Bill Jordan and Dick Boos were Marine Corps buddies. Jordan was a “DUKW,” landing craft, driver and Boos a medic.
Jordan survived World War II. Boos didn’t. He fell in the black, volcanic sand of Iwo Jima, six months before the end of WWII. He was 19.
Fifty-five years after his friend was killed by a Japanese sniper on that speck of an island in the Pacific, Jordan, who spends his winters in Englewood, Fla. from Pittsfield, Mass., was given a small vial of coarse, black Iwo Jima sand during a reunion commemorating the battle. The ceremony was held recently at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“I thought it would be nice if I could get another vial of black sand from Iwo Jima to give to Dick’s sister, Chris, who lives up north,” Jordan said. “I approached Maj. Gen. Fred Haynes.”
Haynes had served with the 28th Regiment of the 5th Marine Division during WWII. The 28th Regiment was the outfit that raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi.
“I told the general about Dick getting killed on Iwo Jima while serving in the 4th Marine Division. I asked the general if he had another vial of sand I could give Dick’s sister,” Jordan said. “Gen. Haynes turned to the table he had been sitting at, reached down and picked up a vial of black sand at his place and handed it to me.”
“You can have mine,” the general said. Written on the vial is: “The Black Sands of Iwo Jima.”
Like millions of other teen-age boys a half-century ago, Jordan enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1943. He had just turned 18 when he arrived at boot camp.
Jordan recalled his basic training with a chuckle: “They told us at camp, ‘This is a rifle. You put the ammunition in there, you point it this way, and when we say ‘go, you go.’ ”
Eight weeks later, he graduated from boot camp and was shipped to the Pacific Theater.
By the time Jordan’s outfit reached Hawaii, he had been classified as a “deadhead.” The young recruit was branded an “antagonistic individual,” he said.
Jordan’s wayward ways earned him three months KP duty and a transfer to a “DUKW” landing craft unit. Originally, he was assigned to a heavy machine gun squad.
“My transfer probably saved my butt,” he said. “Most of the guys I was with in the machine gun squad were killed on Iwo.”
Shortly after Christmas 1944 he and his “DUKW” unit were put aboard an LST (Landing Ship Tank) that steamed out of Hawaii, along with scores of other fighting ships. Along the way the fleet rendezvoused at Saipan, another Pacific island captured from the Japanese.
Forty-five days after sailing into a Hawaiian sunset, the fleet dropped anchor off Iwo Jima. Already, heavy guns from a bevy of battleships, cruisers and lesser vessels were pounding every inch of the 2 1/2-mile-wide by 5-mile-long island. In addition, our planes blanketed the little patch of sand with tons of bombs.
“We thought, ‘Nobody could survive all the bombarding.’ How wrong we were,” Jordan recalled. “The Japanese were all underground in tunnels and caves.”
The first waves of Marines hit the beaches of Iwo Jima at 9 a.m. on Feb. 19, 1945. They were part of one of the largest forces of Marines ever committed to a single battle.
Jordan and his fellow “DUKW” drivers came in a short time later bringing 105 mm howitzers aboard the ungainly-looking, amphibious contraptions. A “DUKW” is an open steel box with a blunt nose powered by a propeller while afloat, but it also has soft balloon tires to negotiate soft sand while on land.
“My primary job was to bring the artillery ashore,” he said. “We brought the 105s in and then we started taking the casualties from the island to the hospital ship anchored off shore.
“Being young and inexperienced, we were scared. Everybody was scared,” Jordan said.
Scared or not, he and his fellow “DUKW” drivers did their job.
Within the first few hours, the Marines gained a toehold. They fought their way to the edge of the southernmost airstrip on the island.
Some 30,000 U.S. troops were ashore between D-Day and nightfall of the first day. They were all crammed into the area between Suribachi and the cliffs to the north.
“The Japanese were on both sides of us,” Jordan said. “The enemy was on top of Suribachi and could look down the beach and call in artillery fire on us. They were also in the cliffs to the north of us.”
