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* Born in 1923 in Pittsburgh PA
* Mike Mervosh graduated from South High School in 1942
* Mervosh began his career with the Marines after enlisting in the Corps in 1942
* Mervosh was one of the first Marines to then help form the Fourth Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California
* On Iwo Jima, Mervosh was promoted to Company commander after all the officers and noncoms above him were killed
* I wasn’t scared of anybody, I just wanted to kill more goddamned Japs
* The two Purple Hearts, were both awarded Mervosh on Iwo Jima for wounds to his legs and stomach
* Mike was a boxer, he won the 4th Infantry Division middleweight boxing championship
* Between two wars he served in five different Marine divisions
* When Marines were sent to fight in the Korean War, Mervosh served with G Company, 3rd battalion, 5th Marine Regiment
* “The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war”
* God Bless you and Semper Fidelis

 

Sgt. Major Michael ‘Iron Mike’ Mervosh
Combat Marine – July 2008 Speaker

Born in 1923 in Pittsburgh PA, Mike Mervosh graduated from South High School in 1942. His graduation from Mira Costa College in Oceanside came in 1985, after he retired from the USMC. In combat, he served at every enlisted rank with infantry units – Private to Sergeant Major.

Mervosh began his career with the Marines after enlisting in the Corps in 1942. He says when it came to choosing among the services, the Marine Corps impressed him most, starting with its recruiting message:

“I liked the Marine posters. I liked that, ‘The First to Fight. Kill or be killed.’ Like, I went to the Navy and they said, ‘Join the Navy and see the world.’ ‘Go to the Army and learn a trade.’

“Go to the Marine Corps and it was ‘We offer you a rifle, pack and a hard time. If you like to kill, join my outfit.’ “

Taking basic training at Paris Island, Mervosh was one of the first Marines to then help form the Fourth Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California. The Fourth was the only division to leave the States and go directly into combat in WWII, and the first to land on the Japanese-mandated islands. Mervosh took part in the battles of Roi Namur, the Marshall Islands, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.

Mike was a boxer, and between his service on those islands and afloat, he won the 4th Infantry Division middleweight boxing championship. He was only forced to retire due to wounds received on Saipan and Iwo. His record was 32 wins, 18 KOs and only four losses (only to Marines), and never to Army, Navy or Coast Guard boxers.

On Iwo Jima, Mervosh was promoted to Company commander after all the officers and noncoms above him were killed. A Lieutenant was sent to replace Mervosh, yet within two days, he too was killed and Mervosh returned to commanding the company.

The two Purple Hearts, were both awarded Mervosh on Iwo Jima for wounds to his legs and stomach:

“The first time I was wounded there, a corpsman put a tag on me and marked a big old ‘M’ on my forehead. At that time I was leading the company… and the M was for a morphine shot, they’re going to evacuate you. I wiped that M off my forehead and ripped that tag off, and I’ll tell you that morphine gave me a lot of adrenaline… I wasn’t scared of anybody. I just wanted to kill more goddamned Japs.

“But when that wore off and I started thinking back about what I did… I didn’t want another morphine shot. I was hurting all over. I can see why some guys want another shot of it because it’s ‘no pain, no strain.’ Thank goodness I didn’t get that second shot or… I don’t think they would have given it to me anyway.”

Mervosh recalled the enemy shellings, in particular one heavy concentration of artillery and mortar fire that forced him and six of his Marines into the nearest shell hole.

“I remember a guy named Cusimano who said he was getting out of that hole because there was too much stuff flying around. I told him, ‘Where the hell are you going to go? You’re going to get out and get killed! You dumb fool, they’ve got the area saturated!’

“As soon as I said that, Boom!! A mortar shell hit, right on top of the parapet. I don’t know how long I was out, minutes, hours, or what. I heard angels singing. I thought I was dead. I opened my eyes and the first thing I saw was blood all over me and I thought I was hit, but it was the other Marines’ blood on me.

Instinctively, Mervosh worked to staunch the flow of blood from the back of the head of another Marine. It took a few minutes, though, before he realized all five of the other Marines were casualties, and the explosion’s only real physical impact on Mervosh, once he regained consciousness, was a two-week loss of hearing.

“Iron Mike’s” other close call came when a sniper’s bullet hit the side of his cartridge belt, recalling that he was exhilarated that the “SOB missed him.”

Mervosh says he never took a prisoner on Iwo Jima. Japanese atrocities against civilians in China and Marines on Guadalcanal hardened him against sparing any of the enemy soldiers he faced.

