Early Life

Becoming a Marine

Iwo Jima

Overseas Deployment

War's Brutality

Assaulting Iwo Jima

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Occupation Duty

Postwar

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Richard Nummer was born in 1926 in Detroit, Michigan. He had five brothers and a sister, all of who were raised in Detroit. His father worked as an electrician and was able to work through the depression years. Nummer had a nice life with good friends. He attended high school through the eleventh grade and only received his diploma years after the war because of his service. Nummer heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor on that Sunday afternoon while he was holding the ladder for his father while he wall papered a room. They did not know where Pearl Harbor was located. Nummer tried to enter the service at 16 years old but he was told he had to wait. He went in the next year when he was 17 in 1943. Two of his brothers were in the Army. One brother had two children and went into the service before Nummer. One brother served in Burma. That brother stayed in Burma for over a year. Nummer went into the service with the Marines as his first choice. He knew it was dangerous, but he wanted to kill some Japanese.

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Richard Nummer entered service in November 1943 at 17 years old. He went to San Diego for boot camp. That was his first time away from home. It was a scary feeling to get on the train and meet a lot of new fellows. Nummer took seven weeks of boot training in San Diego. There were 70 people in his boot camp platoon. He was originally short compared to his peers but he grew with all the good food. It felt like a Gomer Pyle [Annotator's Note: Gomer Pyle refers to a television program from the 1960s which depicted a well intentioned but clumsy Marine trainee played by actor Jim Nabors] experience. Nummer was harassed by his drill instructor so there were rough times but there were good times too. He made friends in boot camp that he stayed close with after the war. Some friends were killed during the war and others have died since. Now there are only three of them left. During some of the reunions, Nummer went to the White House. He met Vice President George Bush [Annotator's Note: later President George H.W. Bush] and the President's wife, Nancy Reagan. After boot camp, his advanced training was at Camp Pendleton. Nummer's rifle firing qualification was hampered by fog. He had difficulty with the swimming and driving qualifications during boot camp, also. He was trained as part of a 37mm gun crew as an ammunition handler. The training at Camp Pendleton always involved taking a hill. It was only after the fact that Nummer realized the hill was Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. He stayed with the crew that he trained with until after he left Pendleton. As he was leaving, he injured himself on the truck and was sent to an Army hospital. When he heard that his unit was leaving, he left the hospital. Upon arriving back at his unit, however, he learned that had been replaced. He had been originally assigned to Weapons Company, 28th Marine Regiment. The company was equipped with 37mm anti-tank guns, machine guns, flame throwers and bazookas. Nummer learned to operate and maintain all the weapons.

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Since Richard Nummer had been separated from his original unit [Annotator's Note: Weapons Company, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division] following his injury during advanced training and his subsequent hospital stay, he was assigned to Headquarters Company, 28th Marine Regiment. He was with the photographer who took the picture of the first flag raised on Mount Suribachi. Nummer entered the attack on Iwo Jima as part of the sixth wave. As he scrambled onto the beach, he moved from shell hole to shell hole. Advancing that way, he moved forward to a shell hole and jumped into it. Once in that hole, he would hit the shoulder of any Marine already in that hole who would then hustle forward to the next hole. As he did this, one fellow that he hit on the shoulder did not move. That individual had been killed, so Nummer quickly moved up to the next hole. There were rounds exploding near him and he tried to dig a hold deeper. Eventually, an artillery round hit near enough to knock him unconscious. When he awoke the next morning, he moved to his weapons unit. His buddies in the weapons unit told him that they thought he was KIA [Annotator's Note: Killed in Action]. Capturing Suribachi [Annotator's Note: Mount Suribachi] was planned to be a three day operation, but it took five days. When the flag was raised, there was a large celebration on shore as well as off shore. Nummer saw the second flag raising from about 50 yards away. He never knew it would be a famous photograph in the future. Nummer was told to guard that flag. Things were rougher at night. During the day, he and others would pick up the dead. He spotted the body of John Basilone who had been awarded the Medal of Honor at Guadalcanal. Basilone was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions at Iwo Jima. One night while guarding the flag, the wind was up and the flapping of the flag startled Nummer. He thought it might be an enemy soldier so he fired a shot. The shot pierced the flag. He held that story for 40 years until he told it to his two sons while observing the flag. Nummer states that the single hole on the Suribachi flag can be seen at the Marine Corps Museum at Quantico, Virginia. The hole was put there by Nummer while guarding it. Others may not believe the story, but Nummer maintains that it is true. Most of Nummer's buddies who experienced the battle with him are gone now. Time is catching up with them.

