I could smell the sulfur again - and the sickening scent of the dead.
Clint Eastwood's new movie about Iwo Jima, "Flags of Our Fathers," was so powerful and so real it took me back 61 years to that hellhole island.
So vivid was every combat scene that this Iwo Jima survivor was transported back to February and March of 1945. For those two hours in the theater I was there on Iwo, once again a 19-year-old corporal carrying things familiar to me.
I had my M-1 Garand rifle, as much a part of me as my limbs. I had my pack on my back, bayonet, canteen of water, extra ammo, hand grenades, a picture of my girlfriend (today my wife) inside a prayer book and my trusty Zippo lighter.
I was there once more, scared as hell, with the sounds of war - 20mm shells exploding, machine-gun fire and the moans from wounded buddies as we yelled, "Corpsman, corpsman, over here. ... Over here!"
Once again, I saw the horror that hot metal from all types of gunfire does to human flesh. It's so horrible you might turn away. But it is real, my friends, as real as you could ever imagine.
I'm alongside the flamethrower guys, the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) men, the fellow demolition men. My squad is trying - under machine-gun fire - to get land mines the hell out of the way so our tanks can pass.
We toss charges into pillboxes, wait for the blast, then examine the inside. All dead, we hope. Ones not surrendering would either commit hara-kiri or come out firing.
The enemy, a formidable foe, has dug himself deeply into the black dirt, digging tunnels with room enough for regiments of Japanese soldiers.
We learned the answer to how they survived 77 straight days of our bombing before our landing. From the troop ship lying off the island, we saw our Navy bombard the hell out of them, leaving us with the false notion that all the Japanese soldiers on the island were dead.
Fat chance. Some 23,000 Japanese troops were safely huddled below 7 or 8 feet of earth. Yes, they had the guns and mortars, and they certainly knew how to use them.
Until the last days of the operation, the enemy would fire an almost perfect pattern of mortars at us on the beach we had already taken. The entire island was the "front line."
I've given you the combat side of the movie. The other part deals with the capturing of Mount Suribachi, the highest point on the island, by the 5th Marine Division and the flag-raising that gave fame to five Marines and one Navy corpsman.
Taking Suribachi meant the enemy could no longer look down our throats. Was the battle over? No, sir. We had 31 more days of fighting before we would call it "secured."
This is one hell of a movie, and never did I ever see anything like it - not on any screen, that is.
I came out of that movie house in a cold sweat. I had been there again, climbing down that rope ladder that put me in the Higgins boat that landed me on Iwo.
The memory of it won't ever go away.