On Iwo Jima, the Marines faced Japanese soldiers given special instructions to kill any of invaders wearing red crosses on their helmets or carrying medical bags—the corpsmen, whose reputation of saving soldiers’ lives preceded them into battle.

“We had 12 corpsmen in the company, and two of them walked off. That wasn’t too bad, because some units didn’t have any. A lot of time we didn’t want to burden the corpsmen with a lot of these wounds. He was too busy amputating legs and arms and what have you. He couldn’t be bothered with someone getting a bullet in their arm or leg, that’s elementary crap to him. He had to get with the serious cases.”

Mervosh says in his C Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, 240 Marines landed on the island and only 31 soldiers walked off. For the regiment, the numbers were 652 killed and 1053 wounded.

When Marines were sent to fight in the Korean War, Mervosh served with G Company, 3rd battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. He lost his brother in action in that war.

Mike Mervosh answered the call of duty again in Vietnam, in two tours with the 1st Marine Division. Between those two wars he served in five different Marine divisions, making countless operations and deployments around the world, in addition to attending infantry weapons school, drill instructors’ school, and duty as a recruiter.

At July’s Golden Gate Wing meeting, “Iron Mike” Mervosh delivered a rousing speech of what he has gleaned from his experiences, including the commitments and tradition of the United States Marine Corps:

“Of the 232 years of our existence of our Marine Corps, I’ve only served 35 years. During that time, embarking aboard ship many times, making those many amphibious landings, crossing those lines of departure, lines of deployment and participating in many D-Days. As I crossed that last line of departure and joined the retirement ranks, I can’t help but feel the slogan, ‘Once a Marine, always a marine,’ is very much a reality.

“Retirement is inevitable though for a Marine. It has placed me in a unique position where I can sit back and enjoy the many successes of the Corps and at the same time, be disappointed at any of its failures. And believe me it’s those disappointments that cause me to have a reoccurrence of heartburn. However, I do enjoy the many success and past accomplishments of our Corps, and furthermore I would like to commend all of our troops for a professional performance and a ‘well done’ for the combat effectiveness during the surge for Operation Iraqi Freedom and also Operation Enduring Freedom.

“You veterans have created the legacy, throughout the years, that our honor, valor, fidelity, devotion to duty, dedication and reputation have remained unchallenged, is highly respected and has the highest order of being known throughout the world. And it’s the duty of all of our troops today to be committed and continue and maintain that legacy.

“Previously, I made a comment about being a career Marine, but I’d much rather be referred to as a combat Marine and a professional. Because as a combat Marine and a professional, we did not join to be compensated with a fat paycheck, nor to seek a second paycheck in some other type of employment that would deviate us from being a full time Marine and at the same time enhance our monetary well-being, nor to seek any personal gain at the expense of the Marine Corps, nor to look out for those perks and so-called ‘goodings’. Nor to pass wars, we became instant and true patriots.

“We answered our nation’s call. We joined because we wanted to serve our country and fight its battles. We’re patriotic, loyal and dedicated. There’s no money in this world that can buy patriotism, loyalty and dedication. And loyalty has to be a two-way street — it’s something must travel down as well as up the chain of command. And each link in that chain must be tempered with strength within its passing, all the way from that commanding general down to that platoon-to-company runner.

“You veterans have also created a legacy of having our elite fighting force, the nation’s force in readiness, the true rapid deployment force, the first to fight, the first to kill or be killed, and win those battles that seemingly cannot be won against insurmountable odds.

“We prided ourselves in the lack of the gear that was always most needed. Which puts me to mind that our former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld came under heavy fire by the media when he said, ‘We go to war with what we’ve got.’ Well that was very common in our days because we went to all of those battles with what we had. That’s why we had the reputation that we could do so very much with so very little.

“Now this may be due to one of the principles of our ‘Band of Brothers’ concept’, which tells us that nothing worthwhile comes easy and if it were easy, then anyone could do it and you veterans would not be needed. But it does come with those values that our troops are familiar with and all our commanders emphasize, of honor, courage and commitment. But I would like to add a few of my own core values that applied to us during my time in the Corps, that could very well apply to our troops today.

“Now these are not just mere words, but actions that are really required. In the likes of mental and physical toughness, self-discipline, devotion to duty, command presence, military bearing, enduring hardships, making personal sacrifices, total commitment to duty, dedication and determination, a heck of a lot of force, endurance, leadership by example, good old basics in regimentation and plain old soldiering, hard work and team effort. And the list goes on. But these are just a few additional Corps values and those necessary ingredients in becoming a fulltime warrior, the 24/7 type, a leader and a professional.

