By Jennifer Martin
February 19, 1945. The day the US began its invasion of Iwo Jima. Billy Byrd was front and center.
"I was just a rifleman. I was trained to fight on the front line, so that's what we did."
Byrd was a Marine. One of thousands sent ashore to capture the tiny Japanese island. It proved to be a much tougher battle than anyone anticipated.
"These 2 generals said it would take about 4 or 5 days. Try about 36 days. And 20,000 Marines, off the Japanese Imperial Army."
Before the Marines ever came ashore, naval ships and bombers pummeled the island, with guns, cannons, and rockets. It was quiet on Iwo Jima when the Marines got there. At first it looked like the enemy had already been wiped out. But looks were deceiving.
"They call it the biggest ambush in military history. There were helmets flying everywhere. Legs, arms, boots."
"They had caves all over. About a 1000 caves. They were holed up in those, so all the bombing and all the shelling that happened didn't do a whole lot of good. We were out in the open and that's when they ambushed us. They waited until all the Marines had gotten ashore and that's when they ambused us with everything that they had."
It took four days to capture Mount Suribachi, An achievement immortalized in the historic photograph, "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima." Ira Hayes, one of the men in the photo, was a friend of Byrd's. One of the few friends who made it off the island alive.
"I was one of the handful that made it through the whole thing. I walked around the cemetery there and see all the names of the boys that I trained with, was friends with. I looked at each one of them --their names were on the crosses."
Byrd went on to finish his service and even returned to the military for the Korean war, although he was granted a hardship discharge before he went overseas.
As tough as it was, Byrd says his service changed his life for the better. "It made me a better person... better father and husband."
Story idea or news tip? Email us at News@WLBT.COM or call 601-960-4426.
715 South Jefferson Street
Jackson, MS 39201