Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Veteran Remembers: The Story of Iwo Jima and the End of WW2

1st Lt. Aubrey Farb, USMC (Ret.)
Today is Veteran's Day, on which we honor the men and women who have fought for our country and rendered a service that is incalculable. I always thank a Veteran for his/her service when I meet one, and not just on Veteran's Day. 

I believe it's important to acknowledge the fact that they put a portion of their life on hold for a period of time to uphold and maintain the principles of our nation. And at any opportunity I find, I try to sit down a learn a little about what a Veteran's personal service was.

Aubrey Farb is one of those Veterans I have met only recently. He served as a Marine--1st Lieutenant--in the Pacific Theater of World War II, towards the end of the War. His job was to interrogate Japanese prisoners of war and glean from them information that would save American lives. 

Farb was present at the invasion of Iwo Jima, and when the war's end came, was on Guam, making preparations for the invasion of Japan.

The conquest of Iwo Jima is legendary. The topography of the volcanic island was at first advantageous for the Japanese, as they had built an intricate system of concrete pill boxes and tunnels to defend the island. Those fortifications became fiery tombs as US artillery blasted away, and flamethrowers were used to eliminate the last holdouts on the island.

The US dedicated 110,000 men to assault Iwo Jima. The Japanese had 18,591 troops on the island. The 36-day battle cost 6,821 US casualties. The Japanese lost 18,375.

Aubrey Farb prepares
a map of Iwo Jima

Iwo Jima boasted two strategic airstrips from which the Japanese were able to harass American aircraft on missions to bomb their homeland. We needed the airstrips for emergency landings of damaged bombers. 

The first of those bombers to land on the island was the Dinah Might of the 9th Bomber Group, which touched down while the fighting still raged on March 4, 1945. Records reveal 2,251 B-29 landings were recorded by the end of the war, although not all of them were for dire emergencies. But 1,191 fighter escorts and 3,081 sorties against the islands of Japan were launched from Iwo Jima once it had been secured.

Lt. Farb's duties interrogating Japanese prisoners of war were mitigated somewhat by the math expressed above; he didn't have too many customers.

"We got good information from them because the Japanese taught their men that it was a sin to surrender, that you had dishonored yourself, dishonored your family, and that you no longer existed in the eyes of the Japanese," Farb told me recently at his home in Houston.  "If you teach somebody you never surrender, you don't teach them what to say when you do surrender," he chuckled. "The Japanese would tell you everything you needed to know--but you had to know how to ask it," Farb says.

It was on Iwo Jima that the US first became aware of the Japanese' plan to use Kamikaze pilots--suicide aircraft. "Some soldiers came in and said they'd found a graveyard, and wanted someone to come look at it," Farb recalled. "I went up and looked at it; didn't amount to anything.  But I saw a piece of paper--a document--on the ground, and I picked it up and took it back and I translated it." Farb says the document contained the Japanese strategy for how they were going to defend Okinawa--and the first mention of Kamikaze's.

"We were lucky at Iwo; we had no Kamikaze's," Farb says. "The Kamikaze's started at Okinawa, but we learned that the strategy at Okinawa [would be] to let our troops in without a great deal of resistance, and then they were going to use the Kamikaze's to starve us out."

Corporal Yukio Araki, holding a puppy,
with four other pilots of the
72nd Shinbu Squadron at Bansei, Kagoshima.
Araki died the following day, May 27, 1945.
Photo Credit: Wikipaedia.
Records show about 3,860 kamikaze pilots were killed during World War II. Only 19-percent of Kamikaze attacks managed to hit a ship. "I had a brother who was on a destroyer escort; his ship was hit, but it wasn't sunk," Farb recalled.

Lt. Farb also had the distinction of being among the first on the island of Guam to learn of the surrender of the Japanese, and subsequent ending of the War.  "We [had begun] training for Operation Olympic, which was to be the invasion of Japan at Nagasaki," Farb says.

One night Farb was in his tent, listening to his Radio. "I heard a broadcast in Japanese that I was sure that said they were surrendering," he says. Not wanting to make a fool of himself, he decided to look for it in English--and found it.

"I literally raced down to the Officers' Club," Farb said. There was a band made up of some of the Black troops who worked in the mess hall, playing for the officers. "I stopped the music and announced that the war was over," Farb remembers.
Nobody believed him.

"They figured I was playing some sort of game," Farb says. "In fact, an ex-football player from an organization called JASCO--Joint Assault Signal Company--he came up to me, and he grabbed me by the throat with my collar, and he said, 'Lieutenant, if this is some kind of a joke, there'll be a delegation from JASCO to see you tomorrow!'"

Vindication came 15-minutes later. "The Sargeant on duty at G-3 Operations came racing in, and found my Lieutenant Colonel, and he came up, and he said, 'Stop the music,' of course. He said, 'The Lieutenant is correct; the war is over.'"

Farb says Harry Truman is his hero. "We found out later, after the war, that the beaches at Nagasaki had been fortified with underwater concrete and steel barriers," Farb says. He's convinced that fewer people were killed by the atomic bomb "than would have been killed by our fire bombing of Nagasaki, and the Japanese soldiers who would have been killed, and certainly, our soldiers," he says.

Farb doesn't regard himself a hero. "I don't think I did anything except what I was asked to do," he says. "There were terrific sacrifices in going over to Guam; there were replacement battalions that had thirty-two 2nd Lieutenants. I think only 8 of them left Iwo. The rest were either wounded or were killed," he recalls.

"In the Marines, a 2nd Lieutenant was a Platoon leader," Farb explains. "The Platoon leader was not in the back--he was out front. It took a lot of guts to be a Marine Corps Platoon leader." Farb paused, and continued: "Anytime you found an infantryman who had a rank of higher than a 2nd Lieutenant, whose unit had been in combat, you know you had a man who was really a hero," he says.

Combat servicemen received points which accumulated towards receiving a ticket home.
"It took 60-points to go home," Farb says. "You got a point for every month you were in the service. You got two points for every month you served overseas. You got some points for every battle you were in," he says.

In the fall of 1945, Farb caught pneumonia. For a second time.
His commanding officer asked how many points Farb had amassed.
"Fifty-nine, sir," he replied.

Farb recalls, "He opened his drawer, took out a folder, and said, 'Lieutenant, here are your orders. Go home.' "

"So I obeyed orders," Farb shrugs with a wry grin.
"I landed back in San Diego on Christmas Day, 1945. And I was mustered-out at Brooklyn Navy base in February, and went back to Columbia university, and put the War behind me," he says.

And that's how most Veteran's would tell their story.
No brag, just fact, about the Greatest Generation.

Farb and his entire 3rd Marine Division Headquarters Battallion of the Headquarters Company received the Presidential Unit Citation for their part in the battle of Iwo Jima.

In honor of Veteran's Day, Aubrey Farb will address the South End Optimist Club, on Wednesday, November 12, at the Westchase Marriott, 2900 Briarpark at Westheimer, at a luncheon meeting at 12 noon. Guests are welcome but a call to (713) 706-4334 for a reservation is requested. The Marriott Hotel offers its extensive buffet for $15 with tax and tip included.