Bethlehem Marine recalls a momentous 'morale-builder' at Battle of Iwo Jima

Mark Abrams
May 28, 2019 - 5:00 am
Former Marine John Murach

Mark Abrams/KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — At the age of 17, John Murach enlisted in the Marines.

Murach, who was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, but grew up in Brooklyn, dropped out of high school and asked his mother's permission to enlist.

He went off to boot camp in September 1942, crediting the Marine Corps with teaching him to become a team player and giving him an example of excellent leadership. 

After boot camp, he was assigned to a new division: the 4th Marine Division, the first unit to go directly from the U.S. into combat in the Pacific.

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The 4th Marine Division saw action in several campaigns, which Murach witnessed himself. He even fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima in the South Pacific in February 1945 — which he recalls as one of the toughest battles ever, and one he'll never forget.

Former Marine John Murach
Mark Abrams/KYW Newsradio
Being just shy of 21, nothing could have prepared him for the fight of his life and the landing on the beach — if you can even call it that — at Iwo Jima.

"The island was a volcanic island, solid rock, and it did not have beach sand," he remembered.

When his military landing craft touched shore, Murach saw hundreds of Marines lying dead or wounded in front of him, as the Japanese fired from positions in the rocks above.

The only way to avoid getting shot, he said, was climbing up the rocks to higher ground.

"The way to get up was like running up a down escalator," he added. "You had to be fast."

Murach and his buddies fought their way up and came upon an extraordinary moment.

"As we were working our way up the high ground, I turn around and I saw the first flag raising on Iwo. And I immediately told it to my friends on my right and left. This was a tremendous morale-builder," he said.

But it wasn't until later that they learned the renowned photo of Marines raising a flag at Mount Suribachi was actually staged.

"The popular photo of that was the second rising. They got one of the flags from the ship," he said.

Murach, who was a high school dropout when he entered the Marines, said the GI Bill was his ticket to a high school diploma and eventually an engineering degree from Cornell University.

He settled in the Lehigh Valley years later, worked for Bethlehem Steel and retired before the plant shuttered operations.