Joe was the third of eight children, and the first of four sons born to Lee Roy and Margaret Ethel (Greenwell) Crow of Milford in Ellis County. Lee was a pharmacist employed by Armen Drug in Milford. Joe was born on Friday, July 25, 1924. He was named by his mother in honor of her two living brothers, William Riley and Joseph Hubert, and given the name Joe Riley Crow.
In August of 1938 the Crow family moved from Milford to Ennis. Lee was the new pharmacist for Hesser Drug Company of Ennis, and the Crow family moved into a white frame bungalow at 705 N. Gaines Street, one block north of the Ennis public schools. The house had a very large back yard, and many school age children eager to make friends. By the time school started in September, Joe had met two life-long friends, Airdale Goodwin and Dooney Pierce.
On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Joe was a student at Ennis High School. He was an outstanding athlete in football and track lettering in both sports. He was a two-year letterman in football at quarterback and halfback, and on November 14 played his last high school football game. On that day Ennis defeated the heavily favored Waco Tigers in Waco at Tiger Stadium. Joe was one of the stars of the game that would be remembered in Ennis for decades, and he scored the winning touchdown. With America at war, Joe was in a quandary of whether to play his last season of football, and graduate high school, or join a branch of the armed services with Airdale and Dooney. Both of his friends graduated high school in May of 1942. If they joined the military together, they would have the best chance of remaining together in the same unit for the duration of the war.
Joe was expected to report for fall football practice in 1942, and enroll for classes at Ennis high School, but he did not report or enroll. He had apparently made his mind-up to enlist with Airdale and Dooney.
On December 1, 1942 Joe, Airdale and Dooney enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve in Dallas, Texas, and on the evening of the day of their enlistment boarded a Pullman Company car with other recruits on the Texas & Pacific Railroad. The train pulled away from the T&PR Terminal at 1600 Throckmorton Street in Fort Worth at 9:00 p.m., and headed westward to San Diego, California and basic training.
Airdale, Dooney and Joe arrived at Recruit Depot at Marine Corps Base in San Diego, California on December 3. They were assigned to the 1136th Platoon, 1st Recruit Battalion for basic training.
They completed basic training on January 23, 1943, and volunteered for Marine Paratroopers. They were assigned to Company A, Parachute Training School at Camp Gillespie in San Diego. The school consisted of six grueling weeks of training and six jumps from an aircraft. They graduated on March 8, and were awarded paratrooper’s wings, silver wings with an open parachute in the center, appointed Privates First Class in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and received an additional $50 per month jump pay.
On March 11 Airdale, Dooney and Joe were assigned to Parachute Replacement Company, School Battalion at Camp Elliott in San Diego. This assignment was for transfer to Camp Lejeune in New River, North Carolina for additional training, but Joe was hospitalized in San Diego with a severe case of poison oak. And on March 24, when Airdale and Dooney boarded a train to New River, Joe’s orders were cancelled, and he remained in a navy hospital in San Diego. Airdale and Dooney arrived at New River on March 30, and both were assigned to Company A, Parachute Battalion, Training Center at Camp Lejeune.
Back in San Diego, at the navy hospital, Joe was having a tough time with a very severe case of poison oak. Navy doctors were unable to do much to relieve the discomfort and intense itching. Large watery swellings covered much of his body. But help was on the way; a package arrived from his dad, Lee Crow, who was a pharmacist at Hesser Drug Company in Ennis. The package contained a salve that Lee had mixed, and forwarded to Joe. It stopped Joe’s allergic reaction to the poison oak, and the healing process began. Navy doctors were impressed by Lee’s salve, and asked him for the prescription, which he supplied.
The threesome was now a twosome, which would be dissolved in a month or so by the Marine Corps. On May 6 Joe was assigned to the 17th Replacement Battalion at Camp Elliott in San Diego. The assignment pointed him in the direction of the southwestern Pacific. And on June 5, before his nineteenth birthday, he was embarked in the USS Rochambeau steaming in convoy southwestward for Noumea in New Caledonia.
