By Jack Wyman
He was a long way from home.
Two oceans. Two islands. Two nations.
A world at war.
Jasper Henry Wyman, my father, was born and raised in Maine and lived as a teenager on a beautiful island named Deer Isle. When America entered World War II, he enlisted in the Marines and shipped off to boot camp.
Dad was 17.
In February 1945, he was in the 4th Marine Division that was among the first to land on the black sands of a small Pacific island in the Marianas, named Iwo Jima. The United States was determined to take the island as a strategic staging base for bombing raids on Japan.
Dad also would see action on the Pacific islands of Saipan and Tinian, but Iwo was the worst. The Japanese army was heavily fortified with a web of deep underground tunnels on the island. They said they would die but never surrender.
The Battle of Iwo Jima was among the fiercest of the war. Over the course of 36 days, 18,844 of the 22,060 Japanese soldiers would die from fighting or suicide. There would be 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 Marines. Some of them were my dad’s friends and poker buddies. It remains the costliest battle in the history of the United States Marine Corps.
For one month, the eight square miles of Iwo Jima became the scene of untold terror and death.
My dad’s stories of Iwo are among my earliest childhood memories. He shared what he thought and felt by telling me what happened. The sudden loss of his friends. The fear that he would be next. Dad told me about his friend John Ruggirello from Brooklyn. They worked the radio together. They were exhausted. They argued about who would take a break. “Rugged” won the argument. Dad would rest. A few moments after my dad walked away, Rugged was killed in a direct hit.
Dad told me how disappointed he was to be transferred to another unit in need of more men. Assignments went reverse alpha by name, so he was among the first to leave the guys he’d been fighting alongside. He later learned that the soldiers of his former unit had all been killed.
Dad prayed God would spare his life on Iwo, but he never tried to bargain with God. He never promised to live a better life or go to church if God would let him live.
Beth and I accompanied my parents to Washington one spring weekend to visit the Marine Corps Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Dad had always wanted to see it. He wept. Engraved on the base of the memorial, a beautifully imposing statue of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima, are the words of Admiral Chester Nimitz who said that in the Battle of Iwo Jima, “uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
A total of 27 Medals of Honor were awarded for bravery in that battle, 14 posthumously. It represented more than a quarter of all Medals of Honor awarded to Marines during World War II.
The 4th Marine Division was twice issued a presidential citation for bravery, once by FDR and again by Truman.
Dad knew he might be part of the invasion of Japan. General Douglas MacArthur had promised that “the Japanese homeland will feel the tread of the Marine’s boot.”
Dad didn’t know how long his luck would hold out.
Then the atomic bomb ended the war and my dad headed back to Maine to take up his place as a member of our nation’s Greatest Generation. He married, gave his life to Christ, became an active church member, served his community, and was a great father and a hard-working aircraft machinist. He and my mom were among the millions who ushered in one of the greatest eras of peace, prosperity, and prominence in America’s history.
He once told me that when he looked up from the sands of Iwo Jima and saw the American flag flying atop Mount Suribachi, he knew America would take the island and win the war. Looking back on that terrible battle 75 years ago, I am humbled by the cost.
My dad loved his God, his family, and his country. As a skinny and scared teenager on a small faraway island, he laid his life on the line for the cause of freedom.
Jasper Wyman is my hero and the greatest man I have ever known.
He taught me what it means to be a patriot. He taught me what it means to have courage.
Jack Wyman lives in Highland Village and is a Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in District 26.