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Interview with Melford K. Jarstad [3/8/2005]

Oakley Osborn:

The following is an interview conducted on 8 and 9 March 2005 in Leavenworth, Washington. The subject is CPL Melford K. Jarstad USMC. The interviewer is RADM Oakley E. Osborn USN (Ret.), hereafter identified as OEO. Biographical Summary of Corporal Mel Jarstad USMC (discharged Dec 1, 1945) Mel Jarstad was born [birth date redacted] at Medicine Lake, Montana. Following the loss of his father's homestead due to foreclosure during the depression, he migrated with his family to Bremerton, Washington. His early years were marked by hard times but he was able to persevere through hard work and determination. During that period, his father placed him, and his sisters, in a Lutheran home for three years. He chose to work to help support his family in lieu of finishing high school. He enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps on January 28, 1942. After seven weeks of boot camp, he, along with his fellow recruits, was rushed to Oahu aboard the USS Lurline for island guard duty. He was transferred to Johnston Island in September 1942 as part of the island protection force. There he served as a gun crewman on 40mm and 3 inch 50 guns. After 16 months he received home leave and then reported to Camp Pendleton to join the new 5th Marine Division in February 1944. There he was assigned as gunner of a 37mm gun. The division moved to Camp Tarawa on Oahu in the summer of 1944 for invasion training and preparation. His unit left Hilo, Oahu on December 31, 1944 aboard the USS Storm King, APA 171, and sailed from Pearl Harbor on January 11, 1944. A practice invasion was conducted at Saipan commencing February 11 and ending February 16. He went ashore at Iwo Jima with the invasion force on February 19, 1945 and departed 35 days later. His battle experiences are, of course, unique and quite compelling. The reader gains the perspective of a frightened, but very brave and resourceful Marine. Upon leaving Iwo Jima, he returned to Camp Tarawa on Oahu with his unit and prepared for the invasion of the Japanese mainland. When the war ended he was ordered to Sasebo, Japan for occupation duty. After 31 days in Japan, he boarded ship for Treasure Island where he was discharged on December 1, 1945. He later gained his high school diploma and apprenticed at Bremerton Naval Shipyard under the GI Bill. He retired from the shipyard in 1971 and lives in Leavenworth, Washington with his wife, Lorraine. They were married June 21, 1947 and have a daughter and two sons.

Oakley Osborn:

Mel, it is a pleasure to have this opportunity. I am going to ask questions and you just respond as you like. First, tell me something about your parents' background - nationality, where they came from, etc.

Melford K. Jarstad:

My grandfather and grandmother came over from Norway in 1878 and settled in Iowa. My dad was born in Iowa in 1880, which was the same year that General MacArthur was born, so I kind of go by that. My dad went to Montana in 1909 under the Homestead Act and homesteaded 160 acres. He didn't get married until quite late in life so my mother was much younger. He was 38 and she was 20 when they were married, which may have been a factor in their final breakup.

She was born in Norway and came to this country when she was eight years old. They were married seven years and had five children. My two older sisters are now deceased. My younger brother and sister live in Oregon. My mother and dad got divorced in the thirty's. The terrible dust storms were another factor in their split. We were actually on the edge of the dust bowl. In 1930, when I was six years old, we had a hailstorm with hail the size of goose eggs. The crop was destroyed so my dad had to go to the bank for a loan. The next year we had such dust storms that the dust was piled two feet high against the buildings. He lost his crop again and the banks foreclosed on his land. He had to leave and that pretty well finished the marriage.

My dad took my two older sisters and I, got on the Great Northern Railroad train to Seattle. We crossed on the ferry to Bremerton where my Uncle Otto picked us up and took us in for three months. He had a job as Vice President of the Bremerton Water Works. He later retired and had a park named after him. He had five children also - two boys and three girls. Anyway, he picked us up at the ferry in this big old Buick. Later, my dad acquired a 50 foot lot and put up a one bedroom house. I slept up and over.

My sisters both left home and got married at age 16. In the meantime, my dad couldn't take care of us, so he put us in the Lutheran children's home in Everett. I was seven years old at the time. I can see it yet, a big double story building. There must have been at least 30 kids there. They were orphans and kids left by their families due to the depression. There, I had to work right away in the field picking carrots and such on my knees. I was determined I would never be a farmer. We had guinea pigs and rabbits.

I was there three years until my dad got somewhat squared away. I was then 11. My dad insisted we go to the Lutheran church (Lorraine and I later married in that church). We had to walk the three miles to church. My dad couldn't afford the bus fare, and besides, he liked to walk. We had owned a Model T in Montana. Anyway, when we arrived in Bremerton from Montana, my dad had no skills except as a farmer. He worked primarily in the early 30's with the WPA (Works Progress Administration) which was a project of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He worked four hours a day and we finally had a little money. I think I was the poorest kid in school. Everybody says they were poor in the depression but really didn't know it. Well, I knew it!

I picked up beer bottles and picked blackberries. If I wanted to go to the movies and see Hoot Gibson I had to have the money, 10 cents to get in and 5 cents for a candy bar. The first real job I had was at a Mom and Pop store. I would take their flyers out and put them on porches. I got 50 cents for delivering 200. I would buy milk and a loaf of bread. I don't know if my dad appreciated it or not because he hardly ever spoke to me. I had the other 25 cents to go to the movie on.

About that time, I decided I had to get a bicycle. My dad was more like a grandfather. He was older than most fathers. We never really got along that well. I feel guilty on account of that. He never remarried. We used to meet at a place called Pearl Maurer's Pavilion, the finest dancing floor, maybe, on the west coast. That is where I met Lorraine after the war. I worked there as a bouncer after the war -- but that is another story. Dad was a regular there.

Later, if he didn't show up on a Saturday night, people would call me to see if he was sick. We had this tub for Saturday night baths. After we were finished, he would use the water to scrub the floor. We had to save water. For years we didn't have electric lights. We finally got electricity so my dad could have a radio -- the days of Fibber McGee.

Oakley Osborn:

Mel, lets go back. Tell me again the date and place you were born, and anything else you would like to tell me about your childhood. Tell me about your high school. I know you had a break in your high school. Go over that.

