Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)



Director:     Allan Dwan.

Starring:     John Wayne (Sgt. John M. Stryker), John Agar (Pfc. Peter Conway), Adele Mara (Allison Bromley), Forrest Tucker (Pfc. Al Thomas), Arthur Franz (Cpl. Robert Dunne/Narrator), Julie Bishop (Mary), Richard Jaeckel (Pfc. Frank Flynn), Wally Cassell (Pfc. Benny Regazzi), Richard Webb (Pfc. Dan Shipley), James Brown (Pfc. Charlie Bass).

Wayne as Marine sergeant nominated for an Academy Award, his first. 


This is a pretty good war film. John Wayne does a great job as the hard-hearted, no-nonsense Marine corps sergeant,  John M. Stryker.  John Archer also does a good job, as the rebellious and at times impertinent Pfc. Peter Conway, who despises Sgt. Stryker because the sergeant reminds him of his always disapproving father, another marine in a long family tradition of marines. Sgt. Stryker tries to get through the tough defenses of the psychologically injured Pfc. Conway, but has little success.  Stryker consoles himself that his job is to get the young marines ready for battle, not be their friend. 

Sgt. Stryker also has other problems.  Forrest Tucker plays the role of Pfc. Al Thomas, who holds a strong grudge against Stryker for defeating him for the heavyweight championship of the Pacific Fleet and for turning him into the military justice system (thereby earning Thomas three months in the brig).

But over time and through training and actual combat, all these men have a change of heart, making them better soldiers and better people.  The portrait of the camaraderie of the marine troops, along with John Wayne's starring, made the film a big popular film when it came out in 1950. 

The movie was filmed at Camp Pendleton, California with its large property on the Pacific Ocean.  The Marine corps supplied the equipment (with a handsome compensation from Republic Pictures), even though they objected to the scene where Stryker strikes one of his marines with the butt of a rifle when trying to teach the man how to handle the bayonet strike effectively.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:


see Tarawa Beach Head (1958).

The source below on Iwo Jima came from a documentary on the battle, on the History Channel. 


The huge B-29 super fortress bombers needed air cover. They were too exposed to fighter attack. Half way between the B-29 bases and the islands of Japan was an island known as Iwo Jima. (The island was only 750 miles from Tokyo). It would be ideal as a base from which to launch fighter patrols.

Late 1944 -- decided Iwo should be seized.

October -- B-24s made regular bombing runs to Iwo. Planes of the Seventh Air Force bombed almost daily for 72 days at the turn of the year.

Marines of the 3rd, 4th and 5th divisions would constitute the assault.

So close to the Japanese mainland, surprise was not possible.

1945 (Mid- Feb)  -- task force set out. Iwo was known to be the closest thing to a fortress in the Pacific Ocean. A last blessing given by the troop chaplain.

6:40 D-day morning -- Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal was on board. He compared it to Tarawa. Gunners hit Mount Suribachi at the far end of the island.

10,000 marines of the 4th and 5th divisions took off for the beach. The sea was calm. It seemed like hours getting to the beach. It began to get rougher. Landed on schedule. On the beach it got really rugged. Some companies were cut down by half strength. More men were landed. Slow going in the black volcanic sand and it also slowed the equipment. It was a real nightmare. Kept fighting for that toehold. And the battle did not get any more comfortable at any time in those first two days. The fleet lost one carrier to the kamikazes pilots, 15 Japanese planes destroyed. Japanese poured fire onto the beach from Mount Suribachi.

Mount Suribachi would have to be taken as quickly as possible. Elements of the 28th marine regiment were given the job of seizing the mountain. They gave the hot rock everything they had, but the enemy kept up their resistance. Not enough navy corpsmen to go around. They fought for the land around the base of the rock. Finally on the fourth day they began to pick their way up the slope. There were a few Japanese. This was no place for anybody with a weak stomach.

Took four days to get to the crest of the 556 foot high mountain.

Feb 3, 1945 -- flag raised on Iwo Jima.

In the first 5 days there were 6845 casualties. The enemy had been solidly entrenched. Hundreds of dead Japanese soldiers were strewn about the slopes of the mountain. General Holland Smith had the beach area cleared of mines for the landing of further supplies. Third marine division now came ashore. They were to be used in the center of the drive to the north. Vehicles bogged down so they had to put down metal mats. There was a lack of water on the island so the marines installed distillation units that converted the salt water to fresh water.

US tanks, 150 Shermans, paved the way for the attack. This phase was even harder than the attack on Mount Suribachi. For a solid week the 4th marine division fought for the series of ridges surrounding Hill 382, less formally known as the meat grinder.

Took the territory ridge by ridge.

Third division marines fought for the third airstrip on the island. They took quite a beating. They broke the back of the enemy's main stand on Iwo. They employed whole blood and plasma on a scale never before contemplated. Casualties were 33 percent. Surgery could be performed on the island itself, often less than an hour after the wound had been sustained. Many of the casualties were evacuated by air.

March 16 -- won all except for a small area in the north. Only 217 prisoners taken, 159 of them Japanese.

Fighting for four weeks on Iwo. Slow, exacting work.

March 25, the men complete the job. Some enemy soldiers held out to the very end.

36 days of bitter fighting. Lost 5,563 marines and 982 sailors, with some 19,000 wounded.

Tons of shell casings were left on the battlefield.

They extended one of the airfields so it could accommodate the heavy bombers. It was used as an emergency base for crippled B-29s unable to head all the way back to their bases in the Marianas. More than 850 damaged planes landed on Iwo in the following three months. In addition, it was used as a base for fighter planes. Now the raids were less hazardous.

Okinawa was the next major enemy island on the schedule.

Easter Sunday, 1945 -- invasion of Okinawa.


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