Iwo Jima and the sacrifice of Sgt. George Barlow - 76 years later

Discussion in 'War Against Japan' started by John Ulferts, Mar 2, 2021.

  1. John Ulferts

    John Ulferts Member

    John Snyder of Monessen, Pennsylvania joined G Company 2nd Battalion of the 24th Marines and landed on Iwo Jima on D-day of the invasion February 19, 1945 around 4:00 pm and fought on the island for the duration of the assault until March 17,1945 when the island was finally captured.

    One terrible night was forever etched in Snyder’s memory. His machine gun squad was tasked with setting up a perimeter and linking up with front line troops to form a defense for the night. Snyder’s machine gun squad was at the base of a Japanese anti-aircraft emplacement which was firing at an airfield the Americans had constructed. Snyder recalled the machine gun squad decided that being on the high ground would give them an advantage.

    Sergeant George Barlow, an original member of G Company 2nd Battalion 24th Marines, insisted on leading the squad since he had the most combat experience. “We were very quiet as we climbed into the emplacement and discovered a dead Jap over the breech of the AA gun.” Fearing the decomposing Japanese corpse might be booby trapped, the Marines of G Company didn’t move him. They planned to hold the position by using their hand grenades and carbine fire.

    As we settled down and positioned ourselves, we noticed a fire raging in a cave nearby and Japs began to move around inside the cave; perhaps attempting to put out the fire. At that moment we were spotted and our position was no longer a secret.

    A concussion grenade was thrown by one of the Japanese soldiers and it landed on the ledge directly in front of Sgt. Barlow. Reacting immediately, Sgt. Barlow yelled “Grenade!” and crawled quickly towards it. The grenade was rolling right towards Snyder, who painfully described how Sgt. Barlow sacrificed himself to save his squad:

    Sgt. Barlow was on his hands and knees moving toward it. He covered it with his body and it exploded. I moved toward him, turned him over and could see the massive wound he had received. His lower torso was blown away and there was no movement in either leg. I cradled his head in my arms and he looked up at me and said, “How bad am I hit?”

    I said pretty bad and told someone in the squad to go get a corpsman. No one moved. Then I realized, I couldn’t expect any of them to go out in the darkness looking for a corpsman. That would be certain suicide.

    Sgt. Barlow looked up at me and said, “You’re not going to leave me here to die?” and I answered “No, George.” We exchanged a few grenades but they had the cave for cover and we were unprotected. Soon another grenade landed as we dove to get out of the way, Private First Class O’Dwyer from Ohio, had part of his toes blown off. We decided to abandon this position and moved Sgt. Barlow and Pfc. O’Dwyer to the base of the AA position.

    Snyder went for help giving the password repeatedly until he found the rest of G Company and its Captain McCarthy who asked him if Sgt. Barlow had a chance. Snyder told him he didn’t think Sgt. Barlow could last until morning without help. Capt. McCarthy grimly replied that the conditions were too dangerous; he couldn’t order a corpsman to go back with him to help Sgt. Barlow. Remembering his promise to Sgt. Barlow, the friend who had just saved his life, Snyder knew he had to get back to him. As he crept back to his squad, he became disoriented in the black night.

    At one point, I actually entered the cave which was on fire with the exploding ammo. Upon hearing the Japanese soldiers’ voices, I turned around and ran the hell out of there. I knew I was close to the squad location and to Sgt. Barlow and Pfc. O’Dwyer. Once I joined the squad, we waited until daybreak and I never knew the exact moment that Sgt. George L. Barlow died.

    Snyder’s squad was still under fire, and had become desperate.

    Pfcs. Garner and Wittington were making negative statements to each other. One said, “We will never get off this island alive.” The other, “We’re all going to be killed.” I could see signs of combat fatigue, sobbing, and shaking...

    Pfc.s Garner and Wittington’s grim assessments proved true. Snyder would become the sole survivor of his squad. By March 17th, even as small skirmishes continued, the battle for Iwo Jima was announced over. At last Snyder was sent back aboard ship where he learned “…I was one of the 12 that landed on D-Day with G Company that survived the entire battle.”

