A World War II veteran looks back at his time on Iwo Jima
By Brett Auten
Once you get Deward Terry talking, he can take you back to that vivid day in history.
The gray clouds at dawn, the wet sand and fear of the unknown hanging in the air on that drab day as United States troops by the thousands took the beach of Iwo Jima.
Terry, 92 and an O’Fallon resident, grew up in the bootheel of Missouri in the tiny town of Risco. He finished high school and enrolled first in Poplar Bluff Business College before moving on to Southeast Missouri State University. Terry was drafted and went to St. Louis for a physical.
“A good friend built the Marines up, and he was going in too,” Terry said. “That sounded good to me.”
After boot camp at San Diego’s Camp Pendleton, where he focused and excelled at rifle training, Terry and his fellow members of the 5th Marine Division voyaged to Hawaii for additional training. The Hawaiian landscaped made for the perfect training ground for their destination, Japan.
“After a couple of weeks, we boarded a ship in Honolulu, and all we knew was that we were going to ‘Island X,’” Terry said.
On Feb. 19, 1945, as dawn broke over Iwo Jima, 10,000 yards offshore were the troop-carrying ships of the US armada that boasted 50,000 Marines. Meanwhile, the Japanese defenders of the island were dug into bunkers deep within the volcanic rocks.
“The infantry landed at 9 a.m. and I landed at 9:15 a.m.,” Terry said. “My job when we landed was to go and locate the battery position. I pretty much spent the entire first day at the base of a volcano. The Japanese were looking down on us, and they had every kind of weapon imaginable. It was the worst day I had. It wasn’t a fun place.”
Finally, on Feb. 23, 1945, the second of two U.S. flag-raisings on the site that day occurred atop Mount Suribachi. The image has become historic.
“After the fourth day, they raised the flag, and it was two-three hundred yards, and we saw it go up and couldn’t tell what it was,” Terry said. “An officer had some binoculars, and he was able to determine that it was an American flag. It was a great feeling.”
Soon after, Terry and his fellow soldiers were sent back to Hawaii for more training. Before the final stage of World War II, the United States President Harry Truman ordered the dropping of nuclear weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945 and soon after Terry returned to Japan, this time to Nagasaki.
“We were happy with Harry Truman,” Terry said. “We went into Nagasaki with open trucks and drove right through the area. It was just flattened. Every once in a while you would see a little building, but there was nothing left there.”
Even though the war was over, Terry and his team were always cautious while there.
“I never could feel comfortable with the Japanese because we were afraid of what they would do to us,” he said. “But we had very little problems with them.”
A day before discharge, Terry made corporal. Once he returned to Missouri, he worked briefly for the Bonne Terre Farming and Cattle Company before becoming a purchasing agent for St. Joe Minerals Corporation. Terry and his wife Pat married in 1950; they had two children along with one grandchild and one great-grandchild. After retirement, he and Pat moved to O’Fallon to be closer to their daughter.
Like most men of his generation, for decades after the war he didn’t wear his feelings on his sleeve and what he saw and what he went through on that island was never much of a talking point. But time eased his reticence, and he eventually started to open up.
“He’s talked more about it these last few years than he ever did before,” Pat said.
In thirty-six days of fighting on the island, nearly 7,000 U.S. Marines died, and another 20,000 were wounded. Twenty-seven Medals of Honor (our country’s highest military award for bravery) were awarded for action on Iwo Jima—more than any other battle in U.S. history.
“I feel fortunate that I didn’t have to kill anyone,” Terry said. “I did my duty and did what I was supposed to do.”