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After boot camp, Richard Nummer returned home for only one day before he returned to San Diego. Some trainees went AWOL [Annotator's Note: absent without leave] and were put in the shipboard brig on the way to Iwo Jima. En route to Iwo Jima, there was a brief stop in Hawaii prior to shipping out for the battle. There was exercise onboard the ship. The men also cleaned their weapons. There was a lot of spare time. One of his buddies asked Nummer to visit his wife because, as a runner for the lieutenant, he felt he would not make it through the battle. That individual received three Purple Hearts but made it back to his wife. Time was spent at Camp Tarawa in Hawaii for additional training before the battle. Swim training was conducted, as was tower climbing and crawling under barbed wire under fire. There was an occasional liberty allowed. Nummer would volunteer for guard duty during the weekend periods so he could get liberty during the week when things were less busy. Nummer saw a USO [Annotator's Note: United Service Organizations] show with Bob Hope. During one show, Nummer won a lottery for a basket of fruit, but he gave his ticket to his buddy. His buddy went up front and gave a kiss to one of the show girls.

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Richard Nummer experienced the brutality of war on Iwo Jima. He and his buddies witnessed Japanese soldiers lying with intestines on top of them. Assuming they were dead, the Marines moved on until Nummer saw one of the Japanese raising his arm. Not waiting for a grenade to be thrown by the enemy soldier, Nummer shot him immediately. Japanese soldiers would crawl under tarps shielding dead Marines and exchange uniforms with them. Then they would lay in wait until the body disposal units came to retrieve the dead and would throw grenades at them. There were gruesome instances of abuse and dismemberment of Marines who had been captured by the Japanese soldiers. When the Marines learned that they would have to care for enemy captives they acquired, it became easier to eliminate the possibility. Because of the dirty tricks that the Japanese played, the Marines would avoid taking captives. Even if there were large numbers of Japanese who surrendered, the Marines would mow them down. Nummer used an M1 [Annotator's Note: .30 caliber M1 rifle, also referred to as the M1 Garand] and the lighter carbine [Annotator's Note: .30 caliber M1 carbine] for night guard duty. The order to fix bayonets was something that Nummer never liked hearing, because he never wanted to have a blade shoved in him. That was terrible to think about. Most of the time, Nummer kept the bayonet on his rifle anyway. Nummer was told that the Iwo Jima operation would only take three days. He carried enough rations for three days only. The battle lasted much longer than three days. There were recognition codes established for American personnel identification such as the names of presidents, species of trees or types of cars. One evening at twilight, Nummer noticed someone in the distance wearing a Marine jacket. He shouted the challenge term president but got no response from the oncoming individual. Next, he shouted tree but still got no response. Finally, he shouted car with no response. Nummer was very aware it could be a Japanese soldier trying to infiltrate the lines in Marine uniform so he shouted in Japanese for the man to lay down his weapon. There was still no response, so Nummer shot him in the stomach with his M1. The person fell with the Marines not knowing if he was American or not. Shortly afterward, the Marines could hear the fallen individual shouting in Japanese to the enemy soldiers where the Marine positions were. Nummer and his buddies set up trip wires to let them know if the rest of the Japanese were trying to attack. When they eventually did advance on the Marines, the Americans mowed them down. There were 30 or 40 Japanese shot in that action. The lieutenant came over and wanted to know who had the machine gun. The Marines told him that Nummer shot the infiltrator with his M1. The lieutenant recognized his good work and said Nummer saved the lives of some of his buddies. The lieutenant left while saying that he would talk with Nummer later. Nummer thought he might have gotten some official recognition for his action, but the lieutenant was killed when he tried to rescue a Marine. As he was pulling a Marine to safety, the Japanese shot him. It was a sad situation. The lieutenant's wife had just had a baby, but he had never seen it.

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While heading to the invasion of Iwo Jima, Richard Nummer's convoy of ships was joined by numerous ships at Saipan. Many planes were overhead. By the time they reached their destination, all they could see were ships all around. There were all types of ships. When they climbed down the ladder into the landing crafts, they could see planes headed to the assault beach. The smell in the landing craft made many of the Marines sick. The troops were loaded down with equipment including gas masks. Some men discarded the masks, but Nummer kept his. When they learned of their assault being on Iwo Jima, many men did not know where that island was. The Japanese positions were identified on maps, but the underground installations were not shown. There were many of those installations. When the men came topside, they saw the Navy shelling the island heavily. Many casualties were experienced by the 28th [Annotator's Note: 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division]. After the iconic flag raising photograph on Suribachi, many of the participants in that event died. Only three, Ira Hayes, Gagnon and Bradley the corpsman survived. After Iwo Jima, the 28th was supposed to participate in Okinawa but too few of them survived the battle. They went back to Hawaii and it was there that Hayes drank beer with Nummer. Nummer remembered that Hayes did not want to leave any beer for the next day. After his discharge, Hayes would die from drinking. Nights on Iwo Jima were horrible and long. Most of the time there were three in the hole [Annotator's Note: foxhole]. It was hard to get any sleep even in rotating shifts. They were anxious for the light to come on since the night was when the Japanese would infiltrate [Annotator's Note: the Japanese would infiltrate the Marines' positions at night]. It surprised Nummer that anyone survived the pre-landing bombardment. The Japanese had spent years embedding themselves. When they were told that the island was clear, they made preparations for leaving. They put their guns on trucks and began moving to the departure site. The Japanese made another banzai attack. The Marines with Nummer had no weapons to fight the attack. It ended up that 500 Japanese were killed in the attack. It was at that time that Nummer saw one of his friends who went into the Marines later than him who had been killed. He was a replacement that never saw much action before he died. Nummer's unit was marched on to the point of departure to the ships that would return them to Hawaii. As he climbed the ladder on the ship, it struck him that he had not changed his shorts during the 36 days he was on Iwo Jima. Nummer carried food and ammunition rather than clothes. Showers and bunks were available on the ship and Nummer slept most of the time while en route to Hawaii.

