History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Jim Peterson was on LST of destiny at Iwo Jima (WWII)

The National Iwo Jima memorial
I have lunch with a group of people that on many days includes Jim Peterson. This is at the Morris Senior Community Center. The Center sends out lunches to many people where they live. This is a most precious service.
The number of people coming to the Center for their noon meal, for whatever reason has gone down through the years. Jim Peterson is one of those dependable souls. He used to come with his wife Jean. Jean has passed away. My father Ralph, who was another devoted attendee, passed away in February of 2013.
Did you ever see the movie "Flags of our Fathers?" Remember all the military boats scattered about, off the shore of that obscure island called Iwo Jima? Imagine Jim Peterson out there. That's because he was out there.
People with such a background are becoming fewer in our population. My father served in the Pacific Theater like Jim. Our United States had to put down the menacing Empire of Japan. Our resolve was 100 per cent after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The need for war is so forlorn and tragic. The Japanese were maniacally opposed to the U.S. people. Propaganda dispensed by the Japanese leaders largely caused that. The Japanese military men had been persuaded that the American GIs were ruthless animals. This is a reason why many of the Japanese chose ritual suicide over surrender. It was a choice many had to make.
Closing vise on Japanese empire
The Japanese had no hope at Iwo Jima. Peterson was part of the massive Allied effort called "Operation Detachment." While success was guaranteed, it was grudging and unspeakably tragic. Peterson was on an LST that departed from Guam on February 12, 1945. "LST" stands for "landing ship/tank."
Peterson and his mates were initially not told the destination or mission. Four days passed. Then the crew learned: "Island of Iwo Jima." They hadn't heard of the place, Jim recalled. His recollections of the experience are in the book put out by our Stevens County Historical Society: "The '40s, a time for war and a time for peace."
Jim's LST carried a Marine artillery company, ammunition and gasoline. Upon arrival, one feature of the island stood out: "Mount Suribachi," a dormant cone-shaped volcano.
"Suribachi was a naturally strong position," Peterson reported in the book, "and the Japanese had made it stronger. The mountain had over 200 gun emplacements and 21 blockhouses."
Peterson's LST was the first to "hit the beach." This was on the day he called "D+1" - military terminology, I gather, and it refers to one day after the start of operations. It's mid-February of 1945 with the Allied vise closing on the Japanese empire. But two atomic bombs were going to be required.
The Japanese were pulling out all stops to resist the inevitable. Thus we had the chapter of World War II called "island-hopping." We read about this in books like it was all quite methodical. Time has created emotional distance for us from WWII. The contemporaneous controversies and disputes can fade. And, there was definitely controversy about island-hopping and specifically in connection to Iwo Jima.
Iwo Jima is put forth as a symbol of American triumph. The American flag that became emblematic of that, had been stored on Jim's LST. Remember that famous flag-raising pose? It became part of American propaganda, the benevolent type of propaganda of course, and it's the centerpiece of the Clint Eastwood movie. We might forget that the necessity of the Iwo Jima campaign was in question.
Disclosure re. my orientation
It's in my nature to be skeptical about war because I grew up during Viet Nam. Thus I'm intrigued, and quite saddened, to learn that the justification of Iwo Jima was specious. Here was the idea: to capture the whole island, including three airfields, to provide a staging area for attacks on the Japanese main islands.
Here's the rebuttal: Iwo Jima was going to be useless to the Army as a staging base and useless to the Navy as a fleet base. It had limited use to the Army Air Force, only for emergency landings. But other smaller islands could have been used for this. The price paid by our armed forces was so staggering. Indeed we're lucky having Jim with us. Had the feared invasion of the Japanese mainland occurred, who knows? And what of my father Ralph? Would I even be here today?
The fanatically motivated Japanese troops were aligned in a dense network of bunkers on Iwo Jima. They had hidden artillery positions and tunnels. Dug in as they were, they were going to be attacked by enormous U.S. firepower. This was the first attack on the Japanese home territory.
How wicked was the conflict? The flamethrower was a chief U.S. weapon. It was used to kill the Japanese holed into pillboxes, buildings and caves. Jim Peterson's LST opened fire on Suribachi with 40 mm guns, to silence the Japanese gunfire.
"We stayed on the beach until 5 in the morning," Jim recalled. "Then we were shelled pretty heavily, so we pulled off. We went in again at D+3 and finished unloading the powder and ammunition." Marines came aboard Jim's LST to get a flag from the boat's captain, a flag to be hoisted atop that ungodly volcanic piece of rock called "Suribachi."