On June 13 the Rochambeau crossed the equator, which is the domain of Neptune Rex. All polliwogs, those crossing the equator for the first time, which included Joe, were initiated in the traditional ceremony. Joe’s initiation made him a shellback, or a veteran for future crossing, all part of the lore of the sea.
While aboard ship, on June 24, Joe was officially transferred from the 17th Replacement Battalion to Headquarters Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion, 1st Marine Parachute Regiment. The Rochambeau reached Noumea on the 25th. Joe disembarked on the 26th. While in New Caledonia, he received one month of demolition training, and was assigned to a demolitions platoon.
On September 23 Joe was embarked in the USS American Legion at Noumea, and on the 26th the Legion steamed into the Coral Sea heading northwest toward Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. He reached Guadalcanal on the 29th, and disembarked on the same day. The Army and Marines had secured Guadalcanal on February 9, 1943, and the island was now used as a staging area for troops and supplies for assaults headed northwest up the Solomon chain to Bougainville.
On October 13 Joe was aboard LST V-11-C with Headquarters Company heading northwest to Vella LaVella. Third Parachute Battalion was assigned to support New Zealand troops. Joe landed on the 14th, and his company camped near the beach, and patrolled and waited. The fighting was light.
Joe and Tony Stein were in the same company, and became good friends. Their battalion had grown sick of eating “C” rations, and so, one day Joe and Tony went fishing at the beach with high explosives. Their catch was nearly a half-ton of stripped sea bass, and with help from their buddies lugged the fish back to camp. Hands down, the catch of the day was one of the two best meals on Vella LaVella.
On Armistice Day, November 11, 1943, at U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington D.C., an order was dated activating the 5th Marine Division. The order was sent to the Fleet Marine Force at San Diego, California and Camp Lejeune at New River in North Carolina.
In November of 1943, the U.S. Marine Corps had four full divisions, and approximately 400,000 men. The 1st Marine Division was in advanced staging areas in Goodenough Island, part of an island group near the southeastern coast of New Guinea, and New Guinea preparing for the Cape Gloucester campaign. The 2nd Marine Division was on its way to Tarawa, in the Gilbert Islands, and the 3rd Marine Division was in combat on Bougainville, in the Solomon Islands. The 4th Marine Division, which had been formally activated on August 14, 1943, was in the final months of training at Camp Joseph H. Pendleton at Oceanside, California. The 4th Division would be the first U.S. Marine division to be shipped directly into combat. After completing training at Camp Pendleton, the 4th would ship out on January 13, 1944 for the Marshall Islands and the Roi-Namur assault.
On December 1, 1943 Headquarters Battalion of the 5th Marine Division began operating, officially, at Camp Pendleton, and in ten days, the 26th and 27th Marine infantry regiments and the 13th Marine artillery unit were organized.
On December 3 Joe was embarked in LCI 62 steaming northwest up the Solomon chain toward Bougainville. Joe in 3rd Parachute Battalion reached the island on the 4th, and disembarked at Empress Augusta Bay on the west coast of Bougainville, which was mostly open to the Solomon Sea. Their mission was to occupy and defend Hill 1000, which was part of a series of ridges with high ground overlooking the Cape Torokina area. There, a U.S. airfield had been constructed within range of Rabaul, which was a major Japanese naval and air base on the island of New Britain.
Joe, with 3rd Parachute Battalion, pushed out past the front lines to occupy and defend Hill 1000. The battalion reached the hill before the Japanese, and dug in defending it against repeated Japanese attacks. Once the hill was secure, they patrolled the area for approximately 10-days until replaced by the Army near the end of December. They were moved to the rear, but continued to send out patrols until the middle of January.