Melford K. Jarstad:

I was born [birth date redacted] at Medicine Lake, Montana, at my dad's homestead. I don't remember too much about my boyhood there - we left when I was seven. I do remember some geese flying over. I had some .22 shells and tried to explode them with a hammer to hit the geese. Medicine Lake is still part of the migratory bird flyway. I am sure Dad got some geese to feed us. After Dad lost his farm, he got a job with a Sioux Indian. There was a Sioux Indian nation nearby.

The Indian lived in a teepee and asked my dad to come on in and eat with him. After they finished, my dad asked him what kind of meat it was. The Indian replied "puppydog". The Sioux always kept lots of dogs around in the fall. By spring, there were none left. Those Indians must have had a hard time living in teepees at sometimes 60 degrees below zero. The Indian didn't pay him much, a couple of dollars. It is just hard to imagine what our folks went through during those depression years. Henry Fonda made "The Grapes of Wrath." That could have been my dad. He even looked like him. I did start school there in Montana but don't remember much about it. It probably wasn't much of a school, but, at least, we were learning the three R's. When we got on the train to Seattle, I can still remember going from the flatlands and seeing the Rocky Mountains, those magnificent mountains, riding the Great Northern with that goat logo on the side of the train. I was just dumbfounded. I guess that is where I first got my liking of the mountains.

Anyway, we got over to Bremerton with my uncle. We were with them for two or three months. They had five kids so we were sleeping out on the back porch. Finally, my dad got his own house complete with outdoor plumbing, no water and no lights. I read a piece recently that claimed 60 percent of the returning WWII veterans did not have indoor plumbing. When I returned from the war I told my dad we were going to have indoor plumbing. He said we weren't going to have one of those "stinky" things in his house. I did manage to talk him into a shower which I rigged from water heated by a homemade oil stove.

My dad was always a good dancer. He had numerous proposals for marriage, including one from a woman who had a beautiful big home with all the conveniences he never had, but he never remarried. He used to dance all night, including with the little kids. He loved to dance. Later on, I worked at that same pavilion Friday and Saturday nights as a bouncer. In 1938, FDR came to Washington State and dedicated the Olympic National Park on the Olympic Peninsula.

That drew our attention to the area. Shortly after, my friends and I went out and commenced hiking in the park. That is really what got me started hiking, which is one of my favorite activities. Making that area a national park was one of the best things ever to happen to the state. Lorraine and I hiked there many times, and when our boys were in Boy Scouts, we took them there for camping and hiking.

Oakley Osborn:

Mel, can you go back and cover your high school years?

Melford K. Jarstad:

I loved basketball and considered myself an extremely good shot. We used to have a game called "horse". I never lost a game of horse, even against guys a lot older than I. When I got to high school, I made the freshman team under Ken Wills. The second year, I met this girl and decided that I had to have a car. I was making my own money digging wells. I bought a '29 Pontiac for $29 but it had a broken piston. Meantime, I was also working at a feed store owned by the McNutts', father and son.

At 15, I could take a load of hay out and put it in the silo, so I was a pretty tough guy. This friend of mine, Ken Hanson, wanted to ride a bicycle down to the World's Fair. I had enough money. I also had a paper route so I had this single speed bicycle with a basket. I think it was a World bicycle.

So we left Bremerton in June 1939 to ride down to the World's Fair in San Francisco and Treasure Island. We went down the coast highway, camped, and built fires on the beaches at old canneries. We rode 1100 miles in 15 days. We would walk up the hills and ride as fast as we could down the other side. In the meantime, cars were going by. We were close to being pushed over the side many times.

When we got on the Golden Gate Bridge my tires gave out. I patched them with tape three or four times before we got across. Ken's grandmother lived in San Francisco, so we had a place to stay when we arrived. We got to the World's Fair, particularly wanting to see Sally Rand, but they wouldn't let us in because we were under age. We saw a lot of the rest of the fair.

I vaguely remember seeing a television demonstration. There was also a Superman or Spiderman type comics display that talked about an atomic bomb. Later, they hushed that up. One of the best things about San Francisco was the delicious pastries.

Ken was going to stay there, so I shipped my bike back for five dollars and hitchhiked back in four days. Then I went back to digging wells. I dug a well one time that was 168 feet deep. I would stick my foot in a bucket and go down on a quarter inch cable to dig. One well that was about 30 feet deep had a broken tile which we had to get out. I was breaking it up with a sledge hammer and sent up a big piece of the tile on the cable. As it got near the top, the cable let go. The piece of tile came flying down the hole and, by sheer luck, missed me. I should have been dead right there. I decided right then to never go down a well again. I was making good money, 50 cents an hour, and even paying into Social Security.

Oakley Osborn:

Tell me about high school.

Melford K. Jarstad:

I quit high school when I was a sophomore. I was helping a fellow build a house. He didn't know anything about building. I would go to the library and read the books on how to do the different things. I was on that job December 7, 1941. When I came back from the war, I decided I was going to get my high school education. I had also been working for the Bremerton Water Works when I left for the Marines. So, when I got back from the war, I had six months to get my old job back or I would lose it. I went back to high school in a class of about 30 GI's. Our teacher was Fred Graham who had been one of my freshman teachers. He had been in the Army. I had been there in school for four months when I went to Fred Graham and told him that I only had two months left to get my old job back, and asked him what I could do to speed things up. A couple of days later I went back and he had my diploma ready. I didn't get a GED, I got and actual diploma. They gave me a lot of credit for my Marine Corps training. I didn't get a class picture, but I do get invited to both Class of 42 and Class of 46 events. I was proud that I got that diploma. I always wanted to go to college and play basketball. My school's class of '41 was the state champion and Class of '42 got second, so we had some great basketball teams at that high school. These high school kids today dunk the ball. My high school coach called that "showboating". He didn't even want us to go under the basket to shoot. He wanted us to go straight in.

Oakley Osborn:

What were you doing December 7, 1941 when the news came through?

Melford K. Jarstad:

I was at a gas station when it came over the radio. I remember it as clearly as if yesterday.

Oakley Osborn:

What date did you enlist?

Melford K. Jarstad:

I enlisted January 28, 1942.

Oakley Osborn:

Why did you enlist and why did you choose the Marine Corps?

Melford K. Jarstad:

We wanted to get into the fight. We figured we would lick the Japanese in two years. I would see the Marines at Bremerton shipyard and thought they looked pretty sharp in their uniforms.

