Charles Allen lived a life of service

Tom McDermott
Posted 2/15/22

Most are familiar with the raising of the American Flag on Mt. Suribachi. Well not so much Mt. Suribachi, but the picture of the flag being raised looks familiar.

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Charles Allen lived a life of service


Most are familiar with the raising of the American Flag on Mt. Suribachi. Well not so much Mt. Suribachi, but the picture of the flag being raised looks familiar.

That is one point of history, to help us remember the sacrifices that have been made in the past so that we may enjoy what we have today. Six men raised the flag on Iwo Jima that day in Feb. 1945: Sargent Michael Strank, Corporal Harlon Block and Privates Franklin Sousley, Ira Hayes, Harold Schultz and Harold Keller. It took the efforts of over 60,000 marines to make that flag raising possible.

Nineteen-year old Charles Allen of Rochelle was one of those Marines. Iwo Jima is an island which sits only about 660 miles from Japan. The invasion of Iwo Jima began in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 19, 1945.

After three days of bombardment, and more than 18,000 rounds of heavy ammunition, it was anticipated that the Japanese had been beaten into submission. The first marines ashore were surprised by the lack of enemy fire. Had the bombardment been successful? The marines advanced inland.

The beach was volcanic ash and sand. Even walking was difficult. The dunes were steep and the ash was like quicksand. The marines would slide down the dunes and sink to the top of their boots with each step. As the marines packed the beaches and floundered in the ash, the Japanese opened fire from hidden machine gun bunkers.

What the Allied forces had failed to consider was that the Japanese had been on this island for years. Over 16 miles of tunnels had been dug between bunkers and pillboxes. The bombardment had almost no impact on the 21,000 Japanese soldiers.

When the bombardment stopped, the Japanese manned their guns and waited for the Americans to approach. After the initial contact, the Japanese disappeared into their caves and tunnels.

Hundreds of Americans lay dead, the battle had begun. The American troops continued to storm the beaches and move inland. With the setting sun came, there was another surprise.

The Japanese would appear out of nowhere and attack the Americans in their foxholes. In short order the American troops had figured out the mystery of Iwo Jima.

As Charles Allen was quoted by Thomas Morrow, writer for the Chicago Tribune: “They are like rats – always in holes.”

The marines hit the Japanese with machine guns, flame throwers and demolition charges. The Japanese did not surrender. It is estimated that of the 21,000 Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima, only 216 surrendered. The rest died in combat or were captured when unconscious from injuries.

The Japanese were so determined that toward the end of the battle 300 Japanese staged a banzai attack on the American positions. The flag on Mt. Suribachi was raised on Feb. 23, the fourth day of the battle.

The fight for Iwo Jima lasted another month until March 26. In a letter to home after the battle, Charles wrote his mother.

“The island has been officially declared secured but we are still mopping up pockets of Nips. These Nips hold out to the last. There is no bargaining nor surrender for them. I’ll have more to write on that score later, when I get out of this pest hole.”

As a footnote, the last two Japanese soldiers to surrender on Iwo Jima did so in 1949, four years after the end of the war.

Charles Allen may not have raised the flag, but he was one of the 60,000 that made it possible. Charles left the service in 1946 and returned to Rochelle. From 1951 through 1954, Charles served as the chief of the Rochelle Police Department. In 1955, he was elected Ogle County Sheriff. Charles Allen lived a life of service to his community and his country.

Tom McDermott is a Flagg Township Museum historian and Rochelle city councilman.