On January 15, 1944 Joe, with Headquarters Company, was embarked in LST 6 at Bougainville, and on the 16th it steamed southeast, back down the Solomon chain to Guadalcanal. Joe disembarked at Guadalcanal on the 18th.
The official activation date for 5th Marine Division was January 21, 1944. And for many weeks, men and materials had streamed into Camp Pendleton down the winding spur of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, and by trucks and buses rolling over Highway 101 from San Diego.
The troops assigned to 5th Division were from boot camps at Parris Island, South Carolina, and San Diego, California. And many were from training centers at Camp Lejeune in New River, North Carolina, Camp Elliott in San Diego, California and Camp Pendleton. They came from Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, Virginia, ship detachments of the fleet and many were combat veterans arriving on transports from the southwestern Pacific.
On January 29 Joe was embarked in the USS David C. Shanks at Guadalcanal. The Shanks steamed from the Solomons and northeast crossing the equator, on his second crossing Joe was a veteran, a shellback, and reached San Diego on February 14. Joe disembarked at the docks, and was given a 30-day leave. He boarded a train on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe line for Los Angeles, and changing trains arrived in Ennis and the home of his parents.
While Joe was on leave, on February 29, the Marine Paratroopers were dissolved, and on March 1 he was officially transferred to the 5th Marine Division at Camp Joseph H. Pendleton at Oceanside, California.
Joe’s leave ended in the middle of March, and he reported for duty to Company G, 3rd Battalion, 28th Marines at Tent Camp No. 1 in Las Pulgas Canyon. The tent camp was surrounded by rugged hills, and located between Ranch Road and Las Pulgas Road in Camp Pendleton. His company commander was Captain Robert B. Carney, Jr.
Major General Keller E. Rockey was the Commanding General of 5th Marine Division. He arrived to take command on February 4 from his former post in Washington D.C. as Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.
On February 8 training schedules were posted, and the 28th Marines infantry regiment and division service troops were organized, and most of the 1st Marine Parachute Regiment that had been ordered back to the states for conversion into division troops were assigned to the 28th Marines. Colonel Harry B. (Harry the Horse) Liversedge was the regiment’s commander. He was a veteran of many campaigns, and a former Marine Raider before it was dissolved near the end of 1943.
The training schedule for 5th Marine Division was written to occur in ascending order. First, the individual Marine was trained in the use of the tools of war that he would use in combat. Once mastered, training progressed to fire units, the assault tactics used in squads and platoons and companies. It quickly became obvious to infantrymen that they would have the front line jobs in combat, but the powerful support they would receive was not evident until the battalion and regimental phases of training. And at this point, when commanders began integrating supporting weapons into unit maneuvers, the heretofore-lonely Marine infantrymen were dumbstruck by the awesome display of power that would support them.
On May 7 Joe was appointed corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
Morale was high, and a very important ingredient in building cohesive units, so weekend liberty was often, and usually in Los Angeles and Hollywood. Marine buses were available to take troops to town, and bring them back to Pendleton on Sunday night.
On Tuesday evening, June 13, 1944, liberty in Los Angeles and Hollywood was over for Joe. Corporal Joe Riley Crow and Doris Rae Stephens were united in marriage by Rector C. Rankin Barnes at the Chapel of St. Paul’s House of the Episcopal Church in San Diego. Doris was Joe’s high school sweetheart. Mrs. Ruth Crippen attended Doris, and Corporal Merrill L. Crippen attended Joe. The new Mr. and Mrs. Crow made a temporary home at the St. Charles Hotel at 1229 8th Avenue in San Diego.
Amphibious training was the advance phase of training for 5th Division. It began on dry land learning to get oneself and equipment over the side of a transport down a cargo net into a waiting LCVP, and ended on land when the Division’s nine landing teams—the nine infantry battalions and supporting elements—were ready to practice amphibious assaults as units at sea.