“Hard work is something that comes naturally to us during a firefight. But it has to be practiced in that tough, good old Marine Corps training during the day and especially at night, under all climatic and adverse conditions, and applied when contact is imminent. And we prided ourselves in training in misery, so we can do the rigors and hardships and miseries of battle, which means there’s got to be training—more intense, realistic and repetitive training, to build up that needed confidence for the purpose of survival, having success on the battlefield by winning those important battles. Even though we pray for peace, we must always prepare for war.

“And I’m sure you old timers will agree with me that we’ve never seen or heard of a soldier or Marine that has drowned in his own sweat. I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage that ‘the more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.’

“Team effort was very essential towards our many victories in those bloody campaigns in the Pacific during World War Two and in the European Theater.

“I would like to quote a courageous combat Marine, a giant of the Corps, an inspiring leader, a Marine who’s never been politically correct but always militarily correct, a true professional, a patriot and a Marine’s Marine during my time and a legend of all time.

“Chesty Puller said this individuality stuff is a bunch of garbage. Of course, that was just pleasant terms. You should have heard the really good part of it. Yes, our soldiers and Marines have their so-called ‘individual rights’. And that is, to a certain extent, while they’re on leave or liberty. But once they’re committed to duty status, and out-in-the field training, and especially on the battlefield, then those individual rights are superceded by team rights. Therefore as those leaders, warriors and professionals, we cannot afford to be individualists or give a thought to individualism, as it will only tear down the fibers of our fighting spirit, our unity, cohesiveness and teamwork and destroy the meaning of our esprit d’corps. As far as I’m concerned the only ‘isms’ that need the most emphasis in our military language are Americanism, patriotism and professionalism. And those beautiful words that you veterans have lived by: patriotism, duty, honor and country.

“I am overwhelmed by the resurgence we had of our patriotism for a short while. But at the same time I was disappointed that it took a wake-up call to 9-1-1 to bring it about, where it’s something that should have been done right along. So we can all be very proud and take the lead by being flag-waving patriots, and wearing that uniform that you once proudly wore and earned the right to wear was a symbol of patriotism.

“Yes patriotism. At times it’s an abstract thing, at times it’s something that cannot be seen. But I’m sure it’s felt by everyone in this room tonight who has sworn to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And as far as we’re concerned, anyone who desecrates our American flag is a potential enemy. However there may be one exception we can condone, and that’s provided the person who’s in the process of burning that flag has the flag completely wrapped around him or her while it’s in the full process of burning. And one word that always remains in the pledge of allegiance to our flag is the ‘almighty’. One nation, under God, no exception.

“Professionalism? Not because out troops have a certain job to do and our respected MOS’s that they must perform at all times in a professional manner. But I prefer calling those duties that they must also perform at all times in a professional manner. Because being a Marine is not a job—it’s a way of life.
And if they still prefer to call it a job, then my type of Marine or soldier is the type that will run through a wall to get the job done. Professionalism must be at the heart and soul of all our troops, especially our officers, our staff NCOs and our NCOs. They must be decisive, bold and prudent, and be capable of dealing with and leading our Marines and soldiers, especially in battle. And never will it be said that that Marine or soldier has become a battle casualty through any lack of discipline, leadership or training that was due to him.

“All of our Marines are referred to as riflemen, first and foremost. But to earn that prestigious tile as a rifleman, he must always concentrate on one shot, one-kill and no exceptions, and avoid being trigger happy—in other words spray and pray, with 100 shots and no kills, the probability of one and a waste of a lot of damned ammo.

“Now to become that full-time Marine, the warrior, the leader, the professional. They must always strive for perfection and always persist in high standards by demanding more. I love a Marine or soldier who demands more. But in order to demand more he sure in hell better do more, by making that extra effort in performance of his duties to his own example and by making personal sacrifices. So it’s the duty of all Marines and all soldiers—become that full time warrior, the leader, and the professional, by being strong, tough and decisive in maintaining, participating, strengthening and preserving our traditional values and the legacy we left behind.

“As you in this audience are pretty well aware of, our great generation of World War Two veteran ranks are thinning out and fading away at a rapid rate. Of all the battles that have been fought and won during World War Two, and adding those illustrious chapters to our history and the heritage of our country, I would like to take one example of many, as never before or never after has there equaled the fighting on Iwo Jima, recorded as the most demanding, toughest, fiercest and bloodiest battle in the history of the Marine Corps. What is least known by many, because you’ll never read it in history books or view it on film clips—is that it was also a perfect battle on a perfect battlefield—a defender’s dream. A battlefield that resembled the moon, with its bombed-out craters, its earthquake appearance on the northern part of the island, with its washboard terrain. Now what I meant by it being a perfect battle on a perfect battlefield was that there was no collateral damage assessed on civilian areas. There weren’t any. Not one single structure above ground, or any semblance of any civilian, a harmless child or woman. It was strictly fighting man against fighting man, kill or be killed. It’s the only one of its kind in the history of the Marine Corps, our country and possibly in the history of the world.

