The Ashes of Iwo Jima

Chapter 1: Welcome to Iwo Jima

The warm rain from a Pacific storm soaked the iron decks of the freighter Tanaka Maru as it left the Mitsubishi owned dry-docks in Nagoya. On board were some 3,000 troops including Private Yoshi Fukuda, a first year draftee. He had already thrown up once and the ship had only been moving for a few minutes. The sailors, who were on deck at the time snickered at him, he had gotten used to that, the Army and Navy had never gotten along well. Fukuda was about to venture below decks before something caught his eye. Passing right beside the Tanaka Maru was the legendary battleship Yamato. The behemoth was almost twice as long as the Tanaka Maru and was armed to the teeth with 18-inch guns and 16-inch thick armour plating. She was the most feared vessel in the world. Fukuda had his own private doubts though, her sister ship the Musashi had been sunk nearly 3 months earlier at the battle of Leyte Gulf and he feared that the Yamato would find its way to the bottom of the sea before the war ended.

Another ship followed close behind. This one however had two large gaping holes in its stern, signs of an American torpedo attack, either by their bombers or submarines. After the two ships passed, Fukuda proceeded below decks with his uniform and hat soaked right through to his skin. He shivered and took off his uniform as soon as he entered the warm and cramped storage bay.

"Damn this rain" Fukuda complained. One of the other soldiers slapped him on the back of his head.

"At least it isn't hot outside or this place would be like an oven" he replied.

"I guess you're right" Fukuda murmured before their commanding officer, Major Kondo Inoue addressed the troops.

"Silence in the ranks!" he bellowed ferociously. "The Home Islands are under the threat of invasion. We have been assigned to the island of Iwo Jima. The rest of the division will be arriving after us. When the Americans invade, show them no mercy for they deserve none. If they threaten the Emperor then we will eliminate that threat. May the Emperor live ten thousand years!" he finished.

The entire ship erupted into a cheer, praising the 109th Infantry Division and offering toasts towards Emperor Hirohito. Afterwards Fukuda joined a few of his squad mates in a game of poker.

The entire trip took only a few days but those days were the longest and most boring days of Fukuda's young life. The troops were packed like sardines underneath an iron plated deck. After the rainstorm it was blazing hot and below decks felt like being in an oven for days. You could only do two things; stay below decks and play cards, read or write home. The other option was to go on deck and do exercises, push ups, crunches, wall sits, basically whatever the officer on deck thought of.

Fukuda was lying on his mat reading a book when one of sailors opened the hatch and called down to the Major.

"Major Inoue, we have reached our destination" he announced.

"Alright men form up, rank and file move it!" Inoue yelled. Fukuda immediately fell in behind another first year conscript named Satou. As they proceeded to the deck a sickening smell washed over the men. It smelled like sulfur and that was confirmed when the island came into view. The small, barren rock was completely devoid of vegetation save maybe a few dead trees. The soil was pitch black, much darker than any soil Fukuda had ever seen.

"Welcome to Iwo Jima" chuckled Inoue.