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'I am not afraid'

Sgt. Lynn Elverton Claflin was one of 80,000 Marines ordered to Iwo Jima in WWII.

“Iwo,” as the Marines called it, was a 10-square-mile island of “Hell on Earth,” defended by over 21,000 deeply entrenched Japanese soldiers in tunnels, caves, bunkers, and pillboxes.

Lynn’s unit, the 27th Regiment of the 5th Marines, had only been organized a month earlier, but Lynn was already a veteran paratrooper who had been wounded in late October 1943 in the Solomon Islands. He was returned to the U.S. to recover.

Six months later, with a promotion to corporal, he was returning to action. The Marines had disbanded the parachute units as not being effective in the Pacific and Lynn was now in the Infantry.

In the face of a furious Japanese artillery barrage on February 19, 1945, at 9:00 a.m., Lynn and his unit rushed onto “Red Beach 2,” the Iwo Jima beach of black, volcanic ash and sand.

The regiment’s orders were to carry its attack all the way to the opposite side of the island, and to cut off and isolate Mount Suribachi from the rest of the island. But just getting off the beach was a problem. The initial Marine assault encountered 15-foot-high terraces and mounds of soft ash, frustrating any advance inland, and stranding the men near the shoreline.

By mid-morning, some units, including Lynn’s, were able to move cautiously inland. That’s when the artillery, rifle, and machine gun fire only got thicker.

“You could’ve held up a cigarette,” said one battalion commander, “and lit it on the stuff that was flying by.”

Lynn was the second of five brothers born to Ray and Ruth Claflin. He grew up on the family farm in Powell, Wyoming. In 1939, the family moved west and settled on a farm near Coleman Creek.

He continued to help the family work the farm, even after his graduation from Phoenix High School. But, on February 12, 1943, when he was 20, Lynn enlisted in the Marines and, two day later arrived in San Diego for basic training. Three months later, he was learning to jump from airplanes at Camp Gillespie, about 15 miles east of San Diego.

It’s not exactly known where Lynn was on February 28, 1945, nine days after the Marine assault began; however, descriptions of the battle indicate that he was likely before Hill 382, the highest point on the island other than Mount Suribachi.

Under withering Japanese fire, the regiment opened an attack across 200 yards of sandy soil. Some of the Marines managed to reach the top of the hill, but were cut off from their units below, by a hailstorm of hand grenades in a Japanese counterattack. Their company commander was mortally wounded and the men were forced to retreat.

This is the day 22-year-old Sgt. Lynn Claflin died, one of 566 in his regiment who were also killed on Iwo. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, its accompanying citation reading:

“Although seriously wounded by enemy fire shortly before orders were given to dig in, Sgt. Claflin, as senior non-commissioned officer left in his detachment, refused to be evacuated, and remaining in the front lines under constant pounding of enemy mortar barrage, completely reorganized the troops before being taken to the rear for medical treatment.”

After the war, the military returned Lynn home. On January 5, 1949, his parents and four brothers attended his funeral service at Golden Gate National Cemetery, near San Francisco.

In one of his last letters home, Lynn told his mother, “I am not afraid. I want to go with this outfit. There are 12 men depending on me for leadership.”

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including“History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.

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