Sunday, February 26, 2017

Lt. General Snowden and Iwo Jima

 --General Snowden, before a plaque signed
 and presented to him by the last Japanese Emperor
 of the Empire of Japan (Hirohito)

Strangers on this road, we are all
We are not two, we are one
--Strangers, Golden Smog


[NOTE: An officer and a gentleman died this week in our town. The date was 18 February 2017, one day before the start of the Battle of Iwo Jima, in which Lt. General Snowden led his men with great honor. We are running this re-post so that his memory may not be in vain.]

We recently had the pleasure of meeting a hometown hero, Lt. General Lawrence "Larry" Snowden (R) who, at 93, is the senior survivor of the protracted and bloody World War II Battle of Iwo Jima, a climatic event of WW II in the Pacific lasting from 19 Feb 1945 to 26 Mar 45.

The General was wounded twice in the battle, leaving the hospital against medical advice and hopping a mail flight in order to get back to the island to command his men. He participated in eleven campaigns over the course of a career in which he saw action in three wars (WWII, Korea and Vietnam).

But Gen. Snowden is neither your typical military man nor retiree in a conservative part of the country.

Mr. Snowden traveled to Iwo Jima again last month, as he has every year for the last 15 years, to lead a "Reunion of Honor" with both his fellow survivors from the U.S. Marines well as the Japanese soldiers whom they fought. His mission is a solemn one of reconciliation with men who were once his mortal enemies but, as the widow of the Japanese commanding general said to him, "Once enemies, now friends."

As Snowden told a local journalist last year, "Those men didn't want to be here any more than we did. They were doing their duty. You don't hate anybody for that" (After 68 Years, the Battle of Iwo Jima Stays Fresh.)

When we asked how he reached this enlightened state, he smiled and gave his mother credit. He recalls being a pugilistic young man engaging in "fisticuffs" with his fellows and going on about "hating" someone. She told him that he didn't "know enough about anyone else to allow [him] to feel hatred," and that he could find another way of dealing with his anger. He got the idea then that the head could rule the emotions.

With recent attention to the concept of "moral injury" amongst soldiers, the idea of recognition, understanding and forgiveness between fighting men seems an essential move towards healing.

Snowden has commanded every level of combat unit from Rifle Company to Regiment. As a General Officer he served as Chief of Staff HQ, USMC. His route to reconciliation began during the Korean War when he worked alongside his former Japanese adversaries while coordinating logistical efforts flowing through Japan destined for the Korean peninsular effort. It was his first recognition that men need not retain hostilities, and that life had an ebb and flow.

He next bumped up against the idea of reconciliation when  he returned to Japan in 1972 as Chief of Staff, U.S. Forces, Japan (a Joint Services Command.) During that three-year posting he liaised with the Japanese government, becoming familiar with and appreciative of Japanese society. He left Japan for Washington D.C. in the final posting of his 37-year military career, serving as Chief of Staff HQ, USMC.

Upon retirement he returned to Japan as a civilian representative for Hughes Aircraft, focusing on production and economic matters while living in Tokyo for the next ten years. He also served as the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

This is the backdrop to the genesis in 1985, the 40th Anniversary of Iwo Jima, of the idea for the Reunion of Honor, and the General has been involved in the annual event since that time. Notice there is nothing about warriorhood or grand patriotic celebration surrounding the event. It is simply a somber recognition of men who did the heavy lifting for their respective nations.

A Buddhist priest who survived the fighting and the widow of the Japanese Commanding General, along with the General's son, deliver a solemn presentation. Following this, Mr. Snowden and his fellow survivors ascend Mount Suribachi; they then come down and the Japanese survivors then go up.

"I make the same speech three times: in Los Angeles, in Honolulu and Guam. I tell everybody there will be no T-shirts, no hollering and victory celebration. From the very beginning we have pledged that we would not ever, ever crow over our victory there. And we've never had any problems with that." So much for the Toby Kieth brand of patriotism.

  --This painting is a retirement gift commissioned for General Snowden
by one of the riflemen he commanded on Iwo Jima

Ranger asked the General if he had seen the film, "American Sniper". He looked down and said his friends were always after him to see the latest war film, but that he usually demurred. 

"I have seen everything they could possibly put into one of those films, and I have no desire to see it ever again."

Semper Fi, Lt. Gen. Snowden.

Coda: As we were leaving, Gen. Snowden received a call from the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame; he would be nominated as their newest inductee.

Has has Ranger's Army vote.


  1. Iwo seems to have involved some outstanding people on both sides. I just finished a biographical account of the life and conduct during the defense of the commander of the island's garrison. Guy was one of the sharpest but at the same time most humane IJA officers I've encountered in a long interest in military history. must have taken a hell of a person to transcend the memories of the Pacific War. The fighting there may well have been the most vicious of any war U.S. troopers ever fought outside some parts of the RVN...