Oakley Osborn:

We have always heard that Marine Corps boot camp takes a new recruit, tears him down psychologically, and then builds him back up to be a Marine. Did you find that at boot camp in 1942?

Melford K. Jarstad:

At that time, I think the Marine Corps realized that they had to get guys through boot camp pretty fast to meet the war needs. Seven weeks is all we got. That is not very long. Basic training is much better today. Sometime during boot camp, I asked the DI (drill instructor) when we were going to get some leave - I had heard all about Tijuana and other interesting places. He laughed and said there wouldn't be any leave for us. The next thing I knew, we were on a train to Treasure Island, and then aboard the SS Lurline, the biggest cruise ship in the world at the time. There were five thousand of us, including Army and Navy. They were rushing us to Hawaii for island defense. They figured there was no reason the Japanese couldn't attack, especially the big island. When we got to Oahu, the military had a machine gun nest about every five miles along the coast. The Japanese could have come ashore and never had a shot fired at them. There were big guns on Diamond Head and Army forces at Schofield, but I think they could have taken Oahu, which would have cost us probably two more years of war. That is the opinion of a PFC.

Oakley Osborn:

Back to boot camp - was it really hard?

Melford K. Jarstad:

It was hard physically. We ran continually. In those seven weeks, I was in three times better shape than I ever got playing basketball. Once, a recruit did something wrong and the DI had him running up and down the aisle with his foot locker on his head. His head was bleeding. That is the only time I ever saw abuse. The DI's carried a stick with a 50 caliber shell on the end of it. If your shoulders weren't back when at attention they would smack your pith helmet with that stick. It sounded like a rifle shot and really got your attention. One time we were marching - I was in the third rank. The DI gave a "to the rear march" and the first three ranks didn't hear it. We kept marching ahead. The DI had the rest of the formation sit down for a smoke. We finally realized we were alone so we went back and did our pushups for not paying attention. Our DI was a short, hard nosed Texan. I thought he was fair with us.

Oakley Osborn:

Did you go direct from boot camp right onto SS Lurline?

Melford K. Jarstad:

Absolutely, I never went to Pendleton or anything. I went aboard Lurline and was in Hawaii six days later. When we arrived, some of the battleships were still on their sides. They were working 24 hours a day in the shipyard. Two of those battleships later supported us at Iwo Jima. We were pulling guard duty at the dry-docks. I was on one end of the dry-dock and this other Marine was at the other end. It was a nasty night and when we went to pick up the other guard, he wasn't there. The next day they found his body in the water. They never figured out what happened. There was some sabotage while we were there. Probably a quarter of the people on Oahu were Japanese. As an aside, on the Lurline there were also about 50 of Sadie Thompson's prostitutes making their way to Hawaii. They were well segregated from the military on board. Sadie Thompson became wealthy with her activities in Hawaii.

Oakley Osborn:

You would have arrived in Pearl Harbor about four months after December 7 and some of the ships were still on their side?

Melford K. Jarstad:

Yes, some were in dry dock. I did guard duty there until September. Once, when I was on liberty during that time, we were told to get back to base and get our gas masks. The battle of Midway was taking place. That ended up being the battle that turned the tide.

Oakley Osborn:

Where were you berthing during this time?

Melford K. Jarstad:

Right at Pearl Harbor, and we were living in barracks. There was a brig there with three or four Japanese being held. They were shot down on December 7 and, I believe, spent the entire war there. I never got overnight liberty during that whole time. Everyone had to be in by six or seven. I met this French Portuguese girl who was born there. I was 18 and she was 21. I would be downtown with this beautiful girl on my arm, while thousands of sailors and marines were there alone. I was pretty proud of that. The sergeant got wind of this, said he would fix that, and sent me to Johnston Island. I am pretty sure that was the reason he shipped me out. I went to Johnston in September '42.

Oakley Osborn:

You were kind of a cocky young guy weren't you? You had a lot of confidence in yourself.

Melford K. Jarstad:

I think so. I was there 16 months. That gets to a story about Johnston Island that I tell often. The most beautiful girl I saw during my time on Johnston was Eleanor Roosevelt. You can't imagine what it was like to hear a woman's voice. It was wonderful. Anyway, I was assigned to a 40mm gun when I got there. It was located on the southwest corner of the island. Stuffing shells into that 40mm got very boring after a while. Johnston was a very boring place. We played handball and softball, but life was boring. It was also very hot, the sun hitting the coral, including the runway. We all had a deep tan. We had no sunglasses. There was one swimming pool which we used for training. As a kid, I had the habit of swimming under water in Lake Kitsap. I would wade out to my neck and then swim underwater to shore. I couldn't swim on top of the water. So, when the sergeant said "swim the length of the pool", I would swim under water, probably showing off a little.

Oakley Osborn:

How many Marines were on the island and what were you supposed to be protecting?

Melford K. Jarstad:

There were about 300 of us. We were protecting against invasion. The Japanese had taken Wake and tried to take Midway. When I got there the runway was pretty short. After 16 months, the civilian work force had made it long enough to handle a B-29. Every time the supply ship came in we could buy two cans of beer. I resisted beer, so when the ship came in I was the most popular guy on the island. We had one 30+ year old Marine who always had a poker game going. He was good and constantly cleaned the 18 and 19 year olds. He sent a lot of money home to his wife. None of it was mine. I resisted the poker games. Life was just unbelievably boring. At Christmas time, I asked my girl friend to send me a sprig from a fir tree. I was so homesick that I kept taking that out and smelling it. But I was glad to not be on Guadalcanal. We would get dispatches from the Navy Department about what was happening in the war, and how bad things were in the battle areas. Of course we heard Tokyo Rose. Finally, I asked for a transfer to Sand Island, the adjoining island, which was approved. They had a 3 inch 50 and a 5 inch gun. I was a loader on the 3 inch 50. One time we decided to try for a record firing rate. We were firing on a towed target. The gun went off prematurely and smashed me back against the sandbags 10 feet away. I thought I was done for. The doctor told me that if I had been in a little different position it would have smashed my hip and I would have been out of the war. Needless to say, we didn't break any record that day. Later, the Lieutenant decided we needed to camouflage the gun. He asked if anyone had any ideas. I said that I would do it. I figured out all the materials - 2X2's, rolls of canvas, camouflage paint, and wire. It took about two months to get the stuff shipped to us. It was fashioned so it would clear the gun and could be moved by four men. It worked great. I thought I should have made Corporal for that, but they didn't even put it in my record. As an 18 year old kid, I thought I did a marvelous job. I always wished that I had spoken up and asked for some recognition for that job.

Oakley Osborn:

Lets go back to Eleanor. Tell me about that visit by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Melford K. Jarstad:

I believe she came in by PBY. I don't remember her inspecting us but she went through the barracks and other places. Speaking of PBY's, one of them was coming into the island and crashed, killing eight crewmen. We had a Major, in his 50's, that had fought in Nicaragua. He would swim around in the lagoon amongst the manta rays, some of them 12 feet across. He would go out for a couple of hours, amongst those manta rays, and sometimes, sharks. He was an amazing guy and a real character. I had one other rather funny experience there. When I was on the 40mm, we had this wooden walkway over the water. One day I looked down and saw this huge Gruper which I thought would make good eating for the crew. I went and got a treble hook and some meat from the mess hall for bait, then rigged it on a heavy rope with a piece of wood for a bobber. I had this tent rope, with a built in loop, looped around my arm. All of the sudden, Bam, and I was jerked into the water which was about four feet deep, which meant I couldn't get any footing. Finally, in a panic, I got the line off my arm and swam back in. A little later the bobber came up and the line was gone. Who knows what had grabbed hold of that bait. That is my only fish story. Later, I sent that in to "Outdoor Life." They didn't print it.

Oakley Osborn:

What caused you to leave Johnston Island, and where did you go?

Melford K. Jarstad:

Actually, my time was up. I did 16 months, some did 21 months. They were trying to stand up the new 5th Marine Division. With my background in 40mm and 3 inch 50's, they sent me to Weapons. Some were coming in from 1st and 2nd Divisions, a lot of corporals and sergeants. Many were veterans of Guadalcanal, including John Basalone who was one of the first WWII Marines to get the Congressional Medal of Honor. He died early in the battle at Iwo. He could have been on a War Bond drive but chose not to. Anyway, I flew from Johnston Island to Honolulu in a PBY. We got into the Honolulu Airport and the strangest thing happened. I heard these strange sounding voices - women and children. These were sounds that I had not heard for 16 months, an unusual sensation. I took a ship back from Hawaii headed for 30 days leave in Bremerton. That was January 1944. I put on my green uniform. It had never been worn, so I looked like a boot coming out of boot camp. At home I found myself in line with food stamps to get a pair of civilian shoes. Those shoes were so stiff that I was limping from wearing them. They were killing me. I was able to get five gallons of gasoline, so we took my girlfriend's car and drove on the peninsula. Around the 25th of February, I joined 5th Marine Division. Not many people had arrived. I was put into a Weapons Company which was eventually about 220 people. One incident I remember - we were doing a rubber raft exercise near Oceanside and President Roosevelt was observing from his car with a couple of other dignitaries.

Oakley Osborn:

How long were you in this training at Pendleton?

Melford K. Jarstad:

We headed to the big island of Hawaii around June or July 1944, so training was about 5 months. I did get liberty, including two trips to San Diego and three or four trips to Los Angeles. I took liberty at every opportunity and met some nice girls. After we returned from Iwo, one girl wrote my commanding officer to ask if I had been killed at Iwo. He came to me and said in no uncertain terms that I should write that girl a letter!

Oakley Osborn:

What was your routine for that training time at Pendleton?

Melford K. Jarstad:

We did a lot of running, rifle, machine gun and some mortar firing, also, a lot of marching in the boondocks. We had exercises with tanks. Of course, I was on a 37mm gun. Each regiment had four 37's, each with about 11 men. There came a day when we were going to fire for a passing grade. They had a target mounted on a railroad flatcar of some sort. It was about 200 or 250 yards out. Corporal Mel Hill talked me into a bet. He fired first. The results came back - 9 out of 10. He said "Beat that, Mel". My results came back 10 out of 10. I was pretty proud of that. Corporal Hill died on Iwo. Even then, I realized that the old 37mm was pretty obsolete, although it had done a good job at Guadalcanal. There, the Japanese would do banzai charges. The 37 was very effective in slaughtering the charging enemy. Iwo Jima was a different environment. I didn't see an enemy soldier in the first 3 days. In fact, it was very demoralizing. They were killing our people; the killed and wounded were going back to the beach in streams, huge losses, but no visible Japanese.

Oakley Osborn:

Stepping back, when you left Pendleton, you went to the big island of Hawaii, near Hilo, for more training. What kind of training did you do?

Melford K. Jarstad:

We fired our 37's. Lots of walking. Camp Tarawa was at 3000 feet elevation and we often walked to the ocean and then rode back.

Oakley Osborn:

When you got ready to go west from Hawaii, did you embark from Honolulu?

Melford K. Jarstad:

We combat loaded at Hilo, then went to Pearl Harbor for departure west.

Oakley Osborn:

What was life like aboard ship when you were in transit to Iwo Jima? How did you keep your wits about you?

Melford K. Jarstad:

The ship was the USS Storm King, APA 171. We were about 23 days enroute and did a dummy landing on Saipan for training. We were just packed in there. We were supposed to have three meals a day, but ended up with about two. We had to stand in line all the time. You would almost get up from breakfast and get right back in the lunch line. I got used to eating breakfast and the evening meal. I would go out and find a place to sleep on deck, even though the sailors didn't want us out there. At the crack of dawn you headed for your bunk because the sailors would hose down the decks. A lot of guys played cards to pass the time. I never was a card player so I read a lot. They tried to keep us in condition with calisthenics, but we were in awful shape by D Day. That is partly why we were so exhausted the first day. They should have pushed us harder aboard ship. Each day there would be separate announcements for Protestant, Catholic and Jewish services. The first day there were only 2 or 3 of us. Every day, more showed. By the last day before arrival in the Iwo area, the service was jam packed. Many of those people had never been to church before. Most people didn't sleep very well. We had salt water showers which I didn't like, so I would fill my helmet out of the scuttlebutt and wash off in the head. I figured if I was going to be killed, I wanted to be clean. When we arrived in the vicinity of Iwo, the battleships, cruisers and destroyers were blasting away. Over 800 ships were there. The day of the invasion, I was awake by 0300. They got us up about 5 to eat - steak and eggs and anything else we wanted -- which Marines usually don't get. We had to get our 37s down into the boat. Since I was the Corporal, it was my job to get down into the boat to position the 37 when it came down. Now this thing was heavy. Swells were heavy that morning so it was no small task to time the lowering of the gun with the rise and fall of the landing craft, but we got it in okay.

Oakley Osborn:

You have your crew aboard and are heading in. Now take us through the landing, etc.

Melford K. Jarstad:

I believe we were the 11th wave. We would do big circles until our time and then spread out abreast and go in. As we circled, they were hauling casualties back out to the ships. The noise from the bombardment and the action ashore was horrific. We got on the beach and tried to get together with the jeep that was supposed to tow the 37. That never happened so the 10 of us manhandled the 37 through the volcanic sand, not knowing what to expect as we moved up. It was definitely a "fog of war". It had all to do with the Corporals and PFC's making up their own mind what they were going to do. (Actually, around the 10th or 11th day, PFC's were running some companies.)

Anyway, we were struggling a foot at a time with shells hitting all around us, wondering what was coming next. As we got up to the second tier of the sand banks, we finally got a jeep hooked onto the 37. By that time the fire was really starting to zero in on us. They didn't know what kind of gun we were, but we were the first guns in, so they were focusing on us. As soon as the tanks came in, we were secondary in terms of firepower. If we could have moved our guns up to higher ground and gained some visibility toward targets we could have done some good, but we didn't make it that far. At that time, we were hunkering down, trying to stay alive.

It is not like you see in the movies. Iwo Jima was inch by inch. At least three mortars would have killed me if we had not been in the volcanic sand. The sand cushioned the blast and localized it. We did not lose anyone in our crew the first day, which was absolutely amazing. On the 3rd or 4th day, I was at this one place where they hauled this Japanese out of a hole with about 6 or 7 holes in him, but he was alive. Four Marines were there waiting for an intelligence specialist to talk to him. It was raining like crazy so I took out my poncho and covered him. I don't know if I saved his life or what happened to him. A reporter once told me that God must have been listening because I made it through.

The interrogator probably didn't get much information from him. About all he could have told them was that there were a lot of tunnels, which we already knew. We just didn't know that there were so many. Estimates were from 16 to 32 miles of tunnels. It turns out that they had been working night and day for the past year putting in all that network. Going back to the wounded soldier, some of the Marines developed an intense hatred for the enemy, and for good reason. We even had one guy who would chip out the gold teeth of the dead. This same fellow came onto a wounded Japanese who was screaming "Banzai, Banzai", so he stood back and shot him in the shoulder, then in the leg.

I told him to finish the poor guy off. His answer was that he hated Japanese. I didn't hate Japanese, maybe I did some, but not like that. He was one strange guy. Another time, he and I were in the same foxhole at night when he said "I think I hear one coming". We called for a flare, and sure enough, a Japanese was on his back trying to crawl under the barbwire in front of us. My foxhole mate fired and shot right through the top of his helmet, killing him instantly. That same night, a hand grenade went off a short way up the hill and blew the arm off one of our infantry.

You can't imagine the nights. We had to stay awake. We would get little bottles of brandy from the corpsmen. You could sip that and get a little jolt. It didn't make you unfit but it helped keep you awake. You can't go to sleep because you foxhole mate is asleep. We used to do that in 2 hour shifts. I got to know the 23rd Psalm pretty well. I would go through it 7 or 8 times. It is supposed to be the soldier's prayer anyway.

Oakley Osborn:

You mentioned earlier an incident with your BAR. What was that?

Melford K. Jarstad:

I had my BAR hung over the edge of the shield, or plate, that we put on the 37. I had a bandolier of 20-round clips lying over the top of the gun. There was an explosion that jolted us back a little bit. I grabbed for the BAR to start firing and found the bandolier web belt was lying on the ground. The incoming had hit one of those 20-round clips and blew up 2 or 3 of them. Another time, 2 or 3 of us were in a hole at night. At night, we were infantrymen, not 37 crewmen. I don't remember if we were ordered up to that forward position, or if we volunteered.

Many years later I talked to True Robbins and he was saying what a dumb bunch we were because we were always volunteering for something. When there was no call for fire from the 37mm, we were available for anything. Many times, we just carried ammo up to the infantry. Clif Osborn, True Robbins and I seemed to always be involved in something. It is surprising that all of us survived.

As an aside, we were taught the first year in the Marine Corps not to volunteer for anything, but I guess we forgot. Anyway, back to the BAR. We were forward in this hole, taking a two-hour shift. I had my BAR over the brow in front of me, ready to fire. It was just getting light and Robbins, lying behind me, stretched himself a little. That brought a burst of Nambu machine gun fire and I found my BAR lying down in front of me. I saw a movement out ahead so I picked up my BAR to fire and saw that the barrel was bent about 30 degrees. As it got lighter, we found that the bullet that bent the barrel was still embedded there - unbelievable, but true. I still had my 45. Later, I picked up another BAR. I loved that weapon and felt naked without it.

Oakley Osborn:

What prompted you three to repeatedly act as infantrymen? Did they come around and ask for volunteers or did you just step in to a need?

Melford K. Jarstad:

From the very first day, we had a lot of sympathy for the infantry. One guy I remember well. We called him Whitey, a really nice guy. We would see him off and on. One day he dropped into our foxhole. He had a smile and I said "Whitey, you look like you are feeling pretty lucky". He said "Yah, but I got to get going, see ya". He had gone about 50 yards and there was a big explosion.

A mine blew him straight up into the air and killed him instantly. His luck had run out. What we did wasn't gung-ho or anything like that. We would be dead tired at night and the infantrymen were going through three times what we did. You would see those guys, bug-eyed, and still doing their duty. We just knew we had to help out. If we were going to be there, we needed to be doing something.

It was just such a nerve-wracking environment. You were on edge constantly, basically terrified. Maybe, we were being foolish. Maybe, we were ordered up front, particularly at night. If you were next to an infantryman at night, and he had any chance at all, he was asleep. The thought of dying bothers some people more than others. I think what helped me more than anything was being a Christian, Lutheran. That is one thing my Dad did do, he kept us going to Sunday school and church.

Oakley Osborn:

When did you actually get into a position where you were firing with the 37mm?

Melford K. Jarstad:

The flag went up on the 4th or 5th day and we still hadn't fired a round. The guys in the 28th next door were blasting away. We were jealous of them, they were shooting at something. They were closer to Suribachi so they had a target. They could pick out little holes in there where there might be a gun and blasted away.

