Local World War II veteran recalls his participation in the invasion of Iwo Jima

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    WARWICK-In light of more recent conflicts, a younger generation may find it incredible that 60 years ago, during a six-week period to capture an eight square mile island in the Pacific, 6,800 Americans and more than 20,000 Japanese lost their lives. Iwo Jima, the bloodiest battle of the Pacific war, began with an invasion of marines on Feb. 19, 1945. The story of the battle, immortalized by the famous photograph of six soldiers raising an American Flag on Mt. Suribachi, is well documented in "Flags of Our Fathers," a history by James Bradley. The author is the son of one of the six flag raisers, John Henry Bradley, who died in old age. Three of the others were killed before the island was captured. One story told in the book is that of a 20-year old private, who witnessed two of his fellow Marines being slashed with bayonets. Although his rifle had jammed, the young marine wielded his knife, then used the rifle as a club and tossed grenades, killing four Japanese soldiers in an heroic rescue attempt. The Marine was awarded the Navy Cross, second only in status to the Congressional Medal of Honor. Today that soldier, Pvt. 1st Class Thomas Mayers, now 81, is retired from his career as a body and fender repairman and living quietly with his wife, Edna, in Bellvale. Since their marriage, shortly after the end of World War II, they have raised two daughters and now have one granddaughter and two grandsons. Thomas Mayers still practices target shooting and competes in a Marine Corps League. He enjoys reloading his own ammunition and travels two or three times each week to a nearby New Jersey range. Mayers has a room filled with trophies won in shooting competitions which attests to the skills he first acquired when he left his home in the Bronx, at age 19, to join the Marines. "I tried to sign up two years before that," recalled Mayers, "but they wouldn't take me because I was the oldest son out of 10 children and I was working and contributing to the support of my family." After "Flags of Our Fathers" was published in 2000, Mayers received a strange call asking if this was "Cisco's" home. Only someone who knew him from his days in the service would know the nickname he had adopted at that time. The caller, who had recognized his name in the book, turned out to be a coffee server named Florence whom Mayers often chatted and joked with when he was stationed in Hawaii. His memories of Iwo Jima, however, were not quite so pleasant. "Until the book was published," said Edna Mayers, "Tom never spoke about it. In the past few years, however, he has been willing to answer questions and tell some of his stories." Pvt. Mayers, an infantry rifleman, was one of 36 Marines in C Company, 5th Marine Division, to land in the invasion of Iwo Jima. When the American forces had finally secured the island as a valuable emergency field for B-29s returning from mainland bombing raids, only one marine from C Company, Tom Mayers, had survived. "God was on my side," he said. "I never got a scratch." Considering his boldness and daring during battle, Divine intervention may not have been far from the truth. In one instance, for example, he heard voices and noticed smoke coming from a "spider trap," one of the numerous subterranean hideouts constructed by the Japanese. It was a good indication that it was occupied and so Mayers lifted the cover and tossed in a grenade. Someone opened the trap door and tossed it back. It exploded as the marines ran for cover. Mayers then went back and threw two more grenades into the same deep hole. But this time he sat on the trap door until his grenades exploded. "Those Japanese soldiers must have been in a panic," he said. "I expected them to shoot up at me right through the wooden door. It would have been easy."