Seventy-five years to the day U.S. Marines stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima with the support of the Navy, hundreds of Tulsans gather in a Circle Cinema screening room to watch old newsreel of the attack on the Japanese island.
The commemoration echoes how Tulsans received news from the frontlines of World War II. Same theater. Same footage. Back then, theater seats were 15 inches compared to 22 inches today.
The soft glow of the giant screen illuminates Preston Stanley’s face as he takes in the sights and sounds of the Feb. 19, 1945, battle he fought in as a 17-year-old.
Now 94 with weakened vision, the images are blurry, but in Stanley’s memory, the battle is still fresh.
“It doesn’t really seem that long ago. I remember it well,” Stanley says. “They told us, ‘We can take this island in a week. Two weeks at the most.’” He laughs. “I was there 30 days.”
At the time of the battle, Stanley was a Navy seaman first class working as a 20-millimeter gunner aboard a Liberty ship just off the coast. “I observed the battle of Iwo mostly when I was on that machine gun,” Stanley says. “I never did go on the island. There wasn’t much there to see. The Marines Corp called it ‘Sulfur Island’ because of the smell. We lost 7,000 Marines on Iwo.”
It has been reported 110,000 U.S. personnel took part in the 36-day battle on the 8-square-mile island formed by volcanic eruptions 660 miles south of Tokyo. American forces suffered 26,040 total causalities. All but 216 of 18,000 Japanese forces were killed, according to the National WWII Museum.
“I don’t think I ever got scared. I don’t think any of us ever did,” Stanley says. “I think the worst part we got was in Okinawa, when they had those pilots bombing into the ships (kamikaze) because if you’re on the deck of a ship, you’ve got to be looking out for debris. We got a lot of debris when they’d blow up a ship. We shot a lot of them down, too.”
Okinawa was the final major battle of WWII, starting April 1 and ending June 22, 1945. On Aug. 14, 1945, Japan unconditionally surrendered.
Born and raised on his family’s 160-acre Cherokee allotment land in Collinsville, Stanley says he helped his father run the farm until his enlistment.
Following WWII, he switched to the Marines and fought in the Korean War.
Then came a 55-year marriage to his late wife, Dorothy, and eight children. He worked 26 years as a mechanic at American Airlines, then retired and briefly became a Collinsville police officer.
“I hated being a policeman because most of the people in Collinsville were related to me,” says Stanley, who also served as city commissioner for 12 years. “If I wrote one of them a ticket, the whole bunch would get mad at me. I was there about a year and I quit. That’s it. I don’t want any more police work.” tp