said. So he set off. “You’re very cautious, all your senses are—there’s bullets going and this and that and a lot of mortar fire falling around you.”
As he approached the area, he saw two Japanese soldiers “down in a little holler.” They were rummaging through the packs of several dead Marines.
“I thought, my Lord, what am I gonna do?” Mitchell said.
He had gotten rid of his M1 because he had too much equipment to carry so he knew he did not have enough fire power to handle them. But, he did have a gas mask that wasn’t needed so he took everything out of the pouch and stored candy and other things in it instead.
“Three grenades,” Mitchell said, remembering when he found them in the pouch. “And I was a pretty good grenade thrower. So I lobbed those three grenades in as fast as I could.”
Shortly after, the other Marines were on their way up the hill and made quick order of finishing business. He went on and finished his duty to get telephone wire to the front line.
One of the last things he remembers about being on the island is getting all the equipment back to the Fire Direction Center and taking a cold, saltwater bath. Mitchell then moved on to occupy Japan and guard the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb area.
The sand given to Harvey and Mitchell was provided by Congressman Tom Cole’s office and presented by the Greater Southwest Historical Museum and Military Museum.
“Our American military has been decimated considerably to what it used to be, but for a great number of years, when we had a strong military, the Navy would pull maneuvers and they would go have those maneuvers on Iwo Jima. When they landed, the first thing they did was climb Mount Suribachi, come to attention and render the hand salute,” said Rear Adm. Wes Hull, executive director of the museum.
What made the journey more difficult was the volcanic material on Iwo Jima.
“It’s very fine and when you walk in it, you’d bog down in almost your knees,” Hull said.
It is that sand the two were presented with in honor and remembrance of their service.
“It’s been our pleasure to bring this and present it on behalf of Congressman Tom Cole. You couldn’t find two more deserving individuals. Members of the greatest generation,” Hull said.
“This means a whole lot to know that there still are people out there that, they remember what took place and why it was taking place and what we had to do had to be done,” Harvey said.