Sixty-eight years ago, Kermit Davis was a strapping youth, 5-foot-10 and 145 pounds. Drafted as an 18-year-old high school senior, Uncle Sam deferred his induction until June.
A few days after graduation he reported for duty at the processing center where he encountered three lines — one for the Navy, one for the Army and one for the Marines. Because Kermit wanted to be in the Navy with his older brother, he stepped into the Navy line, but immediately a Marine sergeant sizing up his natural confidence and athleticism redirected him to the Marine line.
A few minutes later he sneaked back into the Navy line only to be ushered once again to the Marine line where this time the sergeant stayed with him until his paperwork was completed.
That was the beginning, June 1944. After six weeks of basic training at Paris Island and a few more at Camp Pendleton, Kermit and a thousand other boys shipped to the Pacific, landing on Guam as replacements for the 3rd Division.
By the time he arrived in Guam, the Americans had secured the island. The bloody fighting was over. Obata had committed ritual suicide. Yet on other islands the war continued to rage.
In early February he and his fellow war-weary I Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Regiment Marines boarded the Leedstown — destination Iwo Jima. Kermit had never heard of it. The generals expected Iwo to fall within three days. Kermit arrived on Day 3 and fought until the end of what became a brutal, 32-day campaign.
He remembers lining up at the perimeter of Airfield No. 2, hearing his officer blow a whistle and running for his life across the exposed space as artillery and mortar rained down from the skies and his friends fell.
He remembers his perverse relief during frenzied banzai attacks when the Japanese ran out of their caves and tunnels: “At least you could see them!”
He remembers the night the General ordered them to move out of their foxholes. “Where are we going?” he asked. “Just follow the guy in front of you.”
Thinking they were going to the rear for a rest, at daybreak they were horrified to discover during the darkness they had passed through Japanese lines and were now surrounded by a tank regiment — trapped in what became known as Cushman’s Pocket.
He remembers fighting uphill, always uphill on the poxed moonscape against a foe eager to die for an emperor god.
He remembers freezing rain, volcanic sands hot enough to warm his buried can of C rations, the stench of sulfur and bodies, the sinister feeling of not knowing whether your enemy was in front of you or below you.
He remembers lying on the ground with his gun, watching and then cheering as the flag was raised on Mount Suribachi, never comprehending the significance of the scene until much later when he saw a copy of Time magazine.
And then it was over. The 20-year-old soldier returned to the shores of liberty with shrapnel wounds, a bottle of black sand and the knowledge that only by the divine Hand of Providence was he spared.
Now he was home. Finally home. The most beautiful word in the English language: home!
Like so many others of the Greatest Generation, without adulation, Kermit Davis resumed his civilian life – completed college, married his sweetheart, raised a family, taught history, coached football.
“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” (President Harry Truman)
Beginning with 252 men in I Company, Kermit was one of only 16 who remained almost unharmed after the Iwo campaign.