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Chesnee WWII veteran recalls fierce battle at Iwo Jima

Herald-Journal - 2/25/2017

Feb. 25--Walter Greene was 18 years old when he stepped onto the black sand at Iwo Jima more than 72 years ago.

He was a sharpshooter rifleman in the U.S. Marines 4th Division Company G 2nd Battalion, assigned to land on the island held by the Japanese Imperial Army on Feb. 19, 1945. It was a long way from the textile mill in Converse where Greene had worked before joining the Marines in March 1944.

"I must have weighed about 132 pounds," Greene said. "I climbed down the rope ladder from the boat with my rifle over my shoulder and water kit. They said when you get to the bottom, don't wait on nobody, and if you fall down the rope ladder, you will drown, because there is nobody there to help you."

Greene said prior to landing, the sky over the island was heavy with smoke from bombardments conducted by the U.S. Navy. When the smoked cleared, Greene's division began its push toward one of three airstrips on the island.

It was slow going for most of the Marines, he said.

"You just had to do a lot of work mentally and help your buddies and take care of yourself," Greene said. "When we made it to the first airstrip, we hunkered down in a shell hole near the edge."

Greene said five Marines in the hole took turns on overnight watch. He was awakened one morning by the sounds of gunfire from his fellow Marines when a Japanese soldier approached their position. Greene said the soldier was killed and fell into the hole with them.

Fierce fighting on the island would continue through late March, ending with a U.S. victory.

"It was day after day," Greene said. "You would rest and hit the trail and join your buddies and keep on fighting. It took us 15 days to go just three miles."

The sound of enemy artillery shells flying overhead was deafening. Greene said the Japanese army had used oil drum barrels packed full of explosives, and would launch them toward the Marines' positions.

"You could hear those come through the sky and we were just waiting for where they would land," he said. "We were pretty well dug in and all of a sudden there was good explosion close by, probably eight to 10 yards away. My lead sergeant asked me to step over and see if everything was all right."

Greene said when he checked on the Marine in the shell hole next to him, he discovered the explosion had killed him.

Greene didn't see the end of the battle of Iwo Jima. He was wounded and returned to the United States, where he was treated for his injuries at a hospital in Long Beach, Calif. He was then transferred to a facility in Williamsburg, Va.

Greene was honorably discharged from the Marines as a corporal on April 19, 1946.

He returned to the textile mill in Converse, where he worked until he was 33. Greene later worked at Liberty Life Insurance for 29 years, retiring in 1986 at 60. He's lived in Chesnee for the past 33 years with his wife, Carol. They have been married for 71 years, and have four children, 11 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

The Purple Heart that Greene received for being wounded in battle remains on display in his home next to a book filled with pictures of the men he served with at Iwo Jima. During the battle, nearly 7,000 American sailors and Marines were killed and more than 19,000 were wounded.

Greene's four brothers also served in the military during WWII, with some experiencing combat in the European Theatre.

"The good Lord was merciful to us five boys," Greene said. "We all got to come back."

After the war, Walter and Carol got married and started a family.

"She has been a great help to me all my life," he said. "It's been a great journey."

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(c)2017 the Spartanburg Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.)

Visit the Spartanburg Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.) at www.GoUpstate.com

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