The first regiment to go to sea was the 26th Marines, but before they completed their training plan, maneuvers were cancelled, the regiment was shipped out on July 22. They were assigned to floating reserve for the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade of the III Amphibious Corps for the assault on Guam. But the assaults in the Marianas progressed favorably, and the 26th Marines were relieved of floating reserve, and ordered to Camp Tarawa on the big island of Hawaii, Territory of Hawaii.
The 27th Marines was the second regiment to go to sea to practice amphibious landings, and the 28th Marines were the last.
The 28th Marines embarked in transports at San Diego, and made amphibious landing against barren San Clemente Island, sixty-miles off the coast of California, and assaults against the mainland at “Pendleton Island.”
Following amphibious training at sea, orders came down to move the remainder of the division to Camp Tarawa. The division would continue training, and wait for combat orders.
On August 12, the 27th Marines sailed from San Diego Harbor in convoy to Hilo on the big island of Hawaii, and overland 65-miles to Camp Tarawa.
On Tuesday, October 3, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed General Douglas MacArthur to assault Luzon on December 20 and Admiral Nimitz to assault Iwo Jima on January 20, 1945 and Okinawa on March 1. The timetable proved unrealistic, and the assaults were reset to January 9 for Luzon, February 19 for Iwo Jima and April 1 for Okinawa.
Major General Keller E. Rockey, and key members of his staff were ordered to Pearl Harbor for a briefing. There, they learned 5th Division would be assigned to the Fifth Amphibious Corps, and would fight in the next Pacific campaign, which would be Iwo Jima.
On Wednesday, October 11, 1944, Joe was embarked in the USS Etolin with Company G, 3rd Battalion steaming from San Diego Harbor westward toward Hilo and Camp Tarawa. The Etolin reached Hilo Harbor on the 19th, and Joe disembarked at Hilo docks on the same day, and was transported by truck the 65-mile trip to Camp Tarawa, which would be home for the 28th Marines for the next two and one-half months. Camp Tarawa was spread over 50,000 acres of the 225,000-acre Parker Ranch, and around the town of Kamuela. It sat 2,600-feet above sea level between mile-high Kahala and 13,796-foot Mauna Kea northwest of Hilo, and approximately twelve miles from Maume Beach, the nearest coastline.
On November 9 Joe was appointed Sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve, and squad leader of a demolition squad.
On Christmas Day the attack cargo ship USS Athene began loading at Hilo docks. It was the first ship assigned to lift 5th Division. And from December 25 on, men and equipment moved in a steady stream east into embarkation points at Hilo docks and west to LST beaches.
On Wednesday, December 27, the 27th Marines began loading men and equipment on ships in Transport Division 47 at Hilo docks. The 26th Marines followed on January 1, 1945 in Transport Division 46. On January 4 the 5th Division’s command post was closed at Camp Tarawa, and opened aboard the USS Cecil. The 28th Marines were the last to embark on January 6 in Transport Division 48. Joe was embarked in the USS Lubbock with Company G, 3rd Battalion. And on Wednesday, January 10, Transport Divisions 46, 47 and 48 were in anchorage at Pearl Harbor.
They steamed from Pearl Harbor eastward past Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head on the port side sixty miles to Maalaea Bay off the west coast of Maui to join 5th Division troops embarked in LSTs in anchorage at Maui.
The 4th Marine Division had trained at Camp Maui, and was embarked in transports in Transport Divisions 43, 44 and 45 at Maui.
Beginning Sunday, January 14, four days of maneuvers were held at Maalaea Bay off the west coast of Maui. Both 4th and 5th Marine Divisions participated, and at the end of the military exercises on the 17th, both divisions steamed for Pearl Harbor.
On Saturday, January 27, under a full moon, the reinforced 5th Marine Division steamed in convoy from Pearl Harbor westward toward Eniwetok in the Marshal Islands. After crossing the International Date Line going west, the convoy lost a day reaching Eniwetok Atoll on Monday, February 5. The ships refueled, and moved from the lagoon through the narrow channel back into the Pacific on Wednesday, and steamed westward toward Saipan in the Mariana Islands.
