Uncle Frank and Iwo Jima

Frank Mirabella
Uncle Frank Mirabella in 2010

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, or Operation Detachment. On Feb 19, 1945, the United States Armed Forces landed on the black sand beaches of the small island in the Pacific, Iwo Jima. For the United States, the goal was to capture the entire island and its three airfields, which were to be used as launching points for aircraft used to attack the Japanese mainland. For my great uncle Frank Mirabella (also my Godfather who I affectionately referred to as simply "Uncle Frank"), the day represented a truly unanticipated effort of survival.

Iwo Jima beach
Marines dug in on the black sand beaches at Iwo Jima

I'd be remiss if I didn't share this story, on this day, the anniversary of the landing. Uncle Frank is one of my heroes and one of the greatest men I know.

My Uncle Frank joined the Army Signal Corps during World War II. He was on board an Army troop carrier ship off the coast of Iwo Jima when his ship was hit by a Japanese kamikaze plane and 20 soldiers were killed. The captain told the troops to jump off the ship, so Frank jumped, right into another smaller, nearby vessel.

Frank didn't think much of it and actually thought he had jumped into an Army landing craft that would be going in later, after the Marines had made it safer for him and the other Army Corps to land. Unbeknownst to him, he had jumped right into a Marine landing craft that was headed for a landing on the "sands of Iwo Jima".

His landing craft made the landing on the beach and it was at this time that he fully understood that he had landed on Iwo Jima with the 3rd Marine Division. On the beach, all hell broke loose and Frank ended up fighting with the Marines for the duration of the battle. As he was part of the Army Signal Corps, he was unarmed when he jumped into the Marine landing vessel. Having very little combat training, he made the best of a terrible situation, using a gun from a dead soldier and fighting alongside the Marines that day.

He was personally involved in the battle for Mount Suribachi and the final Banzai attack on the Marines at the end. For his service, Frank has been named an honorary member of the 3rd Marine Division that he fought with that day. Iwo Jima cost the 3rd Marine Division 1,13 killed in action and another 4,438 wounded. Somehow, by the grace of God, my Great Uncle Frank survived that battle.

Frank was a highly scouted pitcher out of high school and he decided to give up his dream of playing major league baseball to join the Army and help the war effort. His son Paul Mirabella told him he would finish his dream and Paul ended up pitching 13 years in the major leagues, which included one year with the famous New York Yankees in 1979.

My Uncle Frank also had a beautiful and loving wife, Marie, who he took care of during her later years, when she suffered symptoms of advanced Alzheimers disease. It was no surprise to see great care he took with her. This is the same determination he had to help him through the battle on Feb 19, 1945.

Uncle Frank lives in Parsippany, New Jersey.

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