The machine gunners were firing constantly at those holes. They had empty brass stacked around them. Everybody was frustrated because there were no Japanese to be seen. If one was killed he would be dragged back into his hole. Around the 5th day we were told to line up with the infantry over this sulphur hole which was about 125-150 feet across and maybe 75 feet deep. You could see tunnels coming up into this hole and also trails along the edges. We were set up on the edge to cover the trails. I had canister loaded in the 37 because we were still figuring on banzai charges.

The 37's had done a good job at Guadalcanal and Saipan this way. Every Marine Corps division had a Weapons Company with 37mm's. Each company had four guns. So the 28th next to Suribachi had four, we in the 27th had four, and the 26th north of us had four.

Oakley Osborn:

As a corporal, were you in charge of that gun?

Melford K. Jarstad:

I had a sergeant, Donald E. Stanton. It was my gun. I had it set up where I wanted it. You could only swing that gun 38 degrees. I had a loader, Villagas (Joseph A. Villagas), a fine loader, very fast. That was one of the reasons we won that contest back at Pendleton that I was telling you about. Anyway, we were set up that night, and rotating watch every two hours. We were under constant heavy fire - mortars and shelling. All the time you are thinking you are never going to see daylight. So it was just getting light and four Japanese came into view carrying rifles. I thought, I'm finally going to get to fire.

I had HE (high explosive) loaded. I took aim at one and missed him. Before we could reload, the machine guns had killed all of them. That was our first shot with the 37mm and it's the 5th day. Going back to the first day, the engineers were trying to clear mines for a pathway for the tanks. They had dug up three big mines which were off to the side. This tank comes up the cleared strip, and all of the sudden, turns left, heading right toward where the mines were laying. I started hollering but knowing the tanker couldn't hear me. I dived for a shell hole as the tank hit one of the mines and went over.

A couple of the crew got out but the others were killed. They hadn't been ashore ten minutes. They must have turned to get into firing position toward Suribachi because they were within range of that area. During that time the infantry wasn't asking for 37mm support. They were just trying to get through to their objective on the west beach without getting killed. It was important to get across and thus cut Suribachi off from the rest of the island.

They, in fact, made their objective the first day. That was amazing considering the tremendous constant fire we were under. I didn't realize until days later that they had cut through that quickly. I don't know how any of us lived with all the fire raining in. They were using every kind of weapon. The Nambu machine gun had its own distinctive sound and was very effective.

Oakley Osborn:

Who was your senior non-com and who was your company commander?

Melford K. Jarstad:

The company commander was a Colonel. I don't remember his name but he was badly injured the second or third day. He seemed like an old man and probably was in his 40's. Major General Rockey was our division commander. Of course, I didn't have much to do with him but I would see him in his hole once in a while just like anybody else. Sometimes you would wonder what he was asking us to do. My senior non-com was Sandy McLeod, a very nice guy. He had joined the Marine Corps before the war. We had a Staff Sergeant by the name of Villagas, a good looking Mexican-American. Both of them made it through the battle. The infantry weren't so lucky. The original members of the infantry companies were lasting 7 or 8 days. Some of the replacements didn't last more than a day. Company commanders weren't lasting very long. It got to where a PFC may be commanding a company temporarily.

Oakley Osborn:

When were you aware that the flag had gone up on Suribachi?

Melford K. Jarstad:

The ships were blowing their horns. We looked up and there she was. All the ships off shore were blasting away on their horns. From our position you could barely see the guys around the flag. "Howlin Mad" (General Smith) had told us we were going to be done in four days. It was the fifth day before the flag went up. We still had 31 days left. When we saw that flag, it was wonderful. Everyone had goosebumps. They weren't going to push us off that island. Apparently there was still some doubt at higher levels but we never had any doubt. We still hadn't had any banzai charges, they were still hunkered down inside. The dying and wounding continued.

The infantry would get an order to take a gun emplacement or a location. Up they would go. A guy might get three steps and be dead. The next guy might make it. Some had satchel charges, some a Bangalore torpedo, others had flamethrowers, but most were using the M-l. It is hard to describe how frustrated you are. It's not like John Wayne charging around. It is inch by inch. You might get 200 yards in a day and have to move back a hundred yards. The first 15 or 16 days there were so many people being injured and killed. This one day I was getting some 37mm firing in. There was a guy shooting at us from above. He was about 75 yards away and above us about 35 feet. His bullets were banging off the 37 shield.

A tank was coming, so I waited until there was a little bit of a lull. As the tank went by, I went over and got on the tank phone and told him this guy was hitting us all the time and we couldn't move. He asked where he was. I told him and he put a shot up there. On the second shot the cave was gone. We went a little further that time and there was a hole. A dead Marine was kneeling down toward the hole. He had knelt down there and they shot him from within the hole. I threw a hand grenade down the hole. As an aside, there were a lot of cases during the battle where people would come out of supposedly neutralized, sealed caves and shoot Marines in the back.

Anyway, a little while later, we went by this place that was kind of freshly dug with an arm sticking up here and a knee sticking up there. Turns out it was their graveyard, a macabre sight. There might have been 200 there. They had done it at night and didn't do a very good job. It smelled awful. The whole island smelled and it wasn't just sulphur, it was rotten flesh. Every time you went near a destroyed pillbox, it just reeked. They would drag their wounded into the tunnels and leave them there among the dead. Can you imagine being in that situation? They had some terrible deaths on Iwo too.

As the battle developed, 75mm guns got into action to support the infantry, and eventually, 105mm. Our 37mm was called an anti-tank gun, but they had all their tanks buried. By about the 12th day, our artillery was really working. First thing in the morning, the artillery would open up on the targets ahead of the infantry. We could see, and hear, the shells going over on their way to the target. Sometimes they were short. I saw shells land in our infantry. Our guns would shell for 30 minutes, or thereabouts. The Japanese would stay back in their holes until it was over and then move up and get ready for the Marine infantry to show themselves.

The day's advance was often measured in yards. Then we had to get ready for night. One reason the Japanese went out at night was to find water, as well as our K-Rations and C-Rations. They even stole uniforms off dead Marines. If we didn't get our dead Marines off the field during the day, they were going to be stripped, especially of water. I would have hated to have been a Japanese in those tunnels without water. I never went into one of those caves.