The fleet reached Saipan on Sunday, February 11 for refueling, and on Tuesday, a one-day invasion rehearsal was held off the west coast of Tinian followed by final briefings.
At Saipan the huge armada was divided into three sections for the final 625-mile leg of the journey to Iwo Jima. The first five waves of assault troops were embarked aboard LSTs, which were slow, and the first to leave Saipan’s Tanapag Harbor on Thursday afternoon, February 15. The second section was the main assault force with transports carrying the remainder of the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions, plus one regiment of the 3rd Division. Joe was aboard the USS Lubbock in the main assault force, and steamed from Saipan on Friday evening. The third section left Saipan on Saturday, February 17 with the remainder of the 3rd Marine Division and attached units.
Reveille sounded over the loudspeaker systems at 4:30 a.m. in LSTs and transports in sections one and two, and Joe would have instinctively hit the deck making his way to the head for a last shower and shave aboard ship.
Joe may have set down to the traditional breakfast of steak and eggs for Marines on D-day. Or, like many aboard the Lubbock and other transports and LSTs thought the tradition suggestive of the last meal before execution, and those opted for coffee, cigarettes and conversation.
Joe in the main assault force arrived off the coast of Iwo Jima at 6:00 a.m. He would be in division reserves with the 28th Marines, and they would be landed several hours after H-hour, or when released by General Rockey.
Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner arrived with the main assault force in his flagship the USS Eldorado. He was second in command to Admiral Raymond Ames Spruance, the overall commander at Iwo Jima and Commander of Fifth Fleet.
At 6:40 a.m., one minute before sunrise, Admiral Turner unleashed the heaviest pre-H-hour bombardment of World War II, which had been preceded by three days of pre-invasion naval bombardment that was preceded by ten-weeks of concentrated air bombardment by of the 7th Army Air Force based in the Marianas.
Iwo Jima is four and one-half miles in length, and two and one-half miles in width, at its widest point. It is roughly the shape of South America with a landmass of eight square miles. At the southwest end stood Mount Suribachi, an inactive volcano 554-feet above sea level, and joined to the broad plateau of Motoyama on the northeast by a narrow but progressively widening isthmus of brown volcanic ash and black cinders, which looked like sand, but was much lighter affording little traction. The shores along the broad plateau were rocky and inaccessible. The proposed landing beaches were along the widening isthmus on both the east and west coasts, with the east beach preferred. The entire island is volcanic in origin. Iwo Jima lies 625 miles north of Saipan and 660 miles south of Tokyo.
Around the time U.S. forces assaulted Saipan on June 15, 1944, Imperial General Headquarters placed the defense of the Volcano Islands under Tokyo. The 109th Infantry Division was organized, and shipped to Iwo Jima under the command of Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi. General Kuribayashi was garrison commander, and through his genius guided the transformation of one of God’s lesser triumphs into a near impregnable fortress. He directed the creation of a subterranean garrison of caves, bunkers, command posts and hospitals with enormous stores of food, water and ammunition thirty to fifty feet below the surface of the island. This garrison was connected by 16 miles of tunnels terminating at the surface in massive blockhouses and pillboxes and in the entrance to caves. Kuribayashi’s garrison quartered 21,000 men, who were committed to die for their Emperor.
At 6:45 a.m. Admiral Turner ordered “Land the Landing Forces,” and announced H-hour at 9:00 a.m. East beach was selected as the landing beach, and assault troops would be boated from LSTs and transports, and landed near the base of Mount Suribachi extending 3,500 yards northeast along the shoreline to the East Boat Basin and high broken ground on the north leading to the broad plateau of Motoyama. The landing beach was divided into seven 500-yard sections. Each section was designated by a color and numeral. The southern most section was Green One then Red One, Red Two, Yellow One, Yellow Two, Blue One and Blue Two completing the configuration. Fifth Division would land on Green and Red sections and 4th Division on Yellow and Blue.
