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Dave Severance was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in July 1919. His family moved to Colorado when he was very young. He lived there until he attended college for one year at the University of Washington, Seattle from 1936 to 1937. He could not afford to stay in college, so he decided to join the Marine Corps. Originally he wanted to fly with the Army Air Corps, but a recruiter told him he could fly with the Marines. He went to boot camp in San Diego, California. His drill instructor at boot camp was livid when he asked to attend flight training, so he went aboard ships for a few years instead. He advanced to the rank of corporal. After ship duty, Severance transferred to San Diego with the 8th Marines [Annotators Note: 8th Marine Regiment]. He decided to join the paratroopers in July of 1941. He trained at Lakehurst, New Jersey. He enjoyed the Marine Corps paratrooper training. It was tough training. He was promoted to sergeant in April 1942, after the start of the war. He transferred back to San Diego to attend more paratrooper training and become an officer. He was commissioned when he went overseas. He was recommended by his commanding officer for a field commission and was promoted to second lieutenant. Severance commanded a platoon in Bougainville. They were ambushed behind enemy lines, but they were trained well and they fought off the ambush, losing only one man. In February 1944, they returned to the United States and were disbanded. The Marine Corps formed the 5th Marine Division at Camp Pendleton. Severance was given a 60 day leave and then checked in at division headquarters. He was assigned to the 28th Marines [Annotators Note: 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division] and was given command of Company E. They trained at Camp Pendleton until September 1944 then transferred to Hawaii. In November 1944, he was told about what they were going to do at Iwo Jima. He had no idea how they were going to take the south end of the island because it was a volcano. The men joked that the first men to make it to the top of the volcano should get a prize. Someone suggested champagne, but Severance did not think they would need much because he could not imagine many men making it up to the top. Lieutenant Wells, the company's adjutant, stated that they had to carry a flag and if they were the first ones to the top they would plant it in the volcano. They landed on Iwo Jima on 20 February 1945 in the tenth wave and were under heavy mortar fire when they hit the beach. The first day was relatively calm; they attacked a Japanese pill box on the beach. The second day, Severance and his company started their assault on the mountain [Annotators Note: Mount Suribachi]. They cleaned out the area and the next day they regrouped and were resupplied.

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On 23 February of 1945, Dave Severance recalls the battalion commander sending four men from Company F [Annotators Note: Company F, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division] to scout a trail up the mountain [Annotators Note: Mount Suribachi]. They reached the top without seeing any Japanese. The battalion commander told Severance to send him a platoon under the command of his executive officer, Lt. George Shrier. Shrier was given the flag that Lt. Wells brought ashore from the Missoula [Annotators Note: USS Missoula (APA-211). Shrier took the platoon up the mountain and there were still no Japanese present. They found some damaged water pipes and created a pole for the flag. Six of the men raised it at 10:20 on the morning of 23 February of 1945. General Holland M. Smith and the Secretary of the Navy [Annotators Note: James Forrestal] landed on the beach that morning and saw the flag on top of the mountain. The Secretary of the Navy wanted it as a memento of his visit to Iwo Jima. Severance's battalion commander refused to let him have the flag. Ted Tuttle [Annotators Note: Albert Theodore Tuttle] was given orders to find another flag to replace the small flag. Shrier sent the small flag down the mountain to Severance and a larger flag was sent up to take its place. While Severance's platoon was changing the flags, Joe Rosenthal, an associated press photographer, got word that a Marine patrol was on the mountain and that they raised a flag. Rosenthal went to the 28th Marine Regiment’s headquarters, where he ran into two more photographers. They decided to go up the mountain and they were able to get photographs and video of the second flag being raised. Rosenthal's famous image of the six men raising the flag made it back to the United States and there was some speculation that it was posed, but it was completely candid. Rosenthal's photograph became an iconic image for the Marine Corps, but they never tell the full story about the two flags. Both flags were sent back to Washington, D.C.

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Dave Severance joined the Marine Corps in October 1938 at the age of 19. He was on liberty in Los Angeles when he first heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. He did not pay attention to the newspaper headlines because they had talked about the United States going to war for months. It was not until they turned the radio on later that afternoon [Annotators Note: 7 December 1941] that they realized that Pearl Harbor had been attacked and that all troops had to report back to their bases. They went back to Camp Elliott, east of San Diego. When Severance returned to base everyone was walking around with loaded rifles. He got word the next day that Japanese paratroopers had landed in San Francisco. The months following Pearl Harbor were tense. Severance though they were going to ship out to Japan within days of the attack. He heard about Wake Island and the Philippines and did not understand why they were so unprepared. He feels that it took a while for the country to get into war time status. Severance received M-1 and Johnson rifles. Severance joined the paratroopers in July of 1942 but did not deploy overseas until March of 1943. He joined the paratroops because he still wanted to fly and he could be around airplanes. He attended flight training after the war. After training, he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion [Annotators Note: 2nd Parachute Battalion]. There were not many paratroopers at that time. He was sent to a first sergeants class with the 1st Division [Annotators Note: 1st Marine Division]. They created the 3rd Battalion [Annotators Note: 3rd Parachute Battalion] and he joined as a lieutenant, and was made the adjutant of the battalion. He was promised a platoon when he made it overseas. Severance was anxious to go to war. They joined the 1st and 2nd battalions overseas. In September of 1943, they moved north to Vella, where they were told there was a Japanese presence. They went on various patrols, but did not see any Japanese forces. Severance got stuck in a swamp during one patrol. Another time, Japanese aircraft bombed the airfield near their camp. A few men from 1st battalion died from the bombardment.

