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Iconic flag-raising made challenges of Iwo Jima worth it

For Teddy Bucki and other Marines, it was a job just getting onto the beaches to fight the enemy at Iwo Jima.

The first challenge occurred with their transfer from the bigger troop ships to the smaller landing crafts tossed about in rough seas.

"We were each wearing two backpacks, one hooked to the other, and we had our rifles. We climbed down rope ladders and had to drop into the landing crafts while the boats were rocking," said Bucki, a member of the 5th Marine Division.

There were so many other landing crafts waiting to enter shallow waters and deliver troops that it resulted in long delays.

"We had to circle around in the water and that made you dizzy. Guys were getting seasick," he said.

When they finally stormed the beach, Bucki said he thought someone was whistling at them.

"I said to the sergeant, 'Who's whistling at us?' He said, 'As long as you hear the whistle, don't worry. It's shells going over your head,' " Bucki recalled of the enemy fire.


Teddy Bucki, 92

Hometown: Lackawanna

Residence: Hamburg

Branch: Marine Corps

Rank: private

War zone: Pacific Theater, World War II

Years of service: 1944 – 1945

Most prominent honors: Pacific Theater Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Sharpshooter

Specialty: Infantry


The fight to take Iwo Jima from Japanese forces started on Feb. 19, 1945, and proved to be one of the most crucial Pacific island-hopping battles of World War II. American progress toward the enemy's homeland was measured in misery and death for both sides.

"Our tanks would shoot flames into the island's caves and the enemy would run out on fire," Bucki said. "I saw a lot of dead people. It was gruesome."

But when U.S. war planes flew overhead, he said he found comfort in knowing they were on their way to strafe enemy strongholds.

"I really enjoyed seeing those planes."

Yet not everything was so horrible. Some conditions amounted to mere nuisances.

WWII Marine Teddy Bucki thought someone was whistling when he stormed the beach at Iwo Jima – until learning the sound came from shells flying by overhead.

"At night we dug holes to sleep in and covered ourselves with our ponchos. Land crabs would come out and walk all over us, not knowing we were underneath them. They were big, 10-inches long. I just threw them off me," he said.

And while the battle continued until March 26, Bucki said another moment that brought tremendous comfort to him and many others was when the Marines raised the American flag atop Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23.

Photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the moment in a picture that became one of the enduring images of the Second World War.

"I was close by when the flag went up. I was happy because a lot of shooting was coming from that mountain. All the ships were blowing their horns when they saw the flag," said Bucki, who had worked at Lackawanna's Bethlehem Steel before signing up to be a Marine.

After Iwo Jima, his outfit returned to Hawaii to begin training for the planned invasion of Japan. The preparation proved unnecessary. In August 1945, news broke that the war had ended with the world's first atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

As part of the occupational troops in Japan, he made a trip to Nagasaki and took in the horrible aftermath.

"I saw burns on a couple kids' faces. There were hardly any buildings still standing. There were some cement pillars, but mostly everything was laid down," Bucki said.

In late 1945, he returned home and resumed his millwright job at Bethlehem Steel, where he helped in the production of uranium rods.

"I ended up with bladder cancer," he said of the exposure to radiation.

"I was operated on and every month I had to be checked. That went on for two years," he said, adding that he received a $150,000 settlement from the government.

"I gave the money to my two sons and all my grandchildren. I spread it around."

Married to the former Eleanor Brenkus, Bucki says they will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary in May.

As for Iwo Jima, it's been 73 years since he set foot on that island and memories of the war still hit high tide.

"Every time I open one of my books on the war, I get tears in my eyes," he said.

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