Team members from the Joint POW and MIA Accounting Command stood outside a cave opening on the southwestern wall of "Hill 362A" on Iwo Jima island on June 27. CLICK FOR LARGE
Search continues for Iwo Jima fallen
A team hunts for the body of the Marine who filmed the flag-raising on Iwo Jima
IWO JIMA, Japan » Maj. Sean Stinchon stands at the base of Hill 362A and scans a map drawn up by Navy Seabees in 1948 that is deeply creased and covered in reddish brown dirt. The map shows a labyrinth of caves and tunnels that runs through the brush-covered hill like the cross-section of an ant colony.
Save for the buzzing of mosquitoes, all is quiet. Stinchon can see all the way to the pristine black-sand beach and the Pacific. It's a breathtaking scene.
But Stinchon, of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command at Hickam Air Force Base on Oahu, is focused on finding a Marine named Sgt. William H. Genaust, killed 62 years ago.
Over the past two years, Stinchon has traveled through Europe and Asia looking for the remains of America's fallen troops. More than 78,000 are still missing from World War II alone. An additional 8,100 are MIA from the Korean conflict, and 1,750 from Vietnam.
In 1945, Hill 362A was a kill zone.
The 21,200 Japanese defenders, deeply dug in with weapons and supplies, faced a desperate situation: 100,000 Americans who were storming Japanese soil for the first time. They watched a huge flotilla of U.S. Navy ships surround their island. Then came the bombings and heavy artillery fire.
Then the Marines.
Within days, an American flag was flying atop the highest point on the tiny island -- Mount Suribachi, a sulfur-belching volcano on Iwo Jima's southern tip. But it took 31 days before the United States, on March 26, 1945, declared the island secure. Some 6,821 Americans were killed; only 1,033 Japanese survived. For the United States, it was the fiercest battle of the war -- none had generated a higher percentage of casualties.
It was a turning point.
On Feb. 23, 1945, AP photographer Joe Rosenthal hiked up to the top of Suribachi and shot the flag-raising -- the second one that day. His photo, which won the Pulitzer Prize, helped rally the weary nation behind the final push to defeat Japan, and continues to serve as the single most important icon of the valor of the Marine Corps.
Genaust, a Marine combat photographer, was also there. After escorting the unarmed Rosenthal up the volcano, he stood next to Rosenthal and filmed the moment with a movie camera.
But he didn't live to see the impact of his own footage.
Nine days later, Genaust was on Hill 362A helping his unit secure a cave. They needed a flashlight to see inside, and Genaust volunteered to use his. But as he entered the cave, he was riddled with machine-gun fire and died on the spot. The entrance to the cave was sealed -- possibly by a bulldozer.
Genaust's body, with those of 280 U.S. ground troops who fought on Iwo Jima, was never found.
Stinchon was on Hill 362A to change that. In a 10-day expedition, he and his seven-member team -- the first U.S.-led search on Iwo Jima in nearly 60 years -- were looking for what wasn't on his map: caves and tunnels that were closed and sealed, then missed when U.S. searchers combed the island for American dead.
"We need to find places that haven't already been searched," he said.
The team was searching for the remains of soldiers including Marine Sgt. William H. Genaust, shown here. CLICK FOR LARGE
Iwo Jima, inhabited today by about 400 Japanese soldiers, is craggy, volcanic terrain. Its interior is thick with thorny foliage. Shrapnel still litters the ground, and unexploded shells remain.
"You couldn't move out there without the use of a machete," Stinchon said. "It was very thick, a lot of tall cactus plants."
Stinchon and his team hacked their way up the side of the hill and found two potential locations.
One appeared to be a small crack, just big enough for a dog to get into, behind rocky debris. The team had to dig through several feet of dirt to reveal the entrance to the other.
To the experts, the big giveaway is heat.
"You can kind of tell when you are coming up to a cave or a cave entrance because you can feel the heat coming out and you can smell the sulfur fumes," Stinchon said.
He said the team wouldn't enter either cave for fear of a cave-in, but he said members will recommend that a follow-up team be sent in with heavy equipment to excavate.
"We'll continue to search," he said.
Back in Hawaii, JPAC officials say they will analyze the results of the investigation and decide whether a further search, and possibly a full recovery team, is warranted.
Following the motto "Until They are Home," JPAC, which was created in 2003, identifies about six MIAs each month -- some 1,300 so far. The command, which also runs permanent branches in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, has at any given time about 1,000 active cases.
"It's such an incredible mission," said Lt. Col. Mark Brown, the JPAC spokesman. "There's a lot of families who have been waiting a long time."
Though it boasts the world's largest forensic anthropology laboratory, JPAC's staff of about 425 people is stretched to the limit and often relies on outside tips -- from family members, friends or amateur historians.
"No lead is too small," Brown said.
In Genaust's case, information provided by businessman Bob Bolus of Scranton, Pa., was key to getting the team to Iwo Jima. Bolus saw an article in Parade magazine two years ago about Genaust, and spent thousands of dollars of his own money to track down leads and even visit the island with his own team of private experts.
Brown said JPAC is particularly interested in obtaining "family reference samples," DNA from the relatives of MIAs that can be vital in cracking an identification. The forensics experts have DNA from a niece of Genaust.
Japan's government and military helped with the search on Iwo Jima, which last month was renamed Iwo To -- the island's name before the war.
Japan sent its first search parties to the island in 1952. Others followed every year since Iwo Jima was returned to Japanese control in 1968. They have recovered 8,595 sets of remains -- but no Americans.
JPAC remains determined.
"We want them all," said Hugh Tuller, a civilian anthropologist with the Iwo Jima search team. "We want to find them all."
WHOM ARE THEY LOOKING FOR: About 88,000 U.S. troops still missing from World War II and other conflicts.|
HOW TO HELP: Investigators rely heavily on tips and information from relatives and private citizens. They particularly value eyewitnesses. Relatives can provide DNA samples taken from swabs of the inside of the cheek.
WHOM TO CONTACT: The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, at Hickam Air Force Base on Oahu, can be contacted through its homepage at www.jpac.pacom.mil/Contact.htm. The Defense POW/MIA Personnel Office, which oversees policy issues and maintains a family support team, has a homepage at www.dtic.mil/dpmo.
Source: Associated Press