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On 1 December 1943, they [Annotators Note: Dave Severance and the rest of the 3rd Marine Parachute Battalion] attacked Bougainville. They landed a month after the first division [Annotators Note: the 3rd Marine Division landed on Bougainville in November 1943]. Severance and his platoon were sent out to take over Hill 1000. They wanted to expand the perimeter around the hill. They were ambushed on the other side of a ridge behind the hill. This was Severance’s first time in combat. Everyone performed the way they were trained to. Their getaway man was the first one killed. The weapons company officer went with Severance and brought a machinegun patrol. When they got hit, the machine gunners reacted immediately. Severance pulled his platoon behind the machine gunners and reinforced their position. It was a swampy area. When they got back to Hill 1000, they found out there were Japanese forces in the front of the ridge. Severance and his men moved in to help the weapons company. Around this time Severance was promoted to company executive officer. They went on smaller patrols after that, but there were no major battles or ambushes after the first one. That first battle was a little nerve wracking for Severance but everyone performed the way they were supposed to. Severance was on Bougainville until mid January 1944. They heard that the paratroopers were being disbanded so they knew they would return home. Severance transferred to a tent camp on Guadalcanal where they stayed for ten days. They were given 5,000 cases of beer. They disbanded the paratroopers because they needed troops for the 5th Division [Annotators Note: 5th Marine Division]. When he checked in with the 5th Division, there were three infantry companies. He was assigned to a company in the 1st Battalion. He asked to be transferred to a company in a different battalion and was given a company in the 2nd Battalion.

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Dave Severance remembers the Marine Corps having 18,000 men at the time of his enlistment. He made corporal four times. He had joined the Colorado National Guard at age 15 and put in three years. He made corporal there. He made corporal the second time in ROTC at the University of Washington and twice aboard the Lexington [Annotators Note: USS Lexington (CV-2)]. Most of the enlisted men in the 5th Division [Annotators Note: 5th Marine Division] had previous combat experience. He had only one officer in his company that had combat experience. He had one first sergeant who had combat experience. Severance was in the same paratrooper battalion as Ira Hayes. He knew the men who got in trouble better than the ones who were well behaved. He knew his men's names and he was more concerned about their training, not where they had been. He recalls the medals given to the men that raised the flag on the mountain and his work in getting the men the medals they deserved. Ira Hayes caused some trouble with the flag raising concerning which men were actually there. He talks about Bradley [Annotators Note: John Henry Bradley, also known as Jack or Doc] and his petition to award him the Navy Cross. Bradley did not tell anyone that he received the medal, he was very humble.

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Severance remembers some of the men, including Ira Hayes, John Bradley [Annotators Note: John Henry Bradley, also known as Jack or Doc], and Rene Gagnon. Gagnon was the Marine Corps Tyrone Power. He was a company runner and he never got in trouble. He recalls the actions of Mike Strank. Strank was a great leader and sergeant. Frank Sousley was young and the men used to play jokes on him because he was gullible. The first thing he heard about Iwo Jima concerned where they would land and the beaches. They still did not know how they were going to climb the mountain. Severance experimented with grappling hooks, attaching hooks and ropes to aircraft rockets. They did not need them on Iwo Jima. Severance recalls what it felt like to land on Iwo Jima in the tenth wave of attacks. They were under mortar fire as soon as they hit the beach. The sand was difficult to climb in. They moved off the beach to the assembly area as fast as they could. Severance was waiting on another platoon to hit the beach when he got orders to report to regimental headquarters. The commanding officer wanted him to move north against Japanese troops, but he explained he was still waiting on anther platoon. The battalion commander gave him five minutes to find his missing platoon or he would be court martialed.

