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‘Old Glory was hoisted atop the volcano’: WWII Diary Reveals Iwo Jima Battle

A sailor on board the USS Arkansas bequeathed us a remarkable historical record

spinner image Marines raise the American flag on Mount Suribachi after the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Marines raise the American flag on Mount Suribachi after the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Courtesy National Archives/Official Marine Corps Photo

In February 1945, Gunner's Mate Anthony Sirco, only 19 years old, was half a world away from where he had been the summer before where he manned a gun on the USS Arkansas, the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy, as it pounded the beaches at D-Day.

Now, he and the crew of the old warship were headed to the South Pacific. “The Captain announced we were bound for an island Iwo Jima”, Sirco wrote in his journal, referring to a speck in the ocean no one had heard of. The island, some 700 miles from Tokyo, was needed as a base to strike Japan.

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His remarkably detailed and evocative journal describes what happened.

On Feb. 16 the Arkansas, sitting off the island, pounded Iwo Jima to give the Marines better odds before their beach landing: “Gun flashes can be seen from Iwo Jima… The warship carried two observation planes… One plane was catapulted, then the other.”

“0805 We open fire on Iwo Jima… A plane off the USS New York crashed into the sea immediately after catapulting… 0915 A number of Jap planes took off from Iwo Jima.”

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At 0400 on Feb. 17: “Flares and star shells have been dropped all night… All you could see was red tracers appear from other ships out of nowhere and fly into Iwo and explode… I could see Jap fire all over… The Pensacola’s plane shot down a Zero.”

Later in the morning: “Eight planes dived and dropped their eggs [bombs] and as a result there was a big explosion on the beach… A smoke screen was laid, for the landing boats to be launched which went through the smoke screen… The Japs have finally opened fire with their 6- and 8-inch guns. Fighting getting fierce… We got orders to close to 3,000 feet.”

The battle raged all day: “Three of our smaller ships have been reported hit… Fierce fighting going on in another position 20,000 yards from us… The USS Texas, Tennessee, Idaho fired phosphorescent shells into the center of Jap firing… All ships have been ordered to increase their fire.”

On Feb. 18, Sirco wrote of the dormant volcano, Mount Suribachi, on the southern-western end of Iwo Jima: “Eight planes dived on the top of the volcano. A big flame opened up into the air after ap lane released its bombs… The warships on the other side of the island overshoot the island and their shells explode in the water.”

The battle carried on into the night: “Two planes, Jap, burst into flames, as the result of anti-aircraft fire from our ship.”

Feb. 19: “The U.S. Marines hit the beach at Iwo… We have fired over 1,000 rounds... 1030 There are about 100 tanks on Iwo now… 1050 Our tanks have reached the south end of the No. One airfield, the troops are still going in… There are hundreds of all kinds of ships.

“The USS Washington about 5,000 yards away shelling Iwo... 1330 I was looking through a periscope in the turret to see Jap batteries firing at the landing boats bringing troops to the beach… Wildcats, Hellcats are pounding Iwo terrifically with bombs.

“We launched plane, our spotter said our firing yesterday was effective, blowing up several gun emplacements… The Chaplain announced the north end of the island has many caves in which the Japs are heavily fortified. We are going to see what we can do about persuading the Japs to come out of those caves.”

Feb. 20: “All night long gun flashes, fires, tracers, star shells could be seen around Iwo.”

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Feb. 21: “The USS Saratoga was hit by a Japanese suicide plane… Nineteen enemy planes on our starboard, we are firing at them… It was announced the CVE Bismarck was lost last night sunk by enemy aircraft. The aircraft carrier was sent to the bottom in half an hour, killing 318 US Military members.”

Feb. 23 found Sirco noting one of the most historic events in U.S. military history: “Old Glory was hoisted atop the volcano by US Marines… Our radar has been jammed by Japs. Jap planes are known to be all around and overhead of us.

“It was verified that what was hit by Jap batteries was the USS Pensacola. Her exec was killed, first Lt. mortally wounded, large part of her mainmast destroyed.”

Feb. 25: “About 100 Marines in the nude on Iwo could be seen taking a bath on the beach.”

The Marines took control of Iwo Jima and the work of the Arkansas was done. The battle had seen 6,800 Marines die and some 19,000 wounded. An estimated 20,000 Japanese troops had perished.

At the end of the war, Anthony Sirco returned home, got married and became the father of four children. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1947 and served during the Korean War and in Vietnam in the early 1960s. He then enjoyed a long career as a meteorologist and died in 2013.

The USS Arkansas, considered surplus, was sacrificed in 1946 and sunk in the Bikini Atoll in an atomic bomb test. It rests today 150 feet below the sea.

Let us never forget men like Anthony Sirco and ships like the USS Arkansas who helped save the world from tyranny.

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