The spearhead wave was the first to cross the line of departure at 8:30 a.m. It consisted of 68 armored LVTs, which were conversions to lightweight tanks with turrets and 75-mm guns. Following at five-minute intervals were the first five waves of assault troops embarked in LVTs, and behind them came twelve LSMs carrying medium tanks.
The amphibious landing unfolded without a hitch until it reached land, and then the island asserted itself. The spearhead wave touched beach at 8:59 a.m., but most of the vehicles lost traction when they reached the first terrace rising as high as fifteen feet. Although some made it past through breaches blasted by naval gunfire, some losing traction floundered, and were abandoned. Most backed into the sea, and continued firing their weapons at targets inland.
The first wave of assault troops landed at 9:01 experiencing the same difficulties as the spearhead wave. Most LVTs deposited their assault troops near the base of the first terrace. The fifth wave completed the initial landing at 9:22 a.m. The surf was low, and the weather ideal for an assault against a small, exposed island in the northwest Pacific.
Unfortunately, the ideal landing conditions did not hold for D-day. At 11:00 a.m. wind blowing from a northerly direction veered to the southeast, and set the current parallel to the landing beach causing LCVPs to broach. As the rising surf broke over their sterns the backwash from the rollers flowed over the downed ramps into the bows flooding the boats preventing them from retracting. Wreckage began to amass on the sections of landing beach that had been under heavy fire throughout the morning, and chaotic conditions were rapidly building on east beach.
As the land battle raged, at 12:08 p.m., 5th Division’s command post aboard the USS Cecil radioed the 28th Marines command post on Iwo Jima to notify them that 3rd Battalion was being sent in from division reserves. And, the Commanding General wanted to know where to land the battalion. The 28th radioed back at 12:15 p.m. to land the battalion on the right flank of Green One.
Before 3rd Battalion could be landed, orders had been issued earlier in the morning to boat the battalion. The USS Lubbock had launched twenty-four Higgins boats (LCVPs), and heaved hemp cargo nets over the railing. Joe and others waited for their debarkation orders, and when the announcement came over the loudspeakers, the procedure was to queue up on the starboard side of the Lubbock with others assigned to the same numbered landing craft. As boats came along side, the debarkation officer yelled out the number, and ordered the landing boat team over the rail. Joe descended the net with full combat gear, and timed the rise and fall of the LCVP before releasing from the net to drop a short distance onto the corrugated deck just as the boat reached the crest of the wave.
As the LCVP, lifting Joe to the assault, neared the right flank of Green One, the worsening weather conditions would definitely be a factor when he landed. When planning the assault, weather was an important factor. Iwo Jima was in the center of a disturbed area. The wind tended to go in circles, and at 11:00 a.m. weather conditions on the landing beach changed for the worse. The northerly wind veered to the southeast setting the current parallel to the beach, and the rising surf and steep beach gradients made it difficult to land small craft with men and equipment.
LCVPs carried a crew of three, the coxswain and two gunners in .30-caliber machine gun cockpits. It was designed to deliver 36 equipped assault troops to a landing beach, and when the flat-bottomed boat grounds in shallow water, or at water’s edge, provides quick front ramp egress onto the beach.
At 12:45 p.m. 3rd Battalion began landing on the right flank of Green One. Joe was a sergeant, and the leader of a demolition squad in Company G, 3rd Battalion, 28th Marines. The LCVPs grounded at water’s edge in rough surf, and held on as best they could with surf breaking over the stern. The front ramp came down, and Joe exited the fragile craft onto the dark volcanic ash. A mortar shell landed near, and the concussion from the explosion jarred him. A friend in the same LCVP would later write to Joe’s wife Doris that the explosion appeared to addle Joe, but he continued on his feet moving forward. Joe may have suffered a mild concussion wound when he landed.
