My search for a veteran of Iwo Jima led me to US Marine, Lawrence F Kirby: wounded and decorated through amphibious assaults of Bougainville, Guam and Iwo Jima. In the year since his signing, I have corresponded frequently with this master orator, doting husband, loving father and gracious humerus gentleman. I am honored to consider him a friend.
Just 20 years old, Kirby was the second in command platoon sergeant of 49 Marines who went ashore at Iwo Jima. His platoon leader was a 23 year old 2nd lieutenant. “Every other man in the platoon was between 17 and 19, WWII was a young man’s war” Kirby said.
Kirby endured a harrowing 36 hour experience during which Easy and Fox Companies were decimated while taking Hill 362C (Cushman’s pocket) on Iwo Jima. His book “Stories from the Pacific” is a compelling read for anyone wishing to understand the horror of Iwo Jima, the events at Cushman’s Pocket as well as his other Pacific campaigns.
Author of the book “Serving our County” Tim Stanley – Tulsa World described most wanting to do “the interview of the warrior who didn’t come home…because to a man and woman, every interviewee made it a point to mention him.” The Log Book journey mirrors Stanley’s experience.
Kirby’s compelling remarks at a USMC Birthday event on 10 November 2018 crystallize this sentiment profoundly:
“The lesson I learned from war was the true meaning of Love. The young men with whom I served loved one another. Not the kind of love that is described with such facility in books and movies but a pure, genuine love based on affection, respect, understanding, honor and commonality of purpose.Larry Kirby at USMC Birthday event on 10 November 2018
Close to 7000 Marines were killed in the battle of Iwo Jima. Of that number 22 were friends of mime. I remember each one of them and I visit then in my mind every single day. I have done this every day since I left Iwo Jima. At some time, usually in the morning, I see each boys face, one at a time, like swiping photos on my iPad, I see his face, see him smile and notice something unique about him.
Like Billie Jordan. When I see his face, I notice the tiny mole just under his left eye and how it moves when he smiles. Duane Cook had red hair and a thousand freckles that covered his face. When I see Duane I see the mass of freckles and his thin little smile. Then Lou Holcomb – about a week earlier a mortar landed behind Lou’s team and though none of the shrapnel hit Lou, the concussion slammed him to the deck and his mouth smashed against the bolt cover of his M1 and knocked chips from his front teeth. When I see Lou I see his broken tooth picket-fence smile.
When a young man is killed in a car crash we say that he lost his life. When a young man is killed in combat we say that he gave his life. Now it is just a different verb but the difference in meaning is tremendous. The young man in the car crash got out of bed that morning and had no idea what was waiting for him that day. However, the young boy aboard the troop ship who leaves the safety and security of that ship, climbs down the cargo net and gets into the landing craft that will take him to the beach knows that there is a very good chance that he will die and yet he continues on.
And many of them, a great many of them did give their lives. They didn’t just die – everybody dies at some time – they gave their lives. They gave up the proud feeling a man gets when he takes off his uniform for the last time. He hangs it up and thinks to himself “I did my job and I did it well” They gave up that feeling of anticipation and expectation one has on the first day of college or the first day at work when you start a new career.
Those young boys gave up the fun of moving into a dorm room or your first apartment. They gave up the joy of meeting new friends and dating pretty girls. They willingly gave up that feeling of happiness and excitement and pure joy that a young man feels when he falls in love.
They gave up that sense of joy and nervousness when dancing with your new bride at your wedding. And they also gave up that moment of happiness, joy bliss and complete wonder that comes when you hold in your arms your newborn child.
They gave up all the little leagues games, the recitals and the school plays. They willingly gave that mixed feeling of happiness and concern when you walk your daughter down the aisle at her wedding. And because they gave up all, they never experienced that pure happiness that comes when you are on the back nine of life and your little grandchild comes running and stumbling to leap into your arms and you hold that kid and you love that kid with every fiber of your being.
I am 94 years old and they are still 17, 18, 19. That broad, wide span of time is filled with the years they did not live and those years make up the lives they gave to you and me so that we could live our lives in freedom. I, for one, will be forever in their debt.
The love of my wife Mary and of our four children has sustained me and enriched me over the many years of my very happy existence. So as I looked back I realized that being in close combat was the best thing that ever happened to me. Knowing the value of love showed me the way to live a happy life and to realize that the only true happiness is the love of those close to me.”
Armed with a bottle of single malt scotch, my boyhood friend Nikolai Mongroo and his wife Meghan Mongroo visited Larry and his wife Mary on 22 April 2018 in order to collect The Log Book for its next appointment in Maine. The encounter made a profound impression on the Mongroos. I was (and remain) equal parts thrilled and jealous.