The Day I Learned The Meaning Of Courage
From The Colonel And The Gunny
The two bravest Marines I saw on Iwo Jima black sand beaches were Colonel Louis C. Plain and Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone. I don't know this for a true fact, but to the best of my knowledge; the Col. and the Gunny came in on the third wave Basilone was the boat leader in Platoon Leader Second Lieutenant Roy Johnson's LST (Landing Vehicle Tracked) In a private conversation with Lt. Johnson, while sailing from Spain to Iwo Jima aboard LST 10 Landing Ship Tank Basilone told Johnson, he intended to win a Second Medal of Honor. This doesn't sound like John Basilone talking.
This short watery trip to the shores of Iwo Jima was through the courtesy of the 11th Amphibious Tractor Battalion. I do know for a true fact, that when I looked back at the beach. The only marines I saw standing upright and walking were the Col. and the Gunny. Col. Plain was the executive Officer of the 27th Marines. Manila John was the Gunnery Sergeant for C-Company 1st Bn 27th Marines.
I Was surprised to see an officer of Col. Plain's rank on an early wave. It was a good thing he was on that wave. The situation on the beach was becoming confused, near pandemonium ruled the black sand of Iwo Jima. The invasion was stalled and we hadn't made two hundred yards.
The wily Japanese General, Tudinichi Kuribayashi had given the order to commence firing, and the Japanese shells were hitting the beaches in an ever increasing volleys creating a firestorm of hell on earth. The main activity, I was engaged in along with 9000 other marines was an attempt to dig my way to China as fast as my hand would let me. I had to use my hands because my entrnching tool was strapped to the back of my pack and I couldn't get to it.
Now, what the Col. and the Gunny did was get the invasion underway by leading the way. I don't know why I remember this so clearly fifty-four years plus after the battle for Iwo Jima. Col. Plain's uniform was standard issue marine green dungarees like all marines were wearing, but with a difference. His dungarees had the look that only come from a naval officer's laundry. The crease in the legs of the trousers was as sharp as a K-bar knife. His dungaree blouse had a crease that split the pockets, perfectly in the center. His weapons included, a map case, officer's field glasses. A standard issue 45 caliber pistol was strapped to his cartage belt cartrige belt, along with a canteen, gas mask and a first aid kit.
Gunny Basilone had a habit of not buckling his helmet strap and sure enough he didn't have it buckled of the Black Sands of Iwo Jima. In fact he had it at the same jaunty angle he always wore it. Pushed to the back of his head. I could see his coal black hair and his ears. I wouldn't say he had real big ears, but they were the same size as the movie actor Clark Gable's. In his right hand he had a .30 caliber carbine. A light pack and some hand grenades hooked to his shoulder straps. On his cartrige belt, he had his canteen, gas mask, first aid kit, Ka-bar and a web magazine for extra ammo for his carbine.
The most important thing these two marines brought to the beach was their courage and leadership in combat. The fighting know-how and on hand experience that only comes from having been in combat and undergoing the heat of battle. Almost singled handed or double handed, if you will, the Col. and the Gunny got the invasion under way by extolling the men to get their ass's moving, and then kicked a few to accomplish this. It was by their example of courage under fire that inspired the marines to quit digging in on the beach and start the attack. The black sand beaches were a death trap and the Col. and Gunny knew it. They knew they had to get the early waves moving inland to make room for the succeeding waves, timed to arrive in three-minute intervals.
As the beaches became more congested, the better target we made for the Japanese gunners, now pouring a steady stream of lead and steel on the marines stuck in the black sand beaches of Iwo Jima. The black sands were turning red with the lifeblood of The Marines of the Fifth Amphibious Corps.
Gunny Basilone took charge of our group. Col. Plain took charge of a second group. The attack to capture Motoyama Airfield #1 was underway. The first objective of the Iwo Jima invasion. On the way to take the airport, Gunnery Sergeant Manila John Basilone heroic actions on the beach was recognized by his grateful country with the award of a Navy Cross to go with his Medal of Honor he received for his actions at Guadalcanal in October 1942. Basilone was the only enlisted marine to receive the nations two highest Decorations. Basilone's award for the Navy Cross was posthumous. The guns of Iwo Jima had claimed the life of one of America's heroes.
Col. Louis C. Plain was awarded a Silver Star by our government. The Japanese Government's army gave him a wound in the arm. The Colonel wouldn't allow himself to be evacuated until hea had written a battle field report in his officers message book that was in the starched dungaree pocket. Except for the blood on the sleeve of his dungarees it was still parade ground fresh. He was back aboard ship for evening mess.
The battle on Iwo Jima was short lived for the Col. and the Gunny. Full credit must go to the two valiant marines for their courageous leadership on the sands of Iwo Jima.
Col. Plain's reputation proceeded him, before coming on board the 27th Marines as Col. Worham's Executive Officer. Col. Plain had played a major role in the invasion of North Africa in November of 1942. On loan to the United States Army, he acted as an advisor on the amphibious phase of the operations. Advisor or not when the lead started flying Plain went into action.
According to a newspaper article written in August of 1942, Dateline Washington D.C. and a letter of commendation he received from Lt. General Thomas E. Holcomb, Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, Colonel Plain was a one-man task force. Second in Command of a naval assault party charged with the responsibility of assaulting the harbor at Arzew, Algiers on November 8th, 1942, the Colonel and the assault team he was attached to entered the harbor at Arzew aboard naval landing craft. This was in the wake of the main assault. Colonel Plain and his team endured heavy enemy fire from positions of the shore. Along the way the Colonel and his men captured three French merchant vessels and one enemy Patrol boat. Col. Plain then assisted in consolidating the port at Arzew, and opening it for operations.
The letter of commendation went on to state that "Col. Plain was quick to take independent action and was calm and effect under fire." General Holcomb's letter of commendation ends as follows:
"The efficiency, courage and initiative which you displayed, as second in command were outstanding and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Marine Corps"
General Ike or someone in the United States Army must have liked the cut of Col. Plain's jib. He was asked to server as a Marine Corps observer in England prior to the Invasion of France. He also took an active part in the channel crossing that eventually led to the defeat of Germany.
Col. Plain endedthirty-two years in the Marines with his retirement in April of 1957. A career that began in 1925, when he enlisted as a private in the Marine Corps. After serving three years as an enlisted man he was commissioned from the ranks. He was discharged on February 3rd, 1928 and the next day was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.
In his thirty-two year career of distinguished service, Plain saw and did it all. He served at duty stations and post, domestic and foreign throughout the Marine Corps. Time did something his countries enemies couldn't do. He died on February 20th, 1983 thirty-eight years and one day after the invasion of Iwo Jima.
His last post was, Chief of Staff, Headquarters, San Francisco, Department of the Pacific. Upon his retirement, in 1957, Col. Louis C. Plain was promoted to Brigadier General United States Marine Corps. A career that spanned thirty-two years, from enlisted man to General.
More than fifty-five years have passed, since I learned the true meaning of courage on the Black and Bloody Sands of Iwo Jima, from the Colonel and the Gunny.
B-1-27th 5th MarDiv
Feb 19, 1945