Oakley Osborn:

What did the entrances to the caves look like? Were they in the side hill?

Melford K. Jarstad:

Anyplace they could find that was hard to see. You never knew where they would be. Some days they would call for our fire. We would hook onto the 37 with the Jeep and try to move in the tank tracks. We kept to those tracks and didn't wander off them. One time we got to this spot and there was a tank on its side and another one that was blasted to bits from a direct hit. As we approached, there was a 4X4 truck on the right. Colonel Butler and three others were dead in the 4X4. It really shook us up and made us very apprehensive.

Up ahead about 200 yards we could see a huge gun behind sandbags. We set up the 37 to fire, but when I sighted there was a boulder in the way. Don Stanton ran out and started trying to move the boulder when a machine gun opened up on him. Fire was hitting all around him. He continued to push and finally moved it. He got the Bronze Star for that effort. I then started firing the 37. The first shot firmed up the supports. From then on the shots were falling right in. That was the end of that gun.

We heard later it was a 7.7 inch gun. All underneath the gun were caves full of ammo. We kept firing toward the caves until the gun was so hot we had to stop. The infantry counted over 100 bodies around the area of the gun. I think we got at least 15 caves that day. That one day in about 4 hours, the 37 paid for itself. During this whole thing, a machine gun was firing at us. The bullets were bouncing off our shield. During a lull in firing the 37, I was shooting back at him with my BAR. As I triggered off one burst of three rounds, a Marine got up in front of me and got hit by a round. I laid down the BAR and looked for the corpsman. He wasn't around so I ran out there.

Bullets were kicking up all around. The corpsman came and patched him up. The bullet had hit his arm and come out just short of his spine. Fortunately, it was an armor piercing round so it didn't spread out. We drug him back to cover and got the medics up. The next day, I went back to the medical area and found out he was a Lieutenant who had only been in battle a couple of days. They told me he was going to be okay. I felt awful and blamed myself. I hadn't been shaking much up to that time but then I was shaking.

We had a Warrant Officer, Gunner Looney who was kind of a lone wolf. He had come up to our area and was carrying a sniper's rifle. He was picking off guys from quite a range. It was starting to rain and I was cold. Gunner Looney took off his coat and told me to put it on. He was trying to settle me down. Shortly after, he got killed. So who am I going to give the coat back to? I had that coat for years. I really admired that guy. He was a typical Marine with about 12 years in the Corps.

Don Stanton, who got the bronze star, was also a terrific guy. He was married and had a couple of years of college. There was supposed to have been a letter of recommendation for medals for our action that day, but nothing ever came of it. There were all kinds of guys who were recommended for medals that didn't materialize for one reason or another. That night we came off the line and another gun crew went up. That was really the last firing we did.

Around the 15th day, I got to go back and get a shower. The Seabees had somehow piped hot water into a makeshift set of overhead pipes. The water was really too hot, so you couldn't stand under it, but after a fashion you could get reasonably clean, which was wonderful. Two weeks of grime and what-all, along with daily bodily functions, made you pretty dirty. One of the problems of going to war is that you have to go to the bathroom.

After I got cleaned up, I walked down to the grave area. Over to the side was a new row being excavated. About 50 feet away was a row of dead Marines waiting to be buried. The row was about 25 feet long and stacked 4 feet high. All you could see was their boots hanging out. It was the most sobering thing I ever experienced. I asked myself "why am I not there". I realized how lucky I was, yet I had to face going back up.

The next to last day, the 34th day, after we left Kitano Point, four of us volunteered as infantry. We came onto a place where there was a smashed, trough kind of structure where they had apparently launched the large rocket propelled mortars. We could hear the Japanese digging down over the cliff. We started throwing hand grenades over the edge and could tell we were wounding or killing some. We threw a lot of grenades. We even had guys bringing up hand grenades to us. That was about all we could use against them. I did have my BAR but we couldn't see them so it was no good. They were apparently trying to dig into the cliff sides.

Pretty soon, two of them came up the trail and went behind a rock. We tossed grenades, and after as short time, I foolishly went down there. They were both dead. That is where I got a Japanese money belt and flag. Then, I looked to the right, where they were headed, and there were two steel doors. They were about 10 feet high and 5 feet wide. About that time I realized how foolish I was to be down there trying to get souvenirs, so I decided to get out of there. We moved back a ways, but the four of us were exhausted, so we lay down.

We were really all "walking zombies" by that time in the battle. Lacy immediately went to sleep. About that time, a grenade came flying up over from where we had been throwing at these guys. I didn't even think about falling on it. I picked it up and tossed it back. I jokingly told Lacey later that I had saved his life. By this time we were very callous and punchy. We all dived into a foxhole and prepared for more fire from these guys. We didn't know if there were two or 100. Then we begin to hear "thunk, thunk, thunk" coming from this cave-like place with the steel doors. We probably heard 20 "thunks". Then we realized that it was hand grenades going off - they were killing themselves.

I still think it may have been General Kuribayashi's headquarters. The two guys that we killed had been headed for those steel doors and never made it. That was the 34th day. I don't know if anyone ever went in that cave. Someone probably did, eventually.

We pulled back that day before dark. We were told to go to the beach, that the island was secured. I told them there were still Japanese out there but I sure didn't want to go back any more. They sent us down to the beach and the ship was there. They told us we were going to have to stay on the beach that night, and to turn in our ammo. I questioned the wisdom of that order so I kept my M-l and 8 rounds of ammo. I could have been court-martialed for that. In the middle of the night a terrible ruckus started -- yelling, firing, machine guns. Here we were with practically no ammo. Later we got the gist of it.

There were P-61 night fighters there, the latest planes. The pilots were in tents about 400 yards up toward the airport. About 260 Japanese, on an independent banzai attack, snuck into the tents and killed many of them. We didn't know what to do. If we had gone up there, our own forces would have shot us, for one thing. It was just mass confusion. We kept waiting for word on what we were going to do. I had 8 rounds, the rest of the guys didn't have any. The next day there were 265 Japanese dead and we lost close to 60 pilots and marines. What a relief it was to finally go aboard ship.

Oakley Osborn:

What would you say was the worst part of the whole ordeal?