Five days after the Marines charged ashore, the first American flag flew over the island’s 560-foot volcano. This was a smaller flag than the one immortalized by Joe Rosenthal, the Associated Press photographer who captured the Pulitzer Prize-winning picture of the six Marines raising the replacement flag over Suribachi later the same day.
The 2nd Battalion 28th Regiment, 5th Marine Division lost 895 men killed and wounded in those first five days before the flag flew atop Iwo Jima’s highest hill.
The day Jordan remembers most clearly during the weeks he was on Iwo Jima was not the famous flag-raising, but the trip he made to the ammunition dump. He had been ordered to load his “DUKW” with captured enemy ammunition and dump it at sea.
“On the way over to the dump, I passed by row after row of dead Marines lying on the ground rotting in the sun,” he said. “Many had been horribly killed.
“Then I saw this blond kid in a Marine uniform who looked like he was just lying there sleeping. All that seemed wrong with him was that he had this small red spot oozing blood right in the center of him. The kid looked like he shouldn’t have been there. I’ll never forget it.”
It took the U.S. Marines 36 days to win the battle. By that time, Iwo Jima had become one of the costliest engagement in the Marine Corps’ 225-year history.
Jordan survived the island holocaust without a scratch. That was his one and only battle.
“After Iwo Jima, we sailed back to Hawaii and were given all new equipment for the invasion of the Japanese main islands. We were being loaded aboard the ships for the invasions when they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima,” he said. “That saved our butts.
“They figured there would have been more than two million casualties between the Japanese and us if we had invaded. They knew we were coming, and they were waiting to hit our fleet with waves of kamikaze planes and boats.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh, we shouldn’t have dropped the bomb.’ Like hell. If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”
The Iwo Jima pictures shown with this story were taken by Sgt. Lou Lowery and provided by Dick Honyak. Click here to view more images of Iwo Jima taken by Lou Lowery.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Feb. 28, 2000 and is republished with permission.
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Englewood, Fla. Iwo Jima veteran Bill Jordan dies
William A Jordan, 88, of Broadway St., Pittsfield, Mass., passed away at Berkshire Medical Center on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013. He was born in Pittsfield on July 21, 1925, son of William A. and Lena Nadon Jordan.
He attended Tucker School and graduated from Pittsfield High School. After high school, he served in the US Marine Corps, 5th Marine Division, 28th Regiment, in WWII from 1943 to 1946, participating in the Battle of Iwo Jima. The 28th Regiment raised the American flag on Mt Suribachi in 1945. When asked later if he had participated in raising the flag, he wrote that he had “just watched it go up from a fox hole.” He also served in the Korean War from 1950 to 1951. Following the war, he made his career at GE in Pittsfield as a Powerplant 3rd Class Engineer, retiring in 1988.
Mr. Jordan attended the St Helenas Episcopal Church in Lenox and later the St Lukes Episcopal Church, Lanesboro.
Mr. Jordan was a member, Scottish Rite 32nd Degree, of the Occidental Lodge of Masons, Stockbridge, the Ralph Froio Senior Center in Pittsfield, the Berkshire County Underwater Scuba & Rescue Team, the Lenox Volunteer Fire Department, the GE Quarter Century Club, the Marine Veterans of WWII at Iwo Jima and the Marine Veterans of the Korean War. He was also Honorary Magistrate of Tombstone, Airz.
He was formally married to Theresa Wojtkowski, now living in Stuart, Fla. He is survived by stepson Robert Hunt, sons Michael Jordan, of Stuart, Fla, Jeffrey Jordan, of Hancock, Mass., Phillip Jordan, of Pittsfield, daughters, Cynthia Trahan, of Rocky Hill, Ct., Vanessa Jordan, of Pittsfield, and a sister, Dorothy Clark, of Englewood, Fla. He is also survived by 12 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.
Funeral Notice: Funeral services for William A ‘Bill’ Jordan will be held at WELLINGTON FUNERAL HOME, Pittsfield, Mass., at 11 AM, Wednesday, Oct. 23. Burial will follow in New Ashford Village Cemetery, New Ashford, Mass., with Military Honors. Family visitation will be from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the funeral home. Wellington Funeral Home, 220 East St., Pittsfield, Mass. is in charge of arrangements.