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Mooresville veteran remembers battle for Iwo Jima

On Feb. 19, Mooresville resident William Goodman Young, a 90-year-old Marine veteran, will travel to Washington, D.C., for the anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.

In 1945, Young fought at Iwo Jima, one of the deadliest battles in the Pacific, a victory pivotal to the defeat of the Japanese Empire. Young has lived in Mooresville, where he was born, his whole life – except for those years he served our country.

Young witnessed the flag atop Mount Suribachi while spending 37 days on Iwo Jima. Approximately 7,000 Marines lost their lives and close to 20,000 were wounded. Approximately 22,000 Japanese tried to defend themselves hidden underground in tunnels and caves, coming out at night to kill.

After about five weeks of intense fighting, the United States captured the island. The Pulitzer Prize-winning photo by Joe Rosenthal, whom Young later met, depicts five Marines and one Navy corpsman hoisting a flag atop Mount Suribachi in one of the most famous war photos.

In the fall of 1943, Young, 18, traveled to the draft board in Columbia, Young said, “The Army line was really long, and a Marine recruiter was there. I knew they’re awful picky. I went over and talked to the recruiter. I liked the sounds of it but I didn’t know that much about it.”

He entered the line to become a Marine.

“I’m glad I did. They taught you things that would help you for the rest of your life. They’re smaller outfits, and you’re closer to your buddies because you live with them and there’s not many of you so you get to be like family.”

Young left Mooresville for boot camp in San Diego in October 1943. At nearby Camp Pendleton, he received training in beach landing, artillery and firing, and then went by boat to Hilo, Hawaii, for more training at Parker Ranch.

“I do remember that from San Diego to Hilo took us five days, and I was tired of seeing water. When we pulled into Hilo, Hawaii, it was all green and palm trees and grass, and I saw that (and) I thought I’d died and went to heaven.”

He trained among the volcano, fields and beaches at Parker Ranch for about 10 months.

When it was time to ship out, Young said, “We didn’t know where we were going. They don’t tell you that. We were about two or three days underway, when they broke out this map, about as big as this table, and said, ‘Here’s where we’re going – this is Iwo Jima.’ And, I said, ‘Where’s that?’

“ ‘About 500 or 600 miles from Tokyo,’ we were told. ‘We’re going to be able to mop it up in three to five days, then we’re going on to Okinawa.’ Well, we were there for 36, 37 days, and there weren’t many left to go to Okinawa.”

Arriving at Iwo Jima took weeks, and when they did, Young said, “We were apprehensive. Didn’t know what to expect. Here was the volcano and we knew about that from Hawaii – it was extinct about 550 feet high, Mount Suribachi – we saw that and all the stuff going on the beach.”

No one knew about all the Japanese hiding in the tunnels and caves.

Loaded off the ship into a boat to land on the beach, Young remembered, “We had our men in the bottom of this DUKW (boat), about 18 men. The sergeant and I were sitting on the spare tire, bullets were plop-plop-plopping in the water, so we went in behind the USS North Carolina. We were going very slowly and they were shielding us.”

It gave him “a warm feeling in his heart” to have the ship be the USS North Carolina.

The invasion of Iwo Jima began at 9 a.m. Feb. 19. The invasion beaches were divided into sections, and Young’s DUKW was assigned to land on Green 1 beach. Young said, “We hit the beach; 200 yards inland was the front line when I went in – it was before 10:00 or about 9:45.

“So much going on so many shells falling and bullets flying, you didn’t think. You were just trying to survive and keep yourself from getting killed if you could. To try not to make yourself a big target. So many people on the beach. The Japanese didn’t even have to aim, they just had to shoot because they’d hit somebody.”

Young said he didn’t sleep at night the 37 days he was there because the Japanese came out of the tunnels at night. Young took naps during the day when more people were around.

A friend and fellow member of Young’s church, First Baptist Church of Mooresville, heard Young’s story and arranged a trip to Washington for Young for the 2015 anniversary. Young will tour the Marine Museum and attend the ceremony for a battle he fought as a young man.