Seventy-five years ago, PFC Joseph “Joe” Steinbauer settled down in a cave on Iwo Jima and composed a letter to a friend back in Owatonna.

Born in Owatonna, Joe enlisted in the Marines on New Year’s Eve, 1943. He trained at Camp Pendleton in California as part of the 5th Marine Division. About two weeks after his thirtieth birthday, Joe took part in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

During the invasion, Joe drove a DUKW, an amphibious truck. The “Ducks” as they were known transported “cargo from ships at sea.” Joe worked on the southeastern end of the island. “Things are quieted down here now,” he wrote, “but for a while it was pretty rough.”

Joe describe Iwo Jima as “a queer island” made of “loose black sand or sulfur mud” with “a mountain at one end and a lot of cliffs and gorges.” The mountain was Mount Suribachi. Joe did not mention the famous flag raising which occurred there a month earlier.

The battle ended five days after Joe wrote the letter and his division returned to California soon after. Joe received his discharge papers in August 5, 1946. Back in Owatonna, he worked as a plumber and was a member of American Legion Post 77.

Read Joe's letter below:


Dear Howard,

I guess I've owed you a letter for a long time, in fact since you sent me a xmas card.

I am writing this in my dug out where a couple of us live. Its not too comfortable here but it is safe in the cave anyhow. We are living on rations, which aren't bad for a short time, but they get tiresome for a steady diet. All our cigarettes are free, all we want, so we have no use of money at all here. Been here since D-Day, when we brought our ducks in and hauled cargo from ships at sea. I am still doing about the same sort of work, but our trucks are amphibian, will go on land or water. You will see pictures of them in magazines I think. I had to swim for it out in the water once but got by pretty lucky so far. Things are quieted down here now, but for a while it was pretty rough.

This is Jap station stationary, which I found and am using. How do you like it?

This is a queer island. Its mostly bare black sand or sulfur mud. There are some hot springs here, but no natural drinking water. Also a mountain at one end and a lot of cliffs and gorges. There's hardly a tree left anymore. The weather is quite nice and nites [sic] are cold so we aren't bothered by mosquitos.

Saw a mighty lot of dead Japs but not many live ones.

Don't know how long we will stay here on Iwo Jima, but sure hope we leave soon. I'd sure like to be back in Minn. now that spring is nearly here, but I guess it will be some time yet.

Well, there isn't much we can write so will say So Long, take good care of the old lady too. and write.


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