In World War II, Jack Smith enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and was part of the assault on Iwo Jima in February 1945, as a combat correspondent. He went ashore with his rifle, but no typewriter. At a colonel’s suggestion, he sent in his typewriter in the colonel’s jeep but it was lost when the boat carrying the jeep sank. After another correspondent was killed, Smith acquired the man’s typewriter case, which, when pried open, revealed no typewriter but, instead, a supply of canned goods. About this event, Smith wrote, “That’s what war is like. Only a thousand times worse.” Back home, Jack’s wife Denise (Denny), expecting their first child, corresponded with him about ideas for the baby’s name, prompting him to pore over a book of baby names. It is unknown whether this book included two names Jack favored: Lucky Jordan Smith (after the title character in the 1942 Alan Ladd film) and Caesar Wolfgang Smith.
Photograph of Jack and Denny Smith, 1945.
U.S. Coast Guard. Photograph of Jack Smith and fellow Marines, March, 1945.
Resting on the beachhead at Iwo Jima, Smith consulted a handy book called Naming Your Baby
. In letters to Denny, he suggested such names as Lucky Jordan Smith (after the title character in the 1942 Alan Ladd film) and Caesar Wolfgang Smith. However, in one postscript, he allowed that he liked the name Curt “better every minute.”
Jack Smith. Letter to Denny Smith, August 15, 1945.
August 15, 1945, was the official date of victory over Japan, and Smith writes in jubilation about the end of a long and wearying war. The Japanese surrendered on September 2 in a ceremony on board the U.S.S. Missouri.
Jack and Denny Smith, at the Techau Cocktail Lounge, San Francisco, January or February 1945.
Jack Smith married Denise Bresson (called Denny) in 1939. At the time of this photograph, taken before Jack shipped out for Iwo Jima, Denny was expecting their first child.
Map of Iwo Jima, 1945.
Over the years that Jack Smith wrote his newspaper column, many former soldiers, sailors and marines wrote to him, recalling their wartime experiences and sending mementos. In a letter to Smith dated September 5, 1981, John McKinney enclosed this map of the island of Iwo Jima that had been distributed to the marines on board his ship, the Hanford, prior to landing.
Denny Smith. Letter to Jack Smith, November 9, 1945.
For months after the end of the war, soldiers impatiently awaited discharge from the military, and so did their families. In this letter, Denny responds to learning that Jack will soon come home. He received his discharge from the marines on February 5, 1946.
U.S. Marine Corps. Certificate of Honorable and Satisfactory Service for Jack Smith, February 5, 1946
U.S. Department of Defense, Fiftieth Anniversary of WWII Commemoration Committee.
(Image not available)
Issued to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, this bookmark notes on its verso that the amphibious assault took place from February 19 through March 16, 1945. It involved marines from the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions. Medals of Honor were awarded to twenty-seven marines and sailors, more than any other single operation during World War II.
Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph of the second flag raising on Mt. Suribachi is one of the most recognized images from the war.
Jack Smith. Letter to Anna M. Smith, March 16, 1945.(Image not available)
Smith’s letter to his mother resonates with the thoughts and feelings common to all soldiers far from home, in harm’s way. Writing from Iwo Jima, after the bloody, decisive battle has taken place, he expresses his concerns for family at home and his longing for good home cooking. In a recurring theme in his letters from the island, he ponders the question of a name for his and Denny’s expected first child.
With the stoicism of a soldier in the field, he downplays his own danger and discomfort but writes with pointed understatement that Iwo is a “high-priced little island. I hope it was worth it.”