In the book Battle Wounds of Iwo Jima, Dr. Thomas M. Brown, a surgeon in 2nd Battalion, 27th Marines, wrote: “Intense waves of compressed atmosphere are generated by the explosive forces of large shells. Great quantities of energy are released.
“Varying degrees of concussion cause varying degrees of disruption of body function. Lesser effects on the brain result in stunned or dazed sensations. Transient confusion may result and last from a few to many minutes.”
At 1:08 p.m. 3rd Battalion had landed, and the 28th Marines command post belatedly repeated their landing instructions. The repeat was requested by General Rockey’s staff, and the repeat by the 28th was: “Land LT-3/28 on right flank Green One. Move 200-yards inland in column of companies and halt.”
Joe landed in the midst of heavy artillery and mortar fire that literally rained down on the landing beach from Mount Suribachi and the north, and made 3rd Battalion’s movement across the beach and inland extremely costly. When the battalion reached the assembly area, they were immediately ordered into the line, but it was late afternoon before Joe and Company G were in place. Third Battalion was on the right of 2nd Battalion facing south, and the looming mass of Suribachi.
Colonel Liversedge had decided to move his lines closer to the base of Mount Suribachi. Enemy fire was increasing in intensity each hour and he hoped that more ground could be gained before the full firepower of the Japanese was brought to bear. So, late in the afternoon he ordered his three landing teams into the attack.
On the left facing south was 2nd Battalion, in the center Joe in 3rd Battalion and on the right flank 1st Battalion jumped off at 3:50 p.m. Despite the heavy pre-attack bombardment by Navy warships and warplanes the attack stalled. The failure was attributed to heavy resistance, open terrain and the disorganizing effects of the rapid advance made early in the day.
Brigadier General Leo D. (Dutch) Hermle, who had come ashore at 2:30 p.m. to set up the advance divisional command post, issued the order at 5:00 p.m. to “button up,” and Marines of 5th Division began digging in for the night. The entire Division line was in the open in full view of the Japanese, and Joe was dug-in for the night near the center of the line facing Suribachi. Darkness came to the island at 6:25 p.m.
The first night on Iwo Jima was cold, sleepless and fatal to many. Japanese artillery and mortar fire rained down on all units on the island during the night. Several infiltration attempts and counter attacks were launched and failed. The strongest came at 2:30 a.m. in front of the 27th, and was dispersed by artillery fire from the 13th Marines.
But the long night ended with sunrise at 6:40 a.m., and the wind was out of the southeast, and weather conditions were unchanged.
K-hour was at 8:30 a.m., and the pre-attack bombardment appeared to have extinguished all life on and around Suribachi. Second Battalion was on the left, and 3rd Battalion, with Joe in Company G, was on the right of the line facing south. Third Battalion was selected as the main attack force, but both landing teams attacked abreast at 8:45 a.m. Tanks that were promised were delayed until 11:00 a.m. for lack of fuel.
The ominous shadow of Suribachi loomed large over the 28th Marines as heavy and accurate fire emanated from concrete emplacements high up in cliffs on the slopes and lower down in the belt of shrubbery around the base. Progress was measured in yards and one pillbox at a time.
Destroyers and rocket gunboats offshore, and land-based artillery continued to support the advance of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions with crushing force destroying many emplacements, and unmasked more and more concrete pillboxes buried in the scrubby growth and rock-strewn ground leading to the base of Suribachi.
But in the final analysis, it would be Marine combat teams that destroyed most of the concrete and steel reinforced structures barely visible above the surface of the island, mutually supporting and protected by rifle and machine gun fire.
Joe led his demolition squad through heavy rifle and automatic fire toward their assigned objectives, three mutually supporting pillboxes. He skillfully maneuvered them into position, and relentlessly assaulted and destroyed two of the emplacements, despite two casualties. He had just set a satchel charge at the third, and turned to run back to his squad when a Nambu light machine gun opened up on him at point-blank range from a concealed position. Joe’s friend Bud, Corporal Merrill L. “Bud” Crippen, was ten feet away from where Joe was hit, and when Bud reached him, he was dead. His luck had run out, and his life had stopped. Joe had been hit twice in an arm, and four times in the chest. He was 20.
