From Jocko Podcast 127 with T. Fred Harvey: Hell Yes, I'd Do It Again. Lessons From Iwo; 1:52:00.
JW: You're out on patrol, you're trying to get back to friendly lines, daylight's coming and here we go, back to the book…
I brought up the rear when we took off in a low moving dog trot. We’d not gone far when from within five yards of my five o'clock position I heard the bolt action on a machine gun declaring the operator had braced it for firing. I had heard this harbinger of death before. It stood as one of the hard lessons I had learned in the jungles during the Solomon Islands campaigns. I recognized this telling sound of a Nambu, a Japanese light machine gun. This deadly weapon could spit out a clip of twenty cartridges in less than two heartbeats. Damn I hated that nasty little 25 caliber weapon.
At that first metallic sound I shouted “Hit the deck!” I landed on the ground at the same instant that a short burst of gunfire ripped through the air just inches above my head. I lay so flat on the deck that I could have crawled under a snake's belly. For Joe, the guy in front of me, luck had played out. He had taken one or more slugs in the back. The other man ran helter skelter toward our lines. His headlong dash grabbed the attention of the Nambu and it continued to spit short bursts at this hustling Marine. While this happened the adrenaline and sense of reasoning within me worked in tandem, feeding off each other.
My situation was critical. I lay in the Jap's backyard, my position exposed, with only my pistol to defend myself. I took a quick peek at the body seven or eight yards ahead of me. Seeing no movement, I reckoned Joe had bought the farm. He carried an M1 rifle. To survive this untenable fix I needed that rifle and a position of concealment. I knew that the Nambu’s clip held twenty cartridges and the gunner fired in short bursts of three to four bullets. I figured he had only a burst or two left. He had one. When the clip played out, it ejected. The sharp tinny sound signaled me to move, and move I did. I came out of that prone position like a bolt of lightning. Man in that span of eight yards I could have beaten Jesse Owens!
My plan was simple – I'd race by, pick up the rifle on a dead run and try and make it to the line of boulders about 20 yards beyond. Damn. On about the third step I saw Joe move slightly – the plan had changed. I opted to take him instead. When I got there I grabbed the back of his collar. Utter panic poured raw adrenaline into my engines. I could never have dragged him that far that fast otherwise. The rocks as a safe haven no longer stood as an option – we couldn't make it that far.
Out of gut-wrenching terror I reacted on impulse, not rooted in thought or reasoning. With Joe now in tow we moved into a slight depression in the volcanic ash. No more than a shallow dip, it had to do duty as shelter for the time being. What a poor place to defend – it offered very little in way of protection but nothing else showed any more promise. By instinct I hit the deck. My timing proved perfect. The rattling peal of gunfire passed within inches of our heads. Well, I figured, we were safe for the time being. Then problems began to escalate faster than I could resolve them.
JW: So this is a bad situation here! You look down and you see there's a thermite grenade that Joe has on his gear and it looks like it's been shot or hit with a glancing bullet and it looks like that thing could go off at any time. Not only that, you got the Nambu being reloaded so from there you stick Joe with some morphine and you kind of hold station. How long were you in that little depression in volcanic ash waiting?
TFH: Well we estimated it was about six and a half hours that we were in that defilade and volcanic ash. It was kind of a slope and then the depression and the bullets would hit above us. We were safe as long as we stayed down.
JW: On top of all that you start receiving friendly fire from mortars – mortars start going off.
TFH: Oh yeah, that was just normal. They were throwing a lot of mortar shells in there and and the ships were firing the heavy stuff but not right where we were.
JW: What do you think prevented the Japanese from maneuvering on you? Were you just holding that position to the best your ability, throwing grenades and whatnot?
