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Private First Class Paul E ISON represents the savage fighting for OKINAWA, whose photograph was taken when he was crossing Death Valley on 10th May 1945 – this in turn became the fighting symbol of the UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS in the PACIFIC WAR and was one of the most iconic taken in WW2.
At the time Paul was 28 and was married with four children when he joined the Marine Corps.. Paul Ison was with the 1st MARINE DIVISION during the battle and was wearing a BAR cartridge belt but is carrying an M-1. He also has an M-1910 tool cover with a M-1944 shovel. The two are not designed for each other. He also had M-1 Bandoliers around his neck also wearing the standard leggings.
The 1st Marine Division had a standing order that their Marines would wear leggings during the battle. Sixth Marine Division ditched them or wore them but didn’t tuck their trouser in them. Paul Ison was assisting in the demolition of an enemy bunker. He made three runs through Death Valley that day. The first, depicted in the iconic Okinawa battle photo, was in the morning, to reach the demolition position. The second was to return to HQ to pick up the explosives which they had previously been told were already at the demolition site. The third was to return to the demolition site with the explosives. As an assistant Browning Automatic Rifle gunner, Paul was running hunched through Japanese machine gun fire while crossing a trench gap which the Marines called ‘Death Valley’. An unknown Marine combat photographer captured this moment. Paul E Ison USMC died in October 2001 in Fort Myers, Florida at age 84. On this day, in an eight-hour period, the Marines sustained 125 casualties crossing this particular valley.
The Marine Corps Historical Centre (1998) notes that: overall American losses in the land battle on Okinawa amounted to 7,374 killed, 31,807 wounded and 239 missing in action. At sea and in the air, the Navy reported 36 US ships sunk, 368 damaged, 763 aircraft lost to all causes, 4,907 seamen killed or missing in action and 4,824 wounded. Despite the magnitude of these losses by the Americans, the Japanese sustained even greater casualties at Okinawa than in any previous Pacific battle. Pfc Ison, an American of Norwegian stock, represents the doggedness, fortitude and tenacity of the front-line Marine to this day and his image is boldly sculpted at much more than life size and is seen by all arrivals at the Marine Corps base of Quantico. Because of this symbolism and his survival, Paul would meet several US Presidents yet remained modest and well respected. The ‘Old Breed’ was still the nickname for the First Marine Division when bound for Okinawa, a major island in the Ryukus only 350 miles from the southern Japanese home island of Kyushu. In this massive amphibious assault of Marine and Army units, they landed on the Hagushi beaches on 1 April 1945. For most of April, the First was employed in a hard-driving campaign to secure the northern sections of Okinawa. On 30 April 1945, that all ended when the Old Breed went into the lines against the teeth of the Japanese defences on the southern front.
The Division smashed up against the Shuri Line, and in a series of grinding attacks under incessant artillery fire, reduced one supporting position after another. As May wore on, heavy rains flooded the battlefield into a sea of mud, making life misery for all hands. meanwhile, Japanese kamikaze attackers exacted a fearsome toll of the supporting ships offshore. Finally, on 31 May 1945, Marines of the First completed the occupation of Shuri Castle, nothing more than a pile of rubble after so many days of unrelenting combat. Under the overall command of Tenth Army, the Division continued the push south against the newly established enemy positions around Kunishi Ridge. Marine tank-infantry teams adopted a technique called “processing” to destroy Japanese positions with flame and demolitions. Finally, organized resistance ended on 21 June when the last Japanese defences were breached. By now, many of the Old Breed’s battalions had been reduced to nothing more than small rifle companies.”