MARTHA K. SEAGLE
Now 90 years old, Leonard Scronce of Vale still recalls his experience as a sergeant in the U.S. Army when the United States took Iwo Jima.
â€œIwo Jima is a very small island 660 miles from Japan,â€ Scronce said. â€œWe were there for the invasion of Japan. We lost over 5,000 U.S. Marines in that battle and I have thanked the Lord a thousand times that we never had to invade Japan.â€
Scronce left wife Talitha and two small children behind to enter the military. Traveling by ship with 3,000 military personnel in the Pacific theater during WWII, Scronce recalled that the uncertainty of what was ahead was the worst part of his experience.
â€œThe only reality we knew was that we were on our way to Japan,â€ Scronce said. â€œTaking that tiny island gave the U.S. a way to invade Japan. And that invasion was scheduled to be within the next month if the war had not ended.â€
The first landing on Iwo Jima took place on Feb. 19, 1945. After several days of fighting, Mount Suribachi â€”located on one end of the island â€” was taken by the Marines on Feb. 23.
â€œRaising the Flag on Iwo Jimaâ€ is a historic photograph taken on Feb. 23, 1945, by Joe Rosenthal. It depicts five Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman raising the U. S. flag atop Mount Suribachi. Three of those in the now-famous picture did not survive the remainder of the battle. The photo â€” one of the most recognizable images of WWII â€” was used as the basis for the U. S. Marines War Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery.
Fighting on Iwo Jima did not end until March 26. When the conflict was over, 6,812 U.S. military were killed or missing, two were captured, and 19,217 were wounded.
When asked about Japanese being taken prisoner, Scronce had a wry reply. â€œWe werenâ€™t interested in taking any prisoners at that point. We wanted casualties.â€
In fact, of the over 20,000 Japanese military entrenched on Iwo Jima, only 216 were captured. The remaining 21,844 were killed or practiced ritual suicide.
Although Scronce did not witness the historical flag-raising on the island, one of his most vivid memories is of attending Easter morning sunrise services there. â€œWe had our services under that flag that was raised,â€ Scronce said. â€œAround 100 people attended.â€
Little did Scronce or others know that Iwo Jima would become increasingly important as the U.S. planned to bomb Japan. The tiny island was designated as an emergency landing point for any B-29s that experienced trouble during their flight to Japan.
By landing on the small island, the planes (and the atomic bombs they were carrying) could be saved. If this emergency landing point had not been available, the bombs would have to be replaced, thus extending the war and forcing an all-out invasion of Japan.
Now retired from the U.S. Postal Service, Scronce says that once the war was over and they were â€œturned loose,â€ he couldnâ€™t wait to get home to see his wife and family.
Scronce and 70 other veterans were honored at a breakfast and flag ceremony at Union Elementary School on Thursday morning. The school has been recognizing veterans for the past 14 years as part of their Veterans Day observance.
Students presented the veterans with original thank you cards, signs and medallion necklaces. They honored three veterans in their 90s, including Scronce, Everette Wise, and Bill Hoover.
â€œAmericans paid a heavy price for that tiny island,â€ Scronce said.