Melford K. Jarstad:

The nights were always the worst. Then, early morning, starting with 30 minutes of 105mm and 155mm bombardment, and the infantry had to move forward. It was not a good way to start the day.

Oakley Osborn:

Who were your heroes?

Melford K. Jarstad:

Most of the heroes, again, are the infantry. Our corpsman, Johnson, time and time again, exposed himself to get to a wounded man. After a while he got the shakes but he wouldn't quit. He just kept going. I don't know how he did it. We had a guy by the name of Teal, a little older than most of us, maybe 25. He had a 4X4 truck. They converted it to a makeshift stretcher carrier. He constantly went back and forth carrying wounded, going into heavy fire area. He got the Silver Star. He should have received three of them. I never saw a guy so steady. It didn't seem to bother him a bit. Then we had a couple of guys that we called feather merchants, little guys. During training, everyone thought they wouldn't make it. Not so. They did amazing things that I would have never thought of doing. I admired our company commander, LT Clark. He was a married man, older. It seemed like he knew that he was going to get through. Midway through the battle, they sent him up to take over an infantry company.

Oakley Osborn:

What were your thoughts as you came down to the beach and saw that you were finally going to go aboard that ship and leave Iwo Jima?

Melford K. Jarstad:

It is very hard to describe, let me tell you that. I got aboard that ship and thought - why am I alive. All that horrendous number of dead and wounded, and here I am. No way to describe the feeling and the thoughts. I have answered that question before by saying that when we approached Iwo for the landings we were packed aboard like sardines, when we left, we had all the room in the world. One thought on my mind was -- what is going to happen next. The answer was, the invasion of Japan. Some of the Japanese shot 5 or 6 Marines. I met one in a Japanese coal mining town during the occupation. He claimed, through an interpreter, that he killed 17 Marines in various battles. Maybe so, maybe not. I got back to the big island of Hawaii, Camp Tarawa and went looking for friends I had met there. They were sugar plantation owners by the name of Smith. They had come to Hawaii from Scotland. They had this huge plantation house with porches all around. They were wonderful. They put me in a bedroom up above, a bed with sheets. It was the best deal I ever had in my life up to that time. The three of us ate at this long table, with servants bringing the food and wine. I felt out of place, being a kid from Bremerton. After dinner they invited me out on the porch. He waved his hand and his Hawaiian workers came up to entertain us. It was absolute heaven sleeping in that bed with sheets and a cool ocean breeze through the room. They even invited me to go on a mule trip around the island, but it didn't quite pan out. They were wonderful people.

Oakley Osborn:

How long were you at Camp Tarawa before you embarked for the trip to Japan?

Melford K. Jarstad:

It took about 21 days to Camp Tarawa (Oahu) from Iwo. We kind of went into vacation time. They already knew that we were going to Japan. They made arrangements for us to go to Oahu to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. That was a big deal - real rest and recreation. We were there for seven days. I guess we were at Camp Tarawa about 47 days before heading west.

Oakley Osborn:

Let's go to the occupation duty at Sasebo now. How did that go and how long were you there?

Melford K. Jarstad:

We were combat loaded at Hilo, ready to head to Japan, when they dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and later Nagasaki. Eventually we sailed for Sasebo. I didn't want to go to Japan on occupation duty. I told them I wanted to go home because I had 105 points, more than enough. They said I was going to Japan. As it turned out, it was a good experience. Being a conquering hero in Japan was something else. When we arrived, the Navy Yard and the area were badly damaged. There were lots of big rats, about the size of a rabbit, running around. Stanton told me to take two men up a particular street of the town which was pretty well leveled. The Japanese men, about 200 (no women were in sight), were lined up and all bowed as we went by. Of course, we had our M-1's fully loaded because we didn't know what would happen. That was a great feeling with all those Japanese men bowing as we walked about a mile through the town. The women started showing up about 2 or 3 days later. They had been told we weren't going to treat them very well. I was there 31 days. During that time I got two liberties. Once, they sent three of us out to a coal mining town. There, we found all these Japanese military coming home with their uniforms on. The building we took to sleep in had mats for floors and we put our cots on the mats. This did not set well with the locals. The weather was cold so they brought in a charcoal heater. About 2 a.m., a man started to open the door which brought us to full alert. We had no idea what we were dealing with. It turns out that he was bringing us another charcoal burner. That gave us some confidence that there wouldn't be any trouble. At Sasebo, we had taken over a three story Marine barracks. The plumbing didn't work so we set up about six outside latrines, which the locals used as a source of fertilizer for their fields. Young girls would go down into these cisterns and scoop out the human waste. All these habits were very foreign to us. We didn't dare eat too much for fear of getting dysentery.

Oakley Osborn:

You soon got your ticket home?

Melford K. Jarstad:

Yes, I was there 31 days. I went home on the second ship out. I was pretty disgusted because I had more points than some guys on the first ship. We landed at Treasure Island. I went under the Golden Gate twice, once from Johnston Island and once from Japan. I couldn't help but think of all the guys who didn't come home. It didn't take long to get released. They got rid of us in nothing flat. I got out December 1, 1945 and caught a train to Bremerton. There was no band and no parade. The war had been long over. All we were doing was coming back and maybe taking someone's job. But I am grateful to my country. They gave me the GI Bill for one thing. I went through my apprenticeship on the GI Bill. I regret not going to college, but I had to get my high school diploma. I wanted to play basketball for the University of Washington but wasn't sure I could get in. That was probably the biggest mistake of my life.

Oakley Osborn:

You retired from the Bremerton Naval Shipyard?

Melford K. Jarstad:

Yes, I took my apprenticeship in 1948 and graduated in 1952. I had no inkling I was smart. I thought I was dumb.

Oakley Osborn:

How do you think your involvement in the battle of Iwo Jima has affected your life? Has that experience been a part of you every day since?

Melford K. Jarstad:

Oh, yes, nearly every day. I get up every morning, open the drapes, and thank God. It certainly re-affirmed my faith in God. I am a very lucky man to be here at age 81. Addendum A fellow Marine in Mel Jarstad's unit, PFC Clifton E. Osborn, scribbled short notes at the end of nearly every day of the battle. When he returned to the ship for departure from Iwo Jima, he expanded his notes into a diary of his battle experience. Mel Jarstad is mentioned six times in that diary; three times for extreme bravery. Note: PFC Osborn's diary is on file at the U. S. Marine Corps Historical Center.

 
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