The site of the 5th Marine Division Cemetery was selected near the base of Mount Suribachi on February 22, and on that day the Grave Registration unit began burying the dead under fire while clearing mines. Casualties had been heavy, and it was not until Monday, February 26, that Sergeant Joe Riley Crow was buried at plot 1 on row 14 in grave 275. Joe was a veteran of three landings, and would be posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal for heroism.
On Friday morning, February 23, a 40-man platoon, from the 28th Marines, comprised of a handful of men from Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, and the remnants of 3rd Platoon in Company E under the command of 1st Lieutenant Harold George Schrier, executive officer of Company E, successfully scaled “Hot Rocks” the code name for Mount Suribachi. And at the top, they raised a small flag lashed to a discarded iron pipe.
The historical event was recorded at 10:30 a.m. in the Journal of the 28th Marines: “Colors raised on Mount Suribachi by Lt. Schrier’s “E” Co. patrol.”
The first flag, by one account, was too small to be seen through the haze of battle, and a larger battle ensign was borrowed from LST 779 that was beached near the base of Suribachi. The flag was given to a runner, PFC Rene Arthur Gagnon, who took it to the top. The first flag came down at the exact time the second flag was raised, and Joe Rosenthal, Associated Press photographer, snapped the most famous photograph of the Pacific War.
The 5th Marine Division Cemetery was formally dedicated on Wednesday, March 21. And on Monday, March 26, General Schmidt declared the operation completed, which ended the U.S. Marine Corps’ combat presence in the Battle for Iwo Jima, a physical presence lasting 36-days and 35-nights.
The official casualty report released at 6:00 p.m. on March 27, 1945 listed 21,872 Marines and 2,728 Navy personnel. Within these casualty numbers were the dead: 5,885 Marines and 433 Navy. Forty-six Marine and 448 Navy casualties were listed as missing in action, and presumed dead. The combined total was a staggering 24,600, which was a 61-percent increase over the 15,000 figure estimated by Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith, the top ranking Marine at Iwo Jima. General Smith expressed his fear of 15,000 casualties at the press conference held aboard the USS Eldorado on February 16 at Saipan. He said later, “Iwo Jima was the most savage and the most costly battle in the history of the Marine Corps.
On Thursday, March 22, at 12:00 noon a telegram was delivered to Joe’s dad, Lee Crow at Hesser Drug Company. A duplicate was delivered on the same day to Joe’s wife, Doris Rae (Stephens) Crow, living with her parents in Hearne, Texas.
On October 31, 1947 General A. A. Vandegrift, Commandant of the Marine Corps, signed a letter addressed to Mrs. Lee R. Crow:
“The return of American dead of World War II from overseas cemeteries has now been provided for by the Congress. The records of this office indicate that you are the person authorized to direct the final disposition of the remains of the late Sergeant Joe Riley Crow, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.”
On Tuesday afternoon, April 20, 1948, at 4:00 p.m. in Ennis, Texas, double rites were held in the cities largest protestant sanctuary. Tabernacle Baptist Church occupied a city block in downtown Ennis, but it was much too small to accommodate those wanting to pay final respects to Joe Riley Crow and Jack Lummus, two of four Ennis war heroes whose lives tragically came to an end on Iwo Jima. Interments were at Myrtle Cemetery in family burial plots with military honors.
Surviving were his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lee Crow at 108 W. Milam in Ennis: three brothers, Miles A., Ted and Jack Crow at the home address; four sisters, Mrs. John Oram O’Neal, Ennis, Mrs. John Asberry Blocker, Palmer and Ginger and Wanda Crow at the home address.