BARTLESVILLE â" Grabbing a pencil, R.J. George jotted down a few quick lines on one of the sheets of paper provided.
âI said something like, âMom, donât worry. Iâm good. Iâm fine where Iâm at,ââ he said.
Since leaving home for the war more than two years earlier, the 20-year-old Marine had been in the regular habit of writing his mother.
But unlike previous letters, this one, he said, wasnât optional.
âWe were about five days in on Iwo Jima,â he recalled, âwhen the top admiral put out this order that everybody â" everybody â" would write home today.â
âI think the news was getting back home and it was so bad, all the moms were driving âem crazy.â
But while George and his comrades followed the order to write, they knew the sad truth:
Far too many mothers would not be getting letters from their sons.
Instead, fingers trembling as they tore into them, theyâd be opening telegrams from the War Department.
The telegrams that brought notice of death.
And after five days on Iwo Jima, there was still no end in sight to the bloodshed.âSo many bodiesâ
Five days earlier, on Feb. 19, 1945, while waiting with his unit off Iwo Jima, George had no reason to anticipate what was coming.
Surrounded by ships âas far as the eye could see,â he felt confident and even a little bored, he said.
âI thought there couldnât be a rat alive let alone a Japanese,â he said, adding that the Navy had zeroed in on the Iwo Jima shore.
âOur planes bombed and strafed. The ships pounded it, pounded it.â
âBut things didnât go exactly according to plan,â he added grimly.
From the moment the first ground troops hit the beach, âthey threw everything at us.â
This Wednesday will mark 75 years since American forces first landed on those beaches, officially kicking off the battle for Iwo Jima during World War II.
George, 95, of Bartlesville, was there for all of it.
Like most of his fellow 4th Marine Division mates at the time, heâd never heard of Iwo Jima.
But the battle for it would ensure that no one â" not the invading force, not the American people, not the world â" would ever forget it.
Lasting five weeks, the fighting would result in more than 6,800 American dead and some 26,000 total American casualties.
On the first day, while the first wave fought to gain a foothold on the beach, Georgeâs landing craft circled off shore.
The waiting game ended about the middle of the afternoon.
Georgeâs craft moved in to the beach. The gate swung forward, and they began clambering off.
Georgeâs first experience with war violence had been weeks earlier on Saipan. But it was nothing like this.
âThere were so many bodies,â he said.
The fighting was still fierce, the front line just a few hundred yards ahead of them.
George and others began to dig foxholes.
The black volcanic sand of the beaches was loose and coarse.
âYouâd sink to your ankles,â he said. âIt was like walking in a wheat bin.â
George had only been digging for a few seconds when he drew back in surprise.
There in front of him, a dead body was sticking part way out of the sand.
âI didnât know if it was ours or a Japanese,â he said of the body, which had been buried by exploding shells.
George moved a few yards away and started again, only to uncover another body.
âThat did it,â he said. âI quit trying to dig a foxhole.ââA war we had to winâ
Like every other guy in his Bell City, Missouri, high school class after Pearl Harbor, George had been champing at the bit to enlist.
But his time came soon enough following graduation.
And when it did, he knew he wanted to be a Marine.
âI thought I was tough,â he said, blue eyes twinkling with amusement.
âAnd I got my choice.â
Making him feel even better about going to fight was the universal support.
âIt was a war we had to win, and everybody knew it. Kids picked up scrap iron. The women plowed fields. The men went to war.
âAnd back then, the United States was united. I wish our country was back like that.â
Sent to the Pacific with other replacement troops, George was assigned to the messaging center of a regimental headquarters company.
âIt was kind of like a post office,â he said, adding that his main job was to deliver messages as they came in.
As part of his work, George had the opportunity to meet some Navajo code talkers. He came away impressed.
âThey were all just congenial, good people. They were fun to be around. And they done a good job. They were Marines.â
The work kept him out of direct combat.
But much of the time, especially on Iwo Jima, he was close enough to feel the heat.
At the time, though, it didnât faze him.
âAt 20, I thought I was indestructible. I canât say I never was scared. But I never did think I would ever get hurt.â
âThat donât mean,â he added, âI wouldnât dive in a hole if I had to.â
Or, minus a hole, just hit the ground.
It was on Saipan where George first learned just how flat a person could lie when he had to â" when the shells were falling, sending shrapnel flying in every direction.
George did not see the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi, which was captured in the famous Iwo Jima photo.
But the word got back to his group quickly.
âIt boosted morale, but I knew we werenât done yet,â George said.
On March 26, after more than five weeks, Iwo Jima was finally declared secure.
George and other Marines were taken aboard an aircraft carrier and transported to Maui to rest and recover.
Thatâs where they were a few months later, training for their next assignment, when the news of the atomic bomb broke.
The war was finally coming to an end.âThe reason Iâm hereâ
Coming home after the war, George would eventually meet and marry his wife, Donna.
The couple will celebrate their 70th anniversary this July.
The Georges still share a home in Bartlesville, where, just last week, they raised a brand new red Marine Corps flag over their driveway.
Flapping in the breeze along with his American flag, âitâs the fourth or fifth one Iâve gone through,â George said. âThese winds in Oklahoma are hard on flags.â
Over the seven decades since he came home from service, George has had plenty of opportunity to think about war.
He hasnât changed his mind any.
âWar is hell. You kill people. You tear up, destroy. And for what?â
Many of his comrades remained bitter toward their former enemies. But âI never did hate the Japanese,â he said. âThey were human beings just like us.â
Georgeâs daughter compiled a scrapbook for him of photos and mementos from his service.
In his service-era photos, heâs usually the tallest guy.
Although heâs lost about an inch from the rangy 6-foot-3 frame of his youth, George still stands tall in a crowd, like at the annual Veterans Day parade in Bartlesville. He was honored to serve as grand marshal of the event last year.
The scrapbook also contains some of those letters home, which his mother saved.
Knowing they were a comfort to her, he didnât mind writing them, he said.
âI think sheâs the reason Iâm here today,â George said, adding that his mother âprayed 24 hours a day.â
âMy mom kept the Lord so busy, he assigned three angels just to watch over me.âPhotos: Scenes from the Battle of Iwo Jima, which started 75 years ago
Today marks the 75th anniversary of the start of the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima in Japan.