Marine fought in the South Pacific during World War II
VINTON–In the United States, Flag Day is celebrated each year on June 14. Google “American flag” and the image that pops up again and again is the planting of the American flag on Iwo Jima by the Marines on February 23, 1945. It is one of the most enduring symbols of World War II, although most people know much less about the war in the Pacific than about the battles fought in the European theater.
The United States actually entered the war because of events in the Pacific, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor; and the war ended there when the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan.
Jahue Mundy of Vinton is one of the World War II veterans who served in the Pacific theater from 1942-1946, as a member of the United States Marine Corps. He spent three days on Iwo Jima and then fought in the Battle of Okinawa.
In high school he had met an ex-Marine from a nearby farm who talked to Mundy about the Marines and his experiences fighting in the Boxer Rebellion in China. When it came time to enlist, Mundy chose the Marine Corps because of their reputation as an elite fighting force, always trained to do their best, dedicated to Corps and country.
Mundy’s specific assignment during the war came about through his father’s part-time job and the skills he taught his son—the use of explosives.
Mundy grew up in Indiana during the time of the Great Depression. His father owned a farm, which kept the family fed, but he also had a job using dynamite to blast rock at a stone quarry where his son often assisted him.
“We ate good on the farm, but Dad had to work to pay the taxes,” said Mundy. “Blasting was dangerous work, but we didn’t think about that; we had to make a living.”
His father was killed in a lumbering accident when Mundy was a sophomore in high school. He had to take over many of his father’s responsibilities on the farm, while still attending school, and working part-time for the railroad.
Eventually his uncle found him a job at the Howe Fire Apparatus Company in Anderson, Indiana. Mundy married June, his high school sweetheart, in June of 1941, and enlisted in the Marines in December of that year, thinking he would soon be drafted. However, the factory had a government contract to produce military vehicles for England and Australia. Mundy was a floor supervisor at the plant, so the owner got a deferment for Mundy until the contract was completed.
In 1942, Mundy was sent to San Diego for basic training. He had seldom left Indiana; he had never seen the ocean. Mundy spent eight weeks in San Diego being transformed from a civilian into a Marine.
In an interview during Boot Camp, Mundy mentioned his background with explosives. He talked about his father drilling holes at the stone quarry, placing dynamite in the holes, and blasting limestone to make gravel for roads.
“The Lieutenant yelled out, ‘we found our last demolition man’,” said Mundy.
Once at Camp Pendleton, Mundy trained for four weeks in the mountains nearby on the use of explosives.
“The next thing I knew I was on a ship heading to the South Pacific,” said Mundy.
He trained with the 1st Marine Division, but served mainly with a small band of sixteen Marines and two officers who island-hopped, destroying Japanese radio stations.
When the Allies needed more bases in the South Pacific to step up the bombing campaign against Japan, they chose the islands of Iwo Jima (750 miles south of Japan) and Okinawa (350 miles southwest).
Iwo Jima was especially vital since it would become the jumping off point for the deployment of the atomic bomb. Two Marine Divisions were sent to Iwo Jima to take control in what turned out to be one of the most costly battles of the war, with over 25,000 Marines killed or wounded, and 21,844 Japanese deaths, in capturing the 8 square miles of the island.
Mundy reunited with the 1st Marine division on Iwo Jima doing demolition work prior to the invasion on February 18, 1945. The Japanese had buried steel beams on the black sand beach making it difficult to land American tanks. His small battalion’s assignment was to cut the beams with explosives to remove them. Mundy landed on Iwo Jima with a 45 pistol and a backpack loaded with C-2 explosives.
The Japanese had dug underground fortifications in the volcanic ash around the island where they hid with machine guns and heavy artillery. They would lay low, camouflaged by vines, as the American troops landed. Once the beach was full of Marines and equipment, the Japanese would engage in crossfire from all parts of the island and Mount Suribachi. Once the Sherman tanks were able to land, the Marines used flame throwers to attack the Japanese and clear them from the pits and tunnels.
The battle on Okinawa began soon after on April 1, 1945. The 1st Marine Division, followed by the 6th Division, went in after an Army division was cut to pieces with heavy artillery fire from the Japanese. The fierce battle lasted from April 1 to June 21.
Mundy’s battalion followed the Marine Division and blew up the caves and tunnels abandoned by the Japanese as they were forced to the end of the island. Many Japanese troops, who were trained to die rather than surrender, committed suicide by jumping off the cliffs at the end of the island, along with many civilians.
Once the battle was won on Okinawa, at a cost of 50,000 Allied soldiers killed or wounded, and 110,000 Japanese deaths, Mundy’s group was on their way to invade Tokyo. However, as they were in route, the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the war ended.
Mundy was reassigned to China as part of the occupying forces whose job it was to help get the Japanese out and the Chinese back in. Many Chinese had been taken by the Japanese to work in Japan.
While in China, Mundy was able to visit the Great Wall, the Gobi Desert, and the Grand Canal built by Kublai Khan. He has vivid memories of places he had wanted to see since he was a child and found a card that showed the sights of China, never imagining his dreams would come true, albeit through a war. He served in China from October of 1945 through April of 1946, when he was discharged and finally returned to his home in Indiana.
Mundy spent some time “loafing” until the owner of the plant where he had worked before the war called and told him it was time to get back to work. He worked for Howe in Indiana and then California for many years, and even returned to China for his job. He moved to Roanoke in 1979 after Grumman bought the Howe holdings.
He retired in the early eighties, at age 67. His wife passed away in February of 1990.
Mundy has never felt that he or his fellow soldiers were heroes or “the greatest generation”. Raised as a farm boy, he thought he had a job to get done and he did it. Being a Marine was a way of life.