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Dave Severance was scared that he was going to be court martialed. He ran back to company headquarters and the platoon was not there. He had no idea what to do. He followed protocol and came up with the best solution. By the time he went back to tell the commanding officer that the platoon was not there, or lie and say that it was, another member of the platoon let him know that the men in the north were Marines and they did not have to go anywhere. He was happy not to be court martialed. He was then given orders to spread his company throughout a sector and notify of any wounded men. They helped the 1st Battalion [Annotators Note: 1st Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division] set off a shape charge over a Japanese bunker. Several Japanese rushed out of the bunker and were killed. The fighting at the base of the mountain was worse than the rest of the island. It was heavily fortified with pill boxes. Some of his men were wounded, including all three of his platoon leaders. He remembers Wells coming back after being wounded and going up to the top of the mountain to see the flag. Bradley [Annotators Note: John Henry Bradley, also known as Jack or Doc] was a courageous corpsman. He would pull the wounded out of the line to help them. Severance observed Bradley helping men off the line at least three times, but he heard of more instances from other men. That was why Severance recommended Bradley for the Navy Cross. The only reason they put the flag up was because they reached the top of the mountain first.

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Dave Severance thought they would be sent home once they took the mountain [Annotators Note: Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima]. They were surprised to get orders to march north. The fighting continued to get worse the farther north they marched. They were on Iwo Jima until 26 March of 1945. On 22 and 23 March, Severance was given 50 men to help him through Katana Gorge. They were going to send a battalion from the east through the gorge to stop the Japanese in the west. Severance was supposed to join with the rest of the battalion. They encountered about 20 Japanese while they were running telephone wire in a ravine. A runner told them the patrol had been withdrawn. The pioneer unit relieved some of Severance's men. They gave him the recruits because he had logistical, not operational control. When they left, he had about 309 men left. The corpsmen were the hardest to replace. Bradley [Annotators Note: John Henry Bradley, also known as Jack or Doc] was wounded by a mortar shell around 12 March. After they secured the island, army occupation troops moved in to take over their positions. They pulled back to the battalion command post and visited the cemetery at the foot of the volcano before returning to the ship. They were told to leave their ammunition and grenades with the army troops, but Severance does not know of anyone who did. He heard shooting to the south. Japanese troops attacked a battalion of pilots at the airfield and were finally taken down by tanks.

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Dave Severance recalls some of the Japanese soldiers continuing to fight against the army relief units and some even holding out in the caves until the end of the war. Three of the flag raisers, Sousley, Strank, and Block [Annotators Note: Franklin Sousley, Michael Strank, and Harlon Block], died on Iwo Jima. Strank and Block were killed by artillery shells and Sousley was killed while he was out of his foxhole four days before they left. There were a lot of casualties on Iwo Jima. Severance lost a third of his company on the third day of the battle. Severance found out about the popularity of Rosenthal's image around 22 March [Annotators Note: 22 March 1945]. They received word that the president wanted the survivors from the flag raising sent back to the United States to participate in the seventh war bond drive. At this time they actually started looking to see who was in the picture. Gagnon [Annotators Note: Rene Gagnon] was the only one still on the island. When they reached Hawaii, they received word that Hayes [Annotators Note: Ira Hayes] was to report to Washington, D.C. Hayes did not want to go. Severance was not concerned about the flag raising and the war bond drive. He had to rebuild his battalion because they were scheduled to invade Japan in November 1945. He needed new officers. Very few of the replacements had combat experience.

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Iwo Jima as the worst place Dave Severance fought. They could not see the enemy. The terrain was rough and open. Living in foxholes was terrible and tedious and they also had to deal with people shooting at them. It was hard to live in the ground. They had no hot meals, only rations. The Japanese they encountered on Bougainville were poor shots but the Japanese on Iwo Jima were sharp shooters. He did not see or hear of any instances of Japanese mutilating Marines. There was one instance that Bradley [Annotators Note: John Henry Bradley, also known as Jack or Doc] later talked about concerning one Marine they found dead. Bradley said he was mutilated, but he was attacked trying to fend off the Japanese and was killed. Severance only recalls taking one prisoner while on Iwo Jima. None of the Japanese offered themselves up as prisoners.

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Besides the flag raising, Dave Severance's most vivid memory was the loss off troops. They knew that the Japanese were going by them every night, they would set out trip flares each night to warn them of Japanese movement. One night, he ordered the men to set out three rows of flares and they all went off at once, but there were no Japanese. A small battle ensued for the next couple of days. Severance was close enough to a Japanese soldier to see him toss a grenade at him. To a certain extent, he felt invulnerable at times. Severance was in Hawaii training a new company when he heard the war was over. He was at a court martial hearing and the defense attorney told him that the war was over. He was relieved because he was training a new company full of replacements to invade Japan. He was transferred to Japan for occupation duty as the executive officer of the battalion [Annotators Note: 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division]. He was in Japan from September 1945 to January 1946. He took command of a motorized recon [Annotators Note: reconnaissance] company for a short time before returning to the United States. When he returned home he had orders for flight training waiting for him. He started flight training in April 1946 in Dallas, Texas. He retired from the Marine Corps in May 1968 after 30 years of service. He went to Korea. He was on an air wing staff in Japan when Vietnam broke out, but he did not fight.

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