“There were so many unselfish, unrelenting acts of bravery, courage and heroism that occurred routinely as a cool and keen sense of duty, that it was taken for granted, was unrecognized and most of it unaccounted for. Yet it brought forward the inspiring message by Admiral Nimitz that will live on forever: ‘Among those that fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.’

“Now Admiral Nimitz could have meant that message towards the enemy, as they performed in a brave and courageous manner. However us Marines have experienced many times their fanatical and suicidal ways, as every one of the enemy on that island was ordered by his commander that he would kill ten Marines before he made his defensive position his gravesite.

“While this battle of all battles was raging on — and incidentally, it had to be the toughest and most demanding assignment of my lifetime — I’m one of the very few infantrymen who didn’t miss a day of that battle, even though a good many of us were the walking wounded and continued on with the fighting. On V-Plus 4, our Marines, with fierce hand-to-hand fighting, finally seized and secured our primary objective, Mount Suribachi.

“Now the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi was not the culmination of the battle. It was just getting started, with many more deadly objectives to follow, where most of the fiercest fighting and casualties occurred on both sides for an additional 32 days. Those came at the likes of Hill 382, Hill 362, The Amphitheater, Turkey Knob, The Meat-Grinder, The Quarry, Boat Basin, Cushman’s Pocket, Katana Point, Charlie Garden Ridge, Airfields One and Two, just to name a few.

“There was no place to hide and take cover, no place to run, except for the enemy, as they had been preparing for the longest time in those well-entrenched, concealed underground fortifications which monitored 800 pill boxes, blockhouses and gun emplacements, interlocked with miles of tunnels and caves several tiers below the surface of the island. The enemy did not fight on Iwo Jima. They fought within it.

“Every square yard of that island was covered with intense interlocking fire, supplemented with land mines with heavy concentration and well-coordinated enemy murderous artillery, mortar and rocket fire. And even anti-tank and anti-aircraft fire that was solely used on us ground Marines. Of course, at that particular time there was no availability of any high-tech weaponry or probably we would have secured the island in four or five days as predicted. Guided missiles, unmanned flying drones like the Predator and the Reaper, robots that search out the enemy and explosives, night vision goggles not even the availability of a flak jacket. Because all we had was that green utility jacket, while being armed with that deadly rifle and bayonet, hand grenades, demolition charges, flamethrowers, and with sheer determination and guts.

“And run? Hell yes we did run, as well as possible in that ankle-deep volcanic ash, but we did it the good old Marine way, by being ever aggressive and forging ahead to attack and assault, time and time again until ultimate victory. Which brought forth another inspiring message, by then Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, that the ferocious fighting Marines and the flag-raising on Iwo Jima, ‘guarantees the Marine Corps for the next 500 years.’ I’m sure that at one time or another you have heard about the first and second flag raising, where the smaller flag was replaced by the larger flag. And Joe Rosenthal the photographer, who took that classic and emotional photo with split second timing said, ‘Anyone could have taken the picture. I took it but the Marines took the island. And the last living survivor of both flag-raising details, Corporal Charles Lindberg, who participated in the first one, modestly said, ‘First flag-raising, second, it doesn’t make any damned difference, because every Marine who fought on that island, raised that flag.’

Now get back to those 500 years. Thank God our Marine Corps and our country survived 63 of those years. No pun intended, but we have 437 years to go. Therefore we cannot afford to be complacent, and rest and live on past sentiments, glories, laurels and past accomplishments. What our Marine Corps must do, and I am more than certain they are more than capable of doing, is face that challenge and strive to be a heck of a lot different and heck of a lot better than any military organization in the world. And to be committed to continue and maintain our legacy as the finest and the proudest Marine Corps it can be and has been for the past 232 years of our Corps’ existence.

“Lastly, let us pay tribute and honor and give a thought and a prayer to our silent and unseen comrades as they have given up all their tomorrows for our todays. As they all wanted to live to fight the enemy but were not afraid to die. They asked so very little but they gave so very much, in preserving, protecting and defending our precious freedoms we all cherish, and making this evening possible for us. In addition, I charge all our Marines across this great land of ours with this mission – ensure our motto, ‘Semper Fidelis,’ continues to mean ‘always faithful’: to our God, our country and to our Corps.

“God Bless you and Semper Fidelis!

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