By Jack R. Mays, Charlton County, Ga. Historian

History books describe it as “the bitterest battle of the Pacific”. It was the battle of Iwo Jima – World War Two, February 16 – March 17, 1945.

Private First Class, Donald Lee Kendrick, age 18, a proud United States Marine from Racepond, Ga. was one of that battle’s outstanding heroes, performing one daring act after another before being finally cut down by Japanese machine gun fire. He died there on the volcanic rock of the tiny Pacific island on March 6, 1945. Kendrick had killed ten of the enemy before being fatally wounded himself.

Iwo Jima, 750 miles south of Tokyo and heavily fortified by the Japanese, gave the Japanese an important two hours’ warning of US B-29 raids on Tokyo from the Mariana Islands. To reverse the situation, the US Marines were ordered to take the island.

Such an order was not new to Donald Lee Kendrick and his 4th Marine Division. He had stormed ashore with them at Tinian, Saipan, Guam, Peleliu and Leyte, each time taking heavy casualties, but inflicting more casualties on the Japanese. Donald Lee Kendrick was an expert rifle marksman with the 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, Fourth Marine Division. His was a proud outfit with a glorious tradition. Now it was ordered to take Iwo Jima. The likeable Marine from Racepond was ready to go.

Following three days’ bombardment of the island by the United States 5th Fleet, Kendrick and his Fourth Marines, along with the Fifth Marines went ashore on Iwo at 9 a.m. February 19, 1945 on the southeast coast. In total, the landing force consisted of 30,000 men. Facing them, in the shelter of a forest of underground fortifications accurately sited and linked by tunnels – a real ants’ nest – were 21,500 fanatic Japanese soldiers, many of whom would commit suicide before the island was taken by the Americans.

Tanks and artillery went into action the moment the Americans landed. Because of massive preparation, beach casualties were moderate but capture of the remainder of the island required the bitterest fighting of the Pacific campaigns. The island, in the Volcano Group, covered less than twelve square miles. It had two airfields with a third under construction. Dominating the island was the 560 feet high Mount Suribachi.

Heavy casualties were inflicted on both sides. The seizure of Mount Suribachi on February 23 gave the Marines the dominant terrain from which they carried on a ten-day struggle to capture the ridges, buttes and deep caves in which the Japanese made their last desperate stand. It was during this fighting that Donald Lee Kendrick earned the coveted Silver Star Medal for heroism, and gave up his life at age 18.

Charlton  County Archives