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Today is the seventy second anniversary of the end of the battle of Iwo Jima. March 26, has long been a tough day for me. My dad fought on Iwo. His best friend, Sgt. Herbert Schmaultz, age 21, died within minutes of hitting the beach, felled by shrapnel from a Japanese mortar. Pop’s been gone for sixteen years now. Among my most cherished and heartbreaking memories of him is the single tear that would roll down his face whenever he spoke of his long lost friend. I’ve sort of assumed the responsibility of keeping Herbie’s memory alive, if only in my private reflections. There is no question that my dad loved Herb, and I see it as my duty to never forget this young man who truly gave the last full measure of devotion. Somewhere in this field lie the remains of Herbert Schmautz:
Eventually, the Marine Corp moved the bodies back to American soil. I have no idea where Herbie now rests, but to me that’s of little matter. He, and the six thousand Marines killed in the thirty five days battle, have left their Americans souls on the volcano that is Iwo Jima; to some extent the dead will always remain on this foreign soil.
Which calls to mind this poem by Rupert Brooke, which I have changed to reflect the American lives given in what Admiral Chester Nimitz described as the “uncommon valor [that] was a common virtue” in the bloodiest battle ever waged by the United States Marine Corp:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever America. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom America bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of America’s, breathing American air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by America given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an American heaven.
It’s really quite extraordinary what American servicemen did in World War II. The historian John Lukacs has made a good case for the proposition that America was never truly threatened by Japan or Germany. Pearl Harbor was just a prelude to the end of Japan’s empire. In the words of Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.”
As for Hitler, at no time did he and his commanders really contemplate an invasion of the United States. It would have been suicide. After all, it wasn’t just American military power Hitler would have to face. We have the Second Amendment too.
So the fact that America sent its sons to die for the nations oppressed by the Axis powers–and that those men went voluntarily–is a deep mystery. Frankly, I can’t imagine a single nation on earth paying so high a price to defend us. But America went–and bled–for people we did not know, but whom we knew were oppressed. Herbie, and countless others, died for them without complaint.
So today I remember again Sgt. Herbert Schmaultz, and I remember my dad too. The former gave his life to crush tyranny; the latter, my Pop, never forgot his Brother in Arms. After all, they fought for each other too. May God rest them both: