Harry Towne: Great American Hero, Ordinary Citizen


Iwo Jima Memorial Represents the Extraordinary Effort, Courage and Sacrifice of Ordinary Americans Serving a Cause Greater Than Themselves

Joe Rosenthal's Famous Photo from Iwo Jima Feb 23 1945...but the battle was far from over

On This Date in History:  There are several small volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean.  As of June 18, 2007, one of those islands became known as Iwo To.   The name means “Sulpher” which apparently is also what Iwo Jima means.  But, according to USA Today, after the success of the Clint Eastwood Films, Flags of our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima, the Japanese decided to change the name back to Iwo To, which had been what the civilians had called it before the war.  The locals were happy that their island had been remembered, but for some reason, they didn’t like the name.  The Americans held the island until 1968 when the United States returned it to Japan and now it’s home to about 400 Japanese soldiers.  Those “locals” don’t even live there anymore. 

Over 26,000 people died fighting for this 8 sq mile island

Anyway, in 1944 the Americans had gained control of the Mariana Islands which gave them a place from which to make direct bombing raids on the Japanese mainland with B-29’s.  However, the proximity of the 8 square mile island was such that the Japanese staged several rather destructive raids on B-29 bases around the Pacific.  So, that made Iwo Jima a target for US invasion.  The small island is made up of tough, ignatious rock and features the cone of what is thought to be an extinct volcano that rises about 550 feet above sea level.  With 21,000 Japanese defenders, it made for a natural fortress.  The Americans had bombed it often from the last part of 1944 through early 1945 but the Japanese use of the island’s geography rendered much of that bombing ineffective.  So, on February 19, 1945 the US Marine Corps sent 3 divisions onto the volcanic shores following a 3 day naval bombardment. (numerous videos from History.com)

Marines Received Heavy Fire After Hitting the Beach

The battle of Iwo Jima lasted 37 days:  Over a month for 8 square miles.  The Japanese strategy involved using the deep fortified bunkers dug in the volcanic rock to withstand all of the bombs and naval gunfire  the US could muster and then called for no Japanese survivors.  In other words, defend the island to the death.  And that’s exactly what happened as the Japanese were fighting on home soil that was only 650 miles from Tokyo.  Japanese commander Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi was a seasoned and dedicated leader who called on his men to kill 10 Americans before they were killed.  The fighting was horrific and while the Americans made some headway, the going was extremely slow.  By the time it was over, more than 6000 Americans had given their lives while 20,000 of the Japanese defenders were killed. 

With Enemy Holding High Ground of Hill 362, Even Off the Front Lines Rifle and Mortar Fire Was Heavy. Towne Was on the Front Line

One of the Americans in the fight was Harry Towne of Madison, Wisconsin.  He was a corporal who, on February 27, 1945 led his Company I, Third Battalion, Twenty-Seventh Marines, FIFTH Marine Division against a fortified enemy position guarding the approach to Hill 362.  In the successful assault, squad leader Towne was wounded as he and his men negotiated the pill boxes and caves defended by men who held the high ground.  Very tough.  In the back and forth of battle, the Japanese made a strong counter attack and Towne, though wounded, directed his men with hand signals and by voice.  Towne remained exposed to withering Japanese fire and tossed grenades from his position.  He did not retreat.  For his extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty, Corporal Towne received the Navy Cross as described in his citation issued by President Truman.

Catholic Chaplain Offers Communion Amidst the Battle

The citation says much about Towne but doesn’t really mention much about his wound.  But, a letter he wrote to his mother on this date in 1945 reminds us that the stories of history are filled with people.  They have dreams and hopes and loves like everyone else.  Some are allowed to go on to live thier lives while others have a destiny that ends with the final words written about them.  In this case, Harry Towne lived to tell his own story:

“Dear Mom,

I don’t know if you have heard that I was wounded or not Mom.  I asked a Chaplain to write you, so you probably know about it.

I am coming along fine now and expect to be in the States before long.  I was wounded quite badly, Mother, but the Navy Medical Corps will fix me up like new again.  In a year or less I shall be able to walk just as before.

Don’t let this be a shock to you, Mother, I will be in almost as good shape as before now that they have these new artificial limbs.  Yes, Mother, I have lost my right leg, but it isn’t worrying me a bit.  I shall receive a pension for the rest of my life and with the new artificial limb, you can hardlytell anything is wrong. 

I lost my leg on the front lines of Iwo Jima on February 27, but have been moved around so much I couldn’t write.  I would like to write to Alma, but somehow I can’t force myself to do it.  You write and tell her, Mother.  I’ll try to write to her later on.

Don’t worry, Mom, the war for me is ended and I should be see you by fall. 

Love, [Harry]” 

 (Letters of the Century: America 1900-1999. Lisa Grunwald and Stephen J. Adler, ed. Random House, New York: 1999, pg 308)

Litter Bearers Risked Their Lives to Evacuate Brave Men Like Harry Towne

While Harry Towne was trying to reassure his mother and show a positive outlook, you can hear his anguish with how he struggles in even writing about his condition.  His frequent use of “Mother” shows that he is writing much as if he were speaking to her on the phone, searching for the right words to say.   His true feelings about his fate are revealed when he admits that he cannot bring himself to write to tell Alma, whom we presume is a wife or sweetheart.  This simple note reveals that this man suffered an injury so severe that his leg had to be amputated yet he perservered under extreme conditions to serve his country and support his men.  It also shows that behind the heroic tales of the American soldier in World War II, were ordinary American citizens who, while serving a cause larger than themselves, did extraordinary things.  We owe them a debt of gratitude.  I’d like to think that all American citizens are capable of making the same sacrifice if called today.  As an individual, you will have to determine if your devotion to country could lead you to follow the example of Harry Towe if called.

What a Difference a Day Makes. No NAM Snow Sunday AM

Weather  Bottom Line:  Thursday morning the models did a huge flop…which is why a forecast can be a flop if you start chortling about snow 5 days prior to the potential event.  I probably said too much about that yesterday and did not emphasize that the variables involved were many.  There had been a consistency though for days regarding the solution.  I recognize that the same level of uncertainty remains even with though new model runs of Thursday morning were almost identical.   That variability still shows up with later runs as they have changed a bit again.

What happened to the GFS Snow Sunday Morning?

What they did was instead of digging a big trof down with a cold front and running a low up along the front to give wrap around snow behind the boundary, they made the southern low cut off from the main jet stream and the general trof lifted north.  In the later runs of the day, the kinda started inching back to their initial solution with the trof staying in place for a longer duration but just prior to the front’s arrival in the Ohio Valley, then it cut off the low and ran it up over the Ohio Valley.  In fact, the Canadian model doesn’t fully cut off the low until it’s almost on top of our area.  So..what to do.  How about wait and see what happens?  That’s really all one can do. 

Weather Dunce

All along, intuitively it seemed unlikely that we’d get snow as the air wasn’t that cold and the trof not that deep.  But…it was there.  Now, the problem is that the models suddenly shifted to a completely new solution and then followed that up with something in between.  Often, when an event is on the way, the models are set on a game plan, change it suddenly and then when it all shakes out, it ends up being what was called for in the first place. My guess is that regardless of the particulars, we will be 40’s on Sunday and Monday.  The initial scenario of 30’s is still possible but it would seem the cautious approach of not even mentioning that potential until we got closer to the day was the wise move.  I get the dunce cap for that.  After a string of victories…humility came calling.  But..whatever..Friday will be lovely with highs nearing 70 and clouds increasing Saturday will be the only damper on a day in the upper 60’s to near 70.  Rain will still be likely on Saturday night and Sunday with a possible t’storm or two.  And the temperatures will still rebound by midweek.  As for snow…we’ll just have to wait and see…just in case.

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7 Responses

  1. I wonder how many Harry Townes are left in our country today, Mr. Symon. He probably grew up with very little and with hard work to harden him into the type of man who could withstand such suffering. I wonder if this generation of spoiled, X-Box-playing children with their inflated self-esteems are made of the same stuff. (I also wonder if many of this generation would have even had sufficient command of the English language to write their Mom a letter?) Could they suffer such great hardships for the good of others they don’t even know? Harry Townes’ physical strength was probably also fortified with a strong Christian faith whose tendrils extended throughout society at that time. How can anyone sacrifice for the good of others without a hope after this life? This generation is mostly missing the hard work that helped to form the Greatest Generation plus they lack a devotion to God and his laws. I pray that God will be merciful to this generation who have almost completely turned their backs on God and his statutes. I know you are heartened by what you hear from your students and that gives me some hope also. But if our country persists in going the “way that seemeth right to man”, and further away from God, I fear they won’t have the inner strength to endure the tests that the Greatest Generation endured. I am thankful that God was merciful to our nation and gave our fathers and grandfathers the strength to win the war. They were fortified by their own faith, no doubt, plus the faith and prayers of their families at home. If it hadn’t been for God’s mercies then all of Europe would still be goose stepping all over the place (and probably us too) and Asia would now be one giant Japanese colony!

  2. In 2006, the UN sponsored International Day of Peace was commemorated by a ceremony at Buddha Hall in Chicago and used the letter as part of that ceremony. I wonder if Mr. Towne would approve of that particular useage of his letter. I think everyone wants peace but some may see the useage of his letter in which he does not show any opposition to the cause, but instead tries to show optimism as somewhat of a exploitation to further a political comment. Most people view that war as one of necessity as America had been attacked by the Japanese Empire. But, recently, actor Tom Hanks who has somehow taken on the persona of a historian due to the movies he makes, has suggested that our war with Japan was due to racism. I’m not sure if that view point is prevalent but it is certainly an easy target for criticism and suggests that perhaps Mr. Hanks should stick to acting and leave analysis to professionals. As for your concerns, I suspect that the citizens of our nation, young and old, do have the capability to serve when called. It’s just that today the general populous will need to be convinced that it is a noble and true cause. We don’t trust the government like we once did and perhaps thats not all bad. The Iraq War was fully supported at first but political opponents were allowed to sew the seeds of doubt and the administration was unable, unwilling or not prepared to answer the questions. Hence, support fell. But, the initial support was there. That tells me that the American people can be aroused to act. It just takes more and they must perceive that their way of life is directly threatened. We are seeing that perception today in some circles. Have faith and don’t despair. I think every generation fears about the newbies. I’ve read a condensed version of a book called Our Times by an early 20th century journalist named Mark Sullivan. Dan Rather edited it down as it was quite long originally. Sullivan wrote about the first 25 years of the 20th century to describe the climate of the day. You’d be surprised at the concerns of early 20th century America, from Sullivan’s point of view, are so similar to those of the late 20th century.

  3. Tom Hanks: Fine, fine actor. Political nutball. Next thing you know he and our president will be taking an apology tour to Japan!

    I think that very few wars in history have had as clean a division of good guys and bad guys as that war (Soviet Russia excepted). We had to fight that war and we had to win. If we hadn’t then all the folks who have the freedom to question the motives of the Greatest Generation would probably be stuck in some gulag somewhere or dead. They certainly wouldn’t have the freedoms they enjoy today…so, they should be a bit more respectful to those whose blood and labor brought it to them!

  4. I am actually the great-niece of Harry Towne. He is a fine man who went to College, then law school and became a circuit court Judge; a very impressive feat. I am thoroughly ecstatic that strangers recognize his contribution to WWII, and to our country.

  5. It was my pleasure. Many of the greatest patriots of our nation have been lost to history. At least Harry Towne’s contributions will always now be found on the world wide web. Gone, but not forgotten. Thanx for your response.

  6. Terrific article–great American. I knew him well. He passed away Feb. 19, 2012, age 89, at Portland, Oregon.

  7. I’m glad to have been able to bring a little light to the story while he lived.

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