By Mark DePue Director of Oral History, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
SPRINGFIELD — Lieutenant Warren Musch, now of Jacksonville, Ill., had a lot to consider as he waited his turn on Feb. 19, 1945, to land on the tiny volcanic island of Iwo Jima. As he watched the Navy’s intense bombardment, his thoughts turned to his father’s farm near Virginia, Ill., and to his new bride, Haroldine. He thought about his fellow marines, about the sulfuric sands of Iwo Jima, and the inherent dangers of landing on an island bristling with defensive works manned by an enemy bent on their destruction.
Most of all, he thought about his job as the 3rd Battalion’s Intelligence Section Officer, part of the 28th Regiment of the 6th Marine Division, and about the unit’s initial mission once on shore: to seize the high ground – the imposing heights of Mount Suribachi.
“I landed in the thirteenth wave, at one o'clock,” recalled Musch nearly 67 years later. “I guess the best way to describe it was all hell broke loose, because the Japanese had all their mortars, artillery, machine guns and everything zeroed in on the beaches, and were giving us all they had.” Once on the beach, “I could reach out and touch a dead Marine with my left hand, another with my right hand. They had camouflage paint on their faces. That's when the shock really hit me. I was there in the midst of the real thing. … As I started to raise up, a Japanese machine gun knocked that volcanic sand in my face, about six inches above my head.”
What Warren saw next spurred him to action; a landing craft took a direct hit just as the ramp slammed down to unload its precious cargo of Marines. “I quickly decided the beach was no place to be and took off running, from shell hole to shell hole. It's still a mystery how myself and my 18 men all arrived at the right place at the right time, designated spot, without anybody getting hit.”
On D-Day plus four, Musch watched as a small band of Marines raised a flag on the top of Mount Suribachi. “Ships blew their whistles. Everybody was hilarious. It was a great morale booster,” he said. But he thought little of it after that. He had a job to do in a very dangerous place.
Musch survived the bloody month-long campaign at Iwo Jima, counting himself among the luckiest of men. “My battalion had 70 percent casualties. The other two battalions, one had 74, the other had 75 percent causalities.”
Of the Marines who landed on Iwo, only three out of ten survived without being killed or wounded. Over 6,800 Americans lost their lives during the campaign.
Next stop was Camp Tarawa on the big island of Hawaii, where Musch, now assigned to the Regimental Headquarters intel section, assisted in the plans for the invasion of Japan.
Codenamed Operation Downfall, the plan was comprehensive and ambitious, with the island of Kyushu designated as the target for the 6th Marine Division. Overall, said Musch, the invasion of Kyushu in November would take 14 divisions, three Marine and 11 army divisions.
“I suddenly thought that, Gee, with as many people involved and as bad as it was to fight the Japanese on Iwo Jima, this would be still closer to their homeland. It would be a more difficult situation forever, because they fought to the last man on Iwo. They would do so on Kyushu. … I started working on that, and quickly decided that, Well, I survived Iwo, but I would not survive that operation.”
The landings on Kyushu were just the first phase of Operation Downfall. Next, as Musch recalled, would come the landings “on the Tokyo Plain, 28 divisions involved, three Marine and 25 Army. Three million men involved in the operation, minimum, and at least a million casualties.” The projected Japanese death toll went into the millions.
Faced with all that, Warren has no doubts about the wisdom of President Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on mainland Japan, first on Hiroshima, then Nagasaki. As an intelligence officer, he knew better than most the terrible cost of invading Japan. Only an overwhelming show of force could have convinced the Japanese of the futility of their cause.
He put it bluntly, “The atomic bomb saved my life.”
Musch was thrilled when he heard the news on August 15th that the Japanese had surrendered. “We ran out in the streets and celebrated. Everybody was hooping and hollering and carrying on. And my job ended.”
It was time to hang up his combat dungarees, return to Haroldine and the family farm and get busy living life to the fullest.