Finding levity from war
I had a friend in high school who did a dandy John Wayne impression, in saying "We're taking Suribachi and I don't want to hear any 'buts' about it!" Bob Foss and Bruce Christiansen were high school friends who could "nail" John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, with Bob specializing in Wayne and Bruce in Stewart, although they could cross over some. The impressions are exaggerated so as to achieve humor. Bruce would stutter for a couple seconds as he began the Jimmy Stewart line: "Saddle up my horse in the morning and ride out when it's clear."
Ironically we'd laugh about the "Suribachi" line uttered with such bravado. It's just another example of how we achieve emotional distance from war. Like with the war toys that boomer males played with when young (e.g. a plastic hand grenade operating with cap gun "caps").
Movies like "the Longest Day," about D-Day, drew throngs of boomer males to the theaters. John Wayne was in that. The script called for him to say "hell" which to us seemed edgy. "Send them to hell!"
Americans have not yet achieved emotional distance from 9/11. This is why we haven't seen movies, yet, that vividly portray what happened on that day. But I assure you, such movies will come along.
"We're taking Suribachi and I don't want to hear any 'buts' about it!"
Should I assume that line was from "Sands of Iwo Jima?" In any case, taking that island was a hellish affair. The 36-day assault resulted in more than 26,000 U.S. casualties including 6,800 dead.
It was Joe Rosenthal who took the famous photo of the flag-raising on top of Suribachi. Three of the six men in the photo didn't survive the battle. Clint Eastwood became focused on that flag which was from Peterson's LST, and the men raising it.
The movie "Flags of Our Fathers" (2006) shows the three survivors going on a goodwill tour of the U.S. in order to sell war bonds. Often they had to re-enact the famous pose. We learn about "survivor's guilt."
The movie was based on a book of the same name by James Bradley and Ron Powers. The essence of this story: a "mundane moment" blown wildly out of proportion by the media and a government eager to exploit patriotic feelings during war. The men who raised the flag become part of the War Department's propaganda machine and are labeled heroes, much to their chagrin.
Eastwood's movie attempts to problemize the concept of heroism in war. The public saw the men as symbols of U.S. excellence, but the men were too tortured by what they saw, and didn't find the label fitting.
Have you read the book "For Whom the Bell Tolls?"
Getting just the right flag
Jim Peterson's LST had the kind of flag the Marines were looking for. It was "one of our 'Sunday' or large ensigns," Jim recalled. "The Marines only had a small flag which could not be seen by the ships at sea and the troops inland. So it was LST 779's flag that the Marines raised on Suribachi, unofficially signifying its capture by the Marines."
I'm not sure how Jim's crew could be so close to combat and not have casualties. But this is what happened. Actually there was one minor injury, to a crewman's thumb, Jim has told me.
We're blessed having Jim with us. But the wisdom behind the Iwo Jima campaign - "Operation Detachment" - might be called into question.
Here's how Jim summed up his experience: "Aboard ship, as we watched the Marines raise our flag, we all felt very good because we had been the first LST on the beach, our flag was on top of the mountain, and we did not have one casualty among the crew." 
It's all enshrined in history. And yet mankind doesn't seem to learn the lessons. We were dragged through Korea and then the nightmare called Viet Nam which cast a backdrop through my whole youth.
The durable LST in war
The landing ship/tank (LST) was an invention for war. The British evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940 demonstrated the need. The vessel debuted in the Solomon Islands in June of 1943. LSTs were a big part of the invasions of Sicily, Italy, Normandy and southern France, along with the infamous "island hopping" which is embedded in Peterson's memory.
We learn that LSTs "demonstrated a remarkable capacity to absorb punishment and survive."
Servicemen would sometimes joke that "LST" stood for "large slow target" or "large stationary target." Silly young men. Or shall we say irreverent. I'm sure the GIs turned to gallows humor a lot. I can't possibly relate to how you might confront such stress. Many of these young men came away with PTSD of course.
Seeing Jim Peterson at our Morris Senior Community Center, you'd never suspect he was through anything traumatic. He's so fortunate. He has lived a full life with wife Jean, who was librarian at Morris High School when I attended there. She'd call me "kiddo."
Our family has a monument at our Summit Cemetery plot that acknowledges Ralph's service in the U.S. Navy. We have a black bench type of marker. Just enter the cemetery at the veterans memorial and go east into that new open area. You'll see "U.S.N. WWII" under my father's name. He visited Tokyo with other officers shortly after the end of hostilities. Tokyo was ravaged. He described a most stark scene: families living in tee-pees made of corrugated tin, and on and on. Homeless families.
One wonders why the fire-bombing wouldn't complete the job, without the exploding of atomic weaponry.
World War II was hell. We need to learn and to realize that our human impulses could still be pointed in that direction. Heaven help us.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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