Saturday, December 4, 2010

For 65 years, Navy Combat Veteran Joe String said little about Iwo Jima - His story, one that needs to be told.

This gentleman is the epitome of what has been called " The Greatest Generation ". He endured HELL and went on to create a life for himself and his family.....He didn't need Dr. Phil or Oprah to figure it out...
He worked out his issues as best as he could and went on to be a great Father, husband and provider....His generation created the success that we all still benefit from today in our country.

BRAVO ZULU to you sir. Motor Machinist Mate 2nd class Joe String has earned the gratitude of our nation and demonstrated unflinching dedication to duty in the highest traditions of the US Navy.

Veteran Ending Longtime Policy of Saying Little
By Kyle Kennedy
THE LEDGER / Lakeland, FL

Published: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 9:12 p.m.

For 65 years, Joe String has said little about what happened on Iwo Jima.
String has long said little about the details of the battle, even to family, but now has decided to share his memories more.

Though his memory is faltering, String can still vividly recall much of the horrific 35-day battle there between U.S. and Japanese forces in early 1945. But for decades he has chosen not to, at least not out loud.

The Navy veteran says his family has never known the details of how he wound up on the beach of Iwo Jima in February 1945 as part of the U.S. invasion.

Now 85 and living at the Lake Howard Heights assisted-living facility in Winter Haven, String is now sharing some of his story.

Today, on Veterans Day, he says he wants to honor his friends who never made it off the Japanese island and perhaps offer his experiences to others while he still can.

"I don't want to see anybody go through what I went through," String said earlier this week in WinterHaven. "It turned my whole life around."

String said he didn't quite fit the ideal of a military recruit.

Born in Caldwell, N.J., he suffered from polio as a boy and wore body braces, though String said he would often shed the devices upon leaving home in the mornings and "stumble off to school."

He fell a year behind in school because of the illness and was already 18 by the time he started his senior year. In 1943, String's local draft board decided school could wait. He passed a physical exam despite some residual weakness in his limbs from polio.

String chose the Navy, reasoning, "I had a clean bed and good food, and if I kicked the bucket or got shot up that's the way I wanted to go out."

He successfully completed basic training and was eventually sent to the naval base at Pearl Harbor. In February 1945, the final year of World War II, String found himself in the Pacific Ocean at a U.S. staging area near the 8-square-mile volcanic island of Iwo Jima.

Because of its proximity to mainland Japan, capturing the island was an important objective to help U.S. air war efforts. The invasion called for a total 30,000 U.S. Marines to wrest the area from roughly 20,000 entrenched Japanese soldiers.

String, a motor machinist mate 2nd class, had the task of running the diesel engines on the landing crafts that took Marines ashore.

On Feb. 19, 1945, the invasion finally began as U.S. battleships shelled the island, followed by an aerial bombardment. Then came the Marines' turn.

"All I was worried about was the diesel engines, keeping those damn things running. That's the only thing I was concerned about. I guess I was crazy. I didn't have any fear anywhere along the line," String said.

But the Japanese had the advantage, fighting from a network of caves and bunkers and using the clear view and firing lines from their positions within Mount Suribachi.

"We hit the beach, and the guys that hit the beach directly in front of us got all shot up, so they took 20 percent of the ship's crew and put us on the shore to replenish the people who were killed. So that's how I got on the island," String said. "We had people strewn all over the beach, equipment strewn all over the beach. I mean, it looked like Sam Hill. That scared me."

As U.S. forces regrouped, String said he was ordered to pick up a flamethrower, replacing a man who had been shot. String was joined by another man who worked the flamethrower's fuel tanks as two additional riflemen provided cover.

String said the foursome entered the caves on the low end of Mount Suribachi, encountering Japanese troops inside.

"I'm shooting this flamethrower in circles. ... I can still hear them screeching," he said.

At this point in the story String abruptly stops talking and stares down at the floor of the sitting room at Lake Howard Heights, his face expressionless. The room is silent except for the hissing of his oxygen tank.

"It was a bitch," he finally says. "It was a bitch."

Four days into the battle, String says he and another group of soldiers were clearing the island's cave network as they ventured outside and saw a U.S. flag perched atop Suribachi, placed there by Marines. A photograph of the raising of the flag would become perhaps the most famous image of WWII.

Seeing the flag was a brief, celebratory moment, String said. The men looked up and cheered before returning to the work ahead of them.

"In we went, flames just a flyin'. We got in there, and I can still hear those people screaming," String said. "It was a bad scene. As crazy as I was, it even affected me. Still affects me."

The fighting lasted more than a month, claiming more than 6,800 American lives. The vast majority of Japanese were either killed or committed suicide.

Before leaving Iwo Jima, String said he took a walk around the island and visited a makeshift cemetery for U.S. soldiers, where he discovered one of his high school classmates had been killed.

String left the military in 1946, briefly staying in a veterans hospital to deal with "shakes." He would eventually finish his high school education and study business at the University of Pennsylvania.

"I had to regroup," he said. "I played hell at getting regrouped. Fortunately for me, I had a tough father who hit me over the head to shake the dust off."

He got married and had two sons, eventually moving to Florida and settling on the state's east coast to work for government contractors in the nation's budding space program.

As for the war, "he hardly ever talked about it, very rarely," said his son, Joseph S. String, 61, a real estate appraiser in Winter Haven.

Joe String said he telephoned his son this week and told him he planned to give an interview about his time on Iwo Jima.

"I told him what was taking place, and he says, 'That's great Pop, they're finally catching up with you.' "

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