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Back in Hawaii, Richard Nummer participated in the preparations for the invasion of Japan. One of Nummer's fellow Marines had a pack of gold teeth that he had taken from dead Japanese. He left a dog in charge of watching the teeth while he stepped out of the tent. When he returned, the dog was asleep. The Marine said it was against regulation to sleep on guard duty and shot the dog. The Marine was taken away because of the shooting. After a month, the Marine returned. He said he had no recollection of killing the dog. Off in the distance, there was a dog barking and the Marine seemed to snap. He threw a knife at one of the other Marines. He was taken away for good after that incident. He threatened to retaliate against his tent mates, but Nummer did not hear of any further action on this. The dogs were used in training in Hawaii. Dogs used on Suribachi helped in smelling Japanese. Nummer could not smell the Japanese. He could only smell the death in the air. At a reunion on Iwo Jima, the Americans and Japanese were supposed to shake hands. The Japanese General's wife offered condolences. Nummer turned in the diary of a Japanese soldier that he had shot. He took items he had saved in his attic and gave it to the Japanese to return to the family of the deceased. It turned out that some of the artifacts made it to children of the deceased soldier. It made Nummer feel good that he had helped the child of the man he had shot. At Iwo Jima, artifacts cannot be extracted from the caves. There are still Japanese and American bodies in those caves.

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For the invasion of Japan, Richard Nummer and the American troops were issued wool blankets and green fatigues to fight the battle. It was then that Nummer heard of the atomic bombs being dropped on Japan. Because of his lack of points, Nummer could not return home immediately. Instead, he participated in the occupation of Japan. He was stationed in Nagasaki and Sasebo, Japan. He drank the water there without concern. When he returned to the United States he was not old enough to get a drink in a bar. Soon, his hair turned white and he developed skin issues. Those circumstances resulted from the radiation that he was exposed to in Japan. The VA [Annotator's Note: Veterans Administration] did not provide any help with the physical problems he had. The end of the war brought no celebration for Nummer. It was like another day in the camp. On occupation duty, there were mines in the Japanese waters and heavy gun emplacements on shore that the Americans would have had to assault. There would have been heavy casualties if the homeland invasion would have occurred. At first, Nummer felt the Japanese were animals but those feelings have softened over the years. Many of his fellow veterans cannot forgive the Japanese, but for Nummer it was best to do so. He got along good with the Japanese.

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Richard Nummer returned to the United States in July 1946 after being in Japan for nine months. While on the trip home, Nummer called home from the Panama Canal. His ship was directly behind the battleship Missouri [Annotator's Note: USS Missouri (BB-63)] through the Panama Canal locks. After reaching the east coast at Norfolk, Virginia, he took a train to Chicago for discharge in July 1946. He was discharged as a corporal. When the Korean Conflict up came, he decided not to go into the service again. He had done enough fighting. He did not use the GI Bill because he was not aware of it. He worked making car seats and then repairing slot machines in Reno, Nevada and Chicago. He returned home when his mother became ill. With the automation of slot machines, he lost his job. Nummer had no problems with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There were about 20 to 25 percent casualties in his company within the 28th Marine Regiment. He was lucky compared to the rest of the regiment. Early on, Nummer could never qualify for any assistance from the VA [Annotator's Note: Veterans Administration]. Eventually, he did get aid. It really helps him with the costs of medications and other medical items. Nummer had no transition problems back to civilian life except in terms of salty language. Rough language was heard all the time in the service. He had to watch himself around civilians who did not understand that. Nummer's most memorable experience of the war was when he shot the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi when he thought it was a Japanese soldier. Nummer fought in the war because of his brother who fought despite having two children. Nummer felt it was the least he could do. The war did not change his life at all. He might have gotten a better job. Nummer is proud that he was in the Marines. He was one of the first ones who slept on top of Suribachi on Iwo Jima. World War 2 resulted in the Japanese loss. Things would have been a lot different in America today if the Japanese had won. It hurt Nummer when the United States started giving back the islands that the Marines had captured. To Nummer, World War 2 should be taught to future generations. People today look at prior wars with a lack of knowledge. World War 2 is beginning to be viewed as remote as the Civil War.

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