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For 75th anniversary, Vancouver man shares Iwo Jima recollections of his father

Jeff Osborne has been reading his Iwo Jima emails again.

For more than four years, America has been marking a series of 75th anniversaries of World War II milestones.

Many of them — including Pearl Harbor, D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge — have featured solemn ceremonies and salutes to veterans who took part in those pivotal events.

Osborne and his two brothers are reading emails from their father, one of 70,000 Marines who fought on Iwo Jima 75 years ago.

Cpl. Bill Osborne’s mortar squad landed on Feb. 19, 1945. U.S. forces battled for control of the volcanic island in the western Pacific Ocean for about five weeks, until it was declared secure on March 26.

Bill Osborne died in 2010 in Florida, but his family still can mark the anniversary of that battle through his emails — an observance they have shared for two decades.

Like many World War II veterans, “Dad didn’t talk about his war experiences for many years,” the 69-year-old Vancouver resident said. “Around 2000, he started sending out a ‘memory’ email on Feb. 19 each year to tell his three sons a little bit more about his experiences.”

Tom Osborne, 66, lives in Arizona; Bill Osborne, 63, lives in Massachusetts.

The 2005 email opens with his amtrac (amphibious tractor) landing near the base of Mount Suribachi.

“My squad’s mission was firing on the left side of Mount Suribachi,” he wrote. “The third day of the battle word comes back that half of our platoon was to join the assault on Mount Suribachi. I flipped coins with Joe Sankus of the 3rd squad and he lost. His squad went and Joe was wounded. Several others that went were killed or wounded. The next day the survivors went up the mountain and were present when the famous flag-raising took place.”

Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of six Marines raising the flag won the Pulitzer Prize and was the model for the Marine Corps War Memorial near Arlington National Cemetery.

(The image also was used for a 1945 postage stamp. Osborne, a lifelong collector, had several 3-centers autographed by Ira Hayes, one of the Marines shown raising the flag.)

Bill Osborne offered his thoughts with his family in a letter he wrote on Feb. 24, 1945 — the day after the flag-raising.

“Boy that American flag looked good when it went up on the hill. In fact it still looks good up there,” he wrote to his family in Tonawanda, N.Y.

It was a triumphant moment, yet a month of bloody fighting remained on what one writer called a gladiator pit. Iwo Jima is shaped like a pork chop and only about five miles long, with 556-foot Mount Suribachi at the narrowest tip. It fans out to its widest point, about two miles across, along its eastern edge.

If you could drop its outline onto a map of Vancouver, with Mount Suribachi at the Interstate 5 Bridge, Interstate 205 would be about five miles away. The two-mile or so stretch of freeway between Vancouver Mall and the Glenn Jackson Bridge matches the wide side of the island.

It is less than nine square miles, and more than 90,000 men spent five weeks locked in combat. The 21,000 Japanese defenders were well prepared. They built a system of hidden fortifications connected by tunnel systems, and also took advantage of the island’s cave network.

Combatants likened it to fighting in a haunted house, with the enemy popping up from hidden trapdoors and secret panels.

Almost 7,000 Marines were killed; another 18,000 were wounded. Bill Osborne said he was lucky.

“I was on Iwo during the entire campaign and didn’t even cut myself on a C ration can. I bring this up to show the fabulous luck I have always had,” he wrote in a remembrance.

After six months of occupation duty in Japan following the war, Osborne was discharged and he went back to college at Michigan State.

“My luck continued and I met Barb Crist and after our graduation I married my college sweetheart.”

As Jeff Osborne indicated, his dad never talked much about his war years while the three boys were growing up in the Midwest.

He did bring Jeff up to the garage attic to show his son a few World War II keepsakes, including a Japanese pistol and a sword that was later repatriated. (The Marines actually issued him a war-trophy receipt for the items.)

“Later, I was probably in junior high, I asked, ‘Dad, did you ever kill anybody?’ He thought and said, ‘I don’t know if I killed anybody, but I shot at people.’ ”

A few years later, Jeff Osborne was surprised to see his father sharing his stories with a whole new generation.

“He was chatting with his grandkids at the table. All of a sudden I realized that he was talking about his war experiences for the first time after 40 years.”

The internet age widened the veteran’s historical horizons. He was a Florida retiree at that point, after a successful career as a commodities broker.

“He began to get interested in contacting his buddies,” Jeff Osborne said. One of them had been wounded on the first day of the battle.

“I asked him if he remembered how we all gave him all our brandy and shots of morphine to get him through the night. He said he sure did,” Bill Osborne wrote in one of his emails.

For all the World War II links he re-established later in his life, there was an Iwo Jima reconnection that didn’t interest Bill Osborne.

“I asked Dad if he wanted to go back for the 60th anniversary,” Jeff Osborne said. “He said no, he’d already been there.”


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