Thurman joined the Fifth Marine division, 27th Regiment, and was a private first class with the Marine Corps when he landed with the first waves on Feb. 19 at Iwo Jima. He left the Marine Corps as a sergeant.
He and his squad disembarked from a ship offshore in rolling amtracs, or amphibious tractors, that could float in water and drive on land.
“We had no idea what we were going to walk into,” Thurman said. The amtracs — full of 15-20 men apiece — slid around a battleship toward shore “when all hell broke loose,” Thurman said.
“We were about 300 yards from the shore. The idea was to go around the ship, meet at the front and turn and head in. It was unbelievable what took place,” Thurman said.
Japanese from land, who had a good vantage point from shore and the top of Mount Suribachi, started firing cannons and other weaponry at the men.
“The Amtrac to my left was hit, the Amtrac to my right was hit,” Thurman said. “The Amtrac to my right was blown completely out of the water. … The Amtrac went down so fast it left a whirlpool in the water.”
The section of beach they were taking was Red Beach One, which he said was ironic since the water was already red with blood.
“All this happened before we could get onto the beach,” Thurman said. He didn’t realize he himself was bleeding from a scrape until his cheek started sticking to the barrel.
When his Amtrac reached the shore, the men started running for cover. Thurman remembers getting hit in the hip, which knocked him off his feet. The bullet had gone through his canteen, which he believes slowed the bullet down, and didn’t penetrate his skin, although he had a black and blue hip for several days.
“We had to take Iwo Jima because our B-29s that were flying from Saipan to Japan had to go up in elevation over Iwo, then they would drop low to Japan,” Thurman said. “Consequently, they burned a lot of fuel. Between Japan and Iwo, there were many B-29s that crashed in the water.”
The battle lasted until March 26, when the United States successfully took over Iwo Jima.
Thurman was a good friend of Ira Hayes, who later became well-known as one of the men photographed in the iconic photo by Joe Rosenthal, “Raising the flag on Iwo Jima.”
Thurman did his duty by scouting out broken-down Japanese airplanes for snipers and invading their bunkers to roust out the enemy.
After the war, Thurman got married in 1951 and had four children. They settled in Boulder, where he was an architect and helped build many buildings in the area, including the retirement facility where he would eventually live.
We honor you, Jack Thurman.
(Excerpt taken from: Report-Herald Neighbors)