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StephenLawson

Donahue Reynolds Lawson

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Greetings all, I was a bit shocked to find that this forum was ...uh er...relatively untouched. Just before my father passed away in 2000 he gave an interview concerning his life exploits. From the great generation of WWII my dad was 17 when he entered the U.S. Marine Corps in 1942. The following is offered as a testament to him and his kind.

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?...And then We Went on to Iwo...?

The story starts with a typical All-American boy, Donahue Reynolds Lawson born January 15, 1924, in Hurricane, West Virginia growing up during the Great Depression. A time when everyone was struggling because of the historic stock market crash. In later years the grown man would claim ?tongue in cheek? mind you, that ?...the Marine Corps gave him his first pair of shoes.? At the age of 17, this boy left home for a future that few could have predicted. When he returned home he was a twenty one year-old man, and in his later years he would with fierce regularity thank the Marine Corps for teaching him many of life?s lessons.

During part of his four years in the Corps Pfc. Lawson would serve as a Marine guard and crew a Bofors aboard the U.S.S. Washington (BB56) one of the two brand new ships from the North Carolina fast battleship class. These early days of service were spent in the North Atlantic with the British High Seas task force searching for the German Battleship ?Tirpitz?. Later he would still be on the Washington at the battle of Guadalcanal where BB56 took on and heavily damaged the Japanese battleship ?Krishima?. It was late at night about 1145pm. When the nine main guns of the Washington turned, locked , loaded and fired a broadside salvo at the Japanese battleship. Several hours later Krishima had to be scuttled and the crew abandoned ship. Like any young poet Pfc. Lawson was to meet people he would remember and talk about for a lifetime. His most vivid memories told a chilling tale of what life was like as a young Marine about to embark on the battle of Iwo Jima.

?...And then we went on to Iwo, and we laid several miles off the island were I got to see my old friend the Washington at work shelling Iwo?for a couple of days ... and then we had our last supper the troops received before going ashore...we got the ?All-American? meal including steak, apple pie and ice cream. To top it off it was an all you could eat bonanza...it was February 19, 1945. You could see the island from where the ship was. The time came?and, then we went over the side of the troop ship on a big rope ladder and we climbed into the landing craft. The seas were rough that day and I think, we went in on about the third or fourth wave. and the Japanese had already opened fire as we were coming in. There were people all over the beach and my first goal was to get off it.

People that I have talked to since seem to think I was pretty brave, but I wasn?t. Looking back the troop ship was 15 miles away through heavy seas I knew that the only way out of this was to move forward. There was a ?prissy? acting Navy Beach Master and who had a megaphone. He was directing beach traffic. He was yelling, Get up, and you come in, move off!!!. I was laying flat just hugging the ground. Trying my best to be invisible. This Beach Master was standing up and walking around screaming orders in a high pitch while shells landed everywhere. There were explosions all around us. It was like a scene from hell. There were three Marines coming back from the beach. They weren?t too far away from me. I could see that they were all wounded and bleeding and trying to hold each other up.

Edited by StephenLawson

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There was a Higgins Boat (landing craft), the one I just come in on, and the Navy Coxswain running it. The Beach Master yelled at him to come back to shore and load more wounded. There were wounded everywhere. I don?t think that guy (the beach master) made it through the day because there was so much incoming... The Coxswain was trying to back out and move off shore. The Beach Master pulled his Colt 45 and jacked a round in the chamber and ordered the Coxswain to ?stand fast.? After watching the wounded Marines board the landing craft and head back to our ship I decided it was better get off the beach but there were land mines and trip wires everywhere. The evidence was plain enough as you could see where the wounded and dead had fallen. Its funny what you think of during these times. I suddenly remembered that when I lived in Michigan during their hard winters and walking to school that if I walked in the snow it was easier for me and my short little eight year old legs, if I followed in the exact footsteps of those that had gone first. As I came back to the reality of war I made my way off the beach by following the tracks of those who had successfully gone before me. I soon after joined my company at the rally point and we moved out to take the Japanese #1 airstrip. We dug in there and we stayed about two days. The smell from the island?s sulfur pit hung in the air like spoiled eggs. We couldn?t get out because they shelled. us constantly. Then we left our initial camp and wheeled right. The first waves of Marines turned left and set out to secure Mount Surabachi. This included several other divisions that were on the island.

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I remember the fifth day?I?m not a brave man, you know, I?m not. I?ve seen brave men. We were there, and moving out and somebody said, ?Look Back.!? I could see that they had raised the flag on Surabachi. I got goose pimples. Our boys had slugged their way to the top of that extinct volcano in the middle of a terrible Japanese firestorm. Part of the third division was there.

I remember Jack ?Beer? Blankenhorn and he was in the assault squads with me. (Pfc Lawson carried a flamethrower on Iwo Jima.) We were pretty close Jack and I. I remember his face as clear today as it was then. I recall it happened when we were on Hawaii big Island before we went out to Iwo he?d lost his name stencil. (You had to have a stencil for your name to mark the backs of your shirts, jackets and sea bags.) Well, during an inspection they got on him because he didn?t have one. Now, Jack had been on Bougainville with the first parachute battalion. He was an ?old salt? and he?d had a campaign or two under his belt. So, he went down to the supply they were all busy, and he found one there that suited him. It was used to mark beer cases. So, he took it and stenciled it on all his uniforms and, we called him ?Beer?.

During the battle about two weeks into our sweeping the low end of the island we took incoming. After the initial concussion I came to briefly only to find my whole squad was killed but me. I woke up injured and on a hospital ship headed to the states. I spent nearly eight months in hospitals recovering from my injuries.

Donahue Reynolds Lawson returned to civilian life and found work in the oil fields of Texas. Eventually due to a sustained back injury he took up barbering and later moved to Grand Junction, Colorado where he lived out the rest of his days until his untimely death from pancreatic cancer November 14, 2000.

Edited by StephenLawson

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Of special note. The current research says that the fast battleship my dad saw that day off the Iwo Jima shores was the USS North Carolina (BB55.) Schematics and bluerprints I have seen, say that there was very little difference in these two. The USS Washington (BB56) was about 6-10 feet longer. Otherwise there Pacific schemes or Measure paint coatings changed pretty regularly. Edited by StephenLawson

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Of special note. The current research says that the fast battleship my dad saw that day off the Iwo Jima shores was the USS North Carolina (BB55.) Schematics and bluerprints I have seen, say that there was very little difference in these two. The USS Washington (BB56) was about 6-10 feet longer. Otherwise there Pacific schemes or Measure paint coatings changed pretty regularly.

Hi Stephen,

Thanks so much for posting this. I really enjoyed it as I'm sure will the rest of the members. This is truly what it's all about. That was a great generation... a shame we're losing them so fast... and much of the history that goes with them.

Especially loved the part about the beer stencil! :P It's things like that that make it all worth while. Nothing dry about history... that's for sure!

Sorry to hear about your losing him... it's always hard. But you'll see him again some day. :D

Thanks again! :cheers:

Dan

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Thanks Dan;

Here is the Japanese airfield (#1 I think) after the island was taken completely.

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Edited by StephenLawson

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Hi Stephen,

Wow! That's one mess I'm certainly glad I didn't have to clean up. :o

Thanks for posting that. :cheers:

Dan

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