    Now safely aboard ship, headed back to Maui, a Marine review board began interviewing survivors asking them if they wanted to recommend any of their comrades for decoration. The bloody battle for Iwo Jima had cost nearly 7,000 American lives and 26,000 casualties. Nearly half of the Marines who served were killed or injured. All this occurred on an island that was just five miles long and two miles across. Admiral Nimitz said of the Marines who served on Iwo, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.” More Congressional Medals of Honor were given to the Marines who fought through the hell of Iwo Jima than any other battle in American history. Some 27 men were recognized with the nation’s highest honor. John Snyder knew that Sgt. Barlow was deserving of the recognition, and aboard ship, couldn’t wait to share his story with the Marine review board. He was bitterly disappointed by their decision.

    With the night of Sgt. Barlow’s death clearly in my mind, I went to be interrogated. I told my story, as I have related it to you, and they wanted to know what citation I thought Sgt. Barlow should receive. Knowing that sacrificing one’s life to save others should receive the highest honor, I said the Congressional Medal of Honor. He didn’t have to be on the front line, but he volunteered to stay with our squad because he realized the danger we faced. They asked if anyone aboard ship could verify my story. I told them that I was the only one that survived that horrible nightmare. Then they asked, “Are you positive that Sgt. George L. Barlow intentionally threw himself on that grenade to protect the rest of the squad?” I replied the area was so confined, since there were five of us, there was no place to move and he made the decision to locate the grenade and cover it, thus protecting the rest of us. It was all over in a matter of minutes. They concluded that since I couldn’t definitely prove he fell on the grenade to save us from injury that his act was just an “UNFORTUNATE INCIDENT.” I have lived with my guilt all these years that I did not try to contact others to see if we couldn’t get Sgt. Barlow the honor he rightly deserved for his act of heroism.

    John Snyder passed away in 2016 at the age of ninety. He never forgot Sgt. Barlow's sacrifice and shared his story every chance he got for the rest of his life. Whenever he spoke to a civic group or classroom of students, Snyder always brought with him a framed picture of Sgt. Barlow so that he could tell his story and pay homage to his friend. I was honored that Mr. Snyder shared Sgt. Barlow's story with me, and that I was able to include it in my book, Always Remember - World War II Through Veterans' Eyes. As long as we speak their names, and tell their stories, the veterans of WW II will live on.

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  2. Les Carter

    Les Carter Member

    In 2006, we did a cruise on Pacific Princess: Sydney, Australia to Osaka, Japan. We had a memorial service when we arrived off Iwo Jima, looking at the place, it was unforgiving. It was a wonder any of the US Marines got ashore, let alone recapture the island. We had a few US Iwo Jima veterans on board the ship. Memorable. The island is now a Japanese Defence Force base. Other places we stopped at were Solomons, Papua New Guinea, Saipan, Guam, Okinawa, Hiroshima. It was the 'Theatres of War Cruise.' So we visited the war sites.
  3. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    I have a cousin who was wounded on Iwo Jima. Practically everybody in his platoon was hit before the battle was over.
  4. John Ulferts

    John Ulferts Member

    Les, what a great pilgrimage in honor of the sacrifices our WW 2 vets made in the Pacific. Did any of the veterans on board talk about their experiences? A few of the Pacific veterans in my book felt a bit left out because so many of the anniversaries focused a bit more on the European theater. The GIs in the Pacific really had it rough.
  5. John Ulferts

    John Ulferts Member

    Nearly half of the the Marines who fought at Iwo Jima were killed or injured. The Meat Grinder cost nearly 7,000 American lives and over 20,000 Japanese lives. All on an island that was jus five miles long and two miles across.
    TTH and Les Carter like this.
  6. Les Carter

    Les Carter Member

    Hi John, it was a great journey. We did a memorial ceremony also for the Battle of the Coral Sea, with prayers and wreath dropping.

    There were also Aussie Vets on board who fought in New Guinea, so we visited the war graves there, as we did in Saipan, Guam etc to honour the U.S.Forces who fell. Yes some of the Vets did relate their stories in the theatre on board. I also spoke to a few around the ship, of course they were all around 80 years of age, but still proud of their service.

    We also had a retired US Rear Admiral on board, I just cannot remember his name, he was on board as a guest speaker as he had been in the Battle of Midway as a US Navy pilot, his was a great story. Yes the Pacific Theatre was hell for Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force. Lest we Forget.

    My late father was a soldier from 1940 to 1962, WW2, Africa/Italy and soldiered on post war.

    All the best to you and stay safe.
  7. John Ulferts

    John Ulferts Member

    What a great trip that must have been. I hope someone recorded the talks for posterity's sake.

    Thank you to your father for his service both during WW 2 and after!

    Take care.
    Les Carter likes this.

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