Letters to Iwo Jima

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Pacific Historian
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Jun 4, 2005
Orange County, CA
Vet seeks to translate, return letters found during WII
Associated Press
Feb. 6, 2007 03:09 PM

GARDINER, N.Y. - A World War II veteran who found a bundle of
Japanese postcards and letters amid the carnage on Iwo Jima said
Tuesday he wants to have the correspondence translated and returned
to Japan "to bring a little peace and quiet to the world."

Vic Voegelin, 80, said he kept the 100 postcards and eight letters
stored at his home in Ulster County until late last year, when he
heard about the Clint Eastwood film "Letters From Iwo Jima," which
has been nominated for several Academy Awards, including best picture.

"I just sat on this thing for 62 years," the retired utility worker
told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his home 70
miles south of Albany. advertisement



Voegelin was an 18-year-old sailor aboard a Navy landing ship taking
part in the attack on Iwo Jima that started on the morning Feb. 19,
1945. His ship - LSM 60 - was battered but still afloat when the
fierce fighting was officially declared over in late March.

"We thought it was going to be a piece of cake," he said. "Forty-five
days later, the cake was done."

Voegelin said at some point during the battle, after the fighting had
moved inland, he and a shipmate walked up from the beach and came
upon a Japanese pillbox that had been blown up. Sticking out of the
black volcanic sand was a piece of canvas. He dug it out and found
that it was a satchel stuffed with postcards and letters written in
Japanese.

He kept the correspondence, which he stored in his Navy duffel bag
and later in a suitcase at his home in Gardiner. It wasn't until late
last year, as accolades piled up for the second of Eastwood's two Iwo
Jima films, that Voegelin brought out the souvenirs.

"They're really in nice shape. A little brittle, but not bad," he
said, adding that the handwriting is "exquisite."

Voegelin said he contacted Eastwood's film company in California to
find out if it would be interested in the correspondence, but didn't
get beyond the receptionist. He said a call to Japanese diplomatic
offices in New York City wasn't returned. But he's hoping articles
about media interest in the letters will lead to getting them
translated, and possibly returned to relatives of whoever wrote them.

An article about the letters was posted Tuesday on the Middletown
Times Herald-Record Web site. The article was seen by a former
Middletown man now living in Brisbane, Australia, and he has offered
to find a translator, Voegelin said.

"Here's a chance to bring a little peace and quiet to the world," he
said. "Maybe someone in Japan will sit back and think, 'We've got
grandpa's letters back.'"

Unlike the actual letters that served as the basis for the Eastwood
film, Voegelin believes the correspondence in his possession was
written for delivery to Iwo Jima. As proof, he points to the coarse
twine that was used to tie the postcards and letters together.
Homesick American sailors did the same with any correspondence they
received from back home, often bundling it together for safekeeping,
Voegelin said.

When the battle for Iwo Jima was over, more than 6,000 Americans had
died and all but about 1,000 of the 22,000 Japanese defenders were
killed. Most of their bodies remain entombed in the island's
extensive tunnels and caves.

Voegelin came away from the battle unscathed after more than six
weeks at Iwo. He said he hopes the postcards and letters make it back
to people in Japan who may be connected to someone mentioned in the
writings.

"I hope it makes somebody happy because that's the whole intent,"
Voegelin said.
 

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