TFH: Yeah that's the only thing that I could do. I couldn't move so I just had hope that they didn't come. When hope gave out, I had the pistol – I was going to make sure that I wouldn't get taken prisoner. Because at Villa La Vella we were on a patrol, a platoon of us, and we met some Japs. One guy was hurt and we didn't know it. We fell back a little bit and then we realized that this guy, his name was Joe, had been captured by the Japs. We dug in for the night and they began to torture him. He would scream and our officers said “don't move, don't move, we can't help him, they're just trying to get you in position”. We sat there and listened to him all through the night and in the morning when it got light we went after him. He was tied to the base of a tree with his penis cut off and put in his mouth. They had taken strips of skin and pulled it off, just really tortured him something terrible. We found out that they were Royal Manchurian Marines. We got got back at them, about ten of them I guess in that group, when we finally caught up with them.
But that poor guy suffered. It was hard not to jump up and go but that's what they wanted us to do, to come out of those holes. Once we got in a foxhole at night we were not supposed to move for any reason. If you had to use the toilet you dug a hole in your hole. In those holes in the jungle, water would seep in overnight and you're constantly using your tin cup to scoop water and throw it out.
JW: And with that in your mind there was no way you were going to get captured.
TFH: I wasn't going to be captured. I was ready to take Joe out and myself because I didn't want him to suffer like that either. Of course I didn't tell him that I was going to shoot him but I was ready to do it.
JW: You spend the whole day there, back to the book…
As the long lonely hours ticked away, thoughts ran the gauntlet of my mind. Early in the wait I resolved to go down fighting. I considered surrender out of the question and never an option. I had heard and seen the results of the enemy's treatment of prisoners. No words can describe the pain and suffering the Japs laid on a person before permitting him to die. While the political correctness these days might frown on calling them Japs I'll call them anything I please. My buddies and I have that right, we have earned it. Yes when a showdown came, I intended that the enemy didn't take me or the Marine lying next to me alive. As my longest day neared the halfway point, through the din of battle I heard my name called. Damn. The voice of Bull Fischer, my platoon sergeant, boomed over the other noise. He had brought in a combat patrol to find us.
“We see you, now throw.” I did and the Nambu answered giving away its position. The platoon laid down a withering barrage of small arms fire putting the Nambu company out of business. Peter Adam got to me first along with several other guys. He directed them to put Joe on the stretcher and sent them on their way. He said “Let's get you out of here, I'll cover you”. I got set to make a run for it but as an afterthought I told Pete that I wanted to pick up Joe's rifle. I took one last look at the shallow defilade in the sands of Iwo Jima. What a lifesaver, the dearest plot of ground that I ever occupied. Joe and I owed our lives to it. In a state of rage, Pete said “We would have found you sooner but Skeet came back a blithering idiot. He refused to go back to show us the way to you guys. He reported you dead.” Some of the guys wanted to shoot him. Bull sent him under guard to be taken off the island.
JW: And now I'm going to read an award citation:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Private First Class Thiele F. Harvey, Jr. (MCSN: 820917), United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while serving with Company C, First Battalion, Twenty-sixth Marines, FIFTH Marine Division in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands on 20 February 1945. When his three man patrol which was sent out to establish contact with the adjoining company was ambushed by heavy fire form an enemy machine gun and one of the men was seriously wounded, Private First Class Harvey dragged the fallen Marine under heavy fire to the shelter of a nearby hole. Remaining with the wounded man while his companion went for aid, he held off the hostile forces with his rifle and hand grenades until the arrival of the rescue party. Then, exposing himself to enemy fire and directing accurate heavy fire on the Japanese position, he successfully covered the evacuation of the casualty. By his initiative, courage and unselfish devotion to duty, he undoubtedly saved the life of his comrade and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
I don't really know what to say after reading that sir.
TFH: Well, that was a long day for me, but I didn't think I needed a reward. I was just doing what the Marines have taught to do, and I was surprised when they pinned a medal on me.
From the heroes
★ THINK ★
Are you waiting for someone to give you a medal? What if you just did it because it needed to be done and not for a reward?
★ ACT ★
Give someone a “medal” today - even if it’s just a simple thank you. They don’t hear it enough. Share how it goes with The Brotherhood.
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