  2. Thanks Jim -

    I believe he went AWOL from that naval hospital in Guam to return to his unit on Iwo Jima. It wasn't just a case of going against medical advice. And by the way, that plane he hitched a ride on back to Iwo was mainly carrying blood and emergency medical supplies as well as mail. He was revered in the Corps for that act.

    The Reunion of Honor at Iwo this year will be held 20 through 27 March. There was a stateside reunion and symposium in Oceanside CA, just outside of Camp Pendleton, last week 15 through 19 February. His name and signature are still on the brochure for the reunion.

  3. Jim -

    Do you have any objections to my using your interview with LtGen Snowden in our local Marine Corps League Chapter newsletter for March? I would give credits to you and Lisa.

  4. FDChief -

    Kuribayashi??? I searched on both Powells and Amazon but could not find a bio on him. But the Wiki account says Marine Corps General Holland (Howlin Mad) Smith, the Landing Force Commander, called him one smart bastard, and "Of all our adversaries in the Pacific, Kuribayashi was the most redoubtable".

    Not sure I would call him humane though. His "Six Courageous Battle Vows" smell a bit like the oaths of al-Qaeda or Daesh, especially the second and third vow.

    "2. We shall fling ourselves against the enemy tanks clutching explosives to destroy them."
    "3. We shall slaughter the enemy, dashing in among them to kill them."

  5. The book is called "So Sad To Fall In Battle" by Kumiko Kakehashi, and it's a collection of translation of Kuribayashi's correspondence to his family.

    "Humane" relative to a typical IJA officer of his background and seniority. He had the same automatic acceptance of death as his peers. Unlike them he worked hard to give his subordinates as decent a life as he could while they were alive, and he refused to throw their lives away. He forbid the suicidal "banzai" charges. His imperial master had doomed they all, but Kuribayashi was damned if those lives would be just wasted in futile gestures. He led a final attack on 26 MAR 44 that was well-planned and effective, if by that point futile.

    So by our lights? No. By the standards of his peers? Notably.

  6. FDChief -

    Thanks for the title. I'll put it on the reading list.

    BTW, a Marine cook by the name of Demosthenes Andrikopoulis was in that attack on 26 March. He picked up a rifle along with other cooks and bakers plus clerks, communicators, Navy Seabees and USAAF Airmen to help beat off that final assault. He won a Bronze Star for his initiative and leadership in organizing an ad hoc counterattack at his tiny piece of the battlefront.

    He later shortened his name to 'Dee Andros' and became the coach for your Oregon State Beavers back in the sixties and seventies. He was still leading from the front even then, as he was infamous with the sportswriters at the time for always running out at the head of his team when they took the field. During Andros' time the Beavers used to beat the crap out of our Washington teams.

    PS - It was March 45 not 44.

  7. Trying to imagine Beavs football as a power is like trying to imagine a Trump administration without corruption. Just doesn't seem possible...

    The really cruel part of Iwo, to me, anyway, is that it turned out to play a pretty marginal part in the U.S. war effort. It saved B-29 crews either returning w damage or aborting, so for individuals it was important. But its overall importance to the bombing campaign was not great.

    So all that death and suffering...

    1. FDChief -

      "...all that death and suffering" Yes, and not just on Iwo. LeMay's B-29s burned a lot of Japanese women and children to death. War no more is my motto.

      PS - The Beavs back then were more of regional power. I think Andros got them in the top 20 a couple of times, but pretty far down on that list.

    2. IIRC LeMay said that had the Japanese won the war he would have been hanged for war crimes...

  8. Mike,
    use the article as you desire, with our best wishes.
    yesterday i tried to give Lisa a lesson on the USMC concept that every man is a rifleman. in korea i'd guess that CS/CSS fought as infantry in a few battles.
    i have so many political comments on iwo as on bastogne, but this is not the time or place.
    i forget the number, but CPT Snowden took in 225 +/- and less than 1/2 walked out.

    1. Jim & Lisa -


      I recall in your original article you had mentioned that General Snowden was surrounded by a group of admiring widows. The man must have been a charmer, even in his old age.

    2. you've caught my attention, Jim; Iwo and Bastogne? I wouldn't have thought to couple those two. Without going into the politics - if that's possible - I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on how they were similar ..

  9. Mike,
    on my previous cmt, i meant us army types also fought as infantry.
    in the old days of yore our cooks wore shirts that said-death from within.

  10. Jim –

    Grandma’s brother, my great uncle Dinty, was a cook in an Army infantry company in WW1. He and many of his buddies got burned by the mustard gas.

    He was a great cook, even in his old age when he was half soused most of the time. Said he got the drinking habit in Army field kitchens. He used to cook us up some of the same recipes he cooked back in 1917 & 18: salmon loaf, corned beef (he called it the red death and said the Army version was one part beef and nine parts fat and sawdust), pork and beans. He could even make that dried & salted chipped beef taste reasonable, that was the original SOS long before they started using hamburger or ground sausage.

    So I don’t agree with that ‘death-from-within’ logo.