Lawrence F. Kirby now lives with his wife in Manchester by the
Sea. He has four kids and recently turned eighty years old.
For his eightieth birthday Mr. Kirby went sky diving. I
recently had the honor of meeting with Mr. Kirby, and he
shared his amazing wartime experiences with me over tea and
scones. Mr. Kirby grew up in Brookline and attended
Brookline high school. He graduated at the age of seventeen
and joined the war at age eighteen in 1942. He enlisted in
the Marine Corps and joined the third division. “We
were in a real war, and the outcome could change America
forever” said Mr. Kirby. He said it was the
responsibility of men to defend the country and his duty to
Lawrence F. Kirby
After enlisting, Kirby was sent to boot camp on Paris
Island, North Carolina for ten weeks. This was the first
stop of his intensive training. At Paris Island, Kirby said
that the men were made to feel that their life was useless
and they were no good. Then, once this was accomplished, the
officers mentally prepared them for war. “I realized
that this camp was just as much a mental challenge as it was
physical” Kirby said as he recalled his training. At
Paris Island, the men were changed from sloppy eighteen year
olds to obedient military men. They learned how to hold,
shoot, and store a gun, and how to endure physical pain.
After their training was complete, the men were proficient
and very certain of themselves and their military abilities.
Once he left Paris Island, Kirby went to camp LeJeune in
North Carolina, where he attended advanced infantry school.
He then went to Omaha, Nebraska where he went to Creighton
University for six weeks. Then he went to camp Pendleton in
California. At this camp, the soldiers learned their most
advanced combat training. Kirby learned how to camouflage
himself in the forest and how to fight in vegetation. He
also learned how to kill another person, using only his
hands. When this training was through, Kirby could
camouflage so well, that a person could walk within two feet
of him in the jungle and not notice him. This training was
necessary, because Kirby’s job was to be an infantry
This is a picture from the battle of Guam, which occurred on
July 20th, 1944. This battle was fought after the
Japanese took the 225 square mile island from the
United States on December 7th, 1941. When the
battle began, the third division of the Marine
Corps arrived on Port Apra and the First
Provisional Brigade landed between point Banji and
Agat. In the last battle for Guam, the United
States was clearly the weaker force. However in
this battle the United States quickly set up a
perimeter around the island and was a smarter,
stronger force. This territory was important to the
United States, because they had been losing many of
the early battles in the war, and the reconquest
would be a huge boost to the American soldiers. The
Japanese wanted the territory, because they had set
up a radio station on the island and were sending
messages to Japan informing them about the war over
seas. In the end, the United States won the battle
1,214 men died, and 5,704 were wounded. This was
one of the first times the United States had taken
back territory conquered by the Japanese, which had
previously belonged to the United States
Scouting and a tragic story:
The scouts looked for men who were “short,
skinny, and inner-city” said Kirby, and he
fit this description very well. As a scout,
camouflage was necessary and Kirby worked alone
which he liked. Kirby said that as a scout, it was
his duty to explore the enemy camps and give
valuable information to the lieutenants, which
formed the battle plan. Kirby would be called up by
the company commander and he would tell Kirby to “go
out in the boondocks tomorrow at dawn and find out
what’s going on” with the enemy. Kirby
would find out information like which direction the
enemy was headed, how large the army was and where
they were located.
In 1944, Kirby was part of the United States island
hopping campaign which attempted to push the
Japanese back toward Japan. During this campaign,
Kirby was stationed on Guam at first. On Guam,
Kirby was assigned to go figure out the information
of the enemy. As he was inching his way along
through the jungle towards Japan, he noticed a
small wire that looked almost like a spider web. He
noticed it was a trip wire and the area was bugged,
so he quickly disconnected the wire. As he looked
up, he saw a Japanese scout, trying to find out
information about the United States army. “I
thought we looked at each other for five minutes,”
said Kirby but in reality it was only a few
seconds. Kirby knew that the other soldier was “just
as scared as I was,” but he also knew that
one of them was going to die. The Japanese soldier
fired at Kirby, just as Kirby fell to the ground
and was beneath the brush of the jungle. However,
the Japanese soldier fired a grenade just behind
Kirby, “forcing me to run towards him.”
As he ran, Kirby randomly fired in the direction of
the soldier. When the grenade stopped exploding,
Kirby saw the soldier laying face down in the mud.
He was dead. “I was just so sorry,”
said Kirby. Kirby slowly moved toward the soldier
and trying to move his helmet, he passed out. When
he awoke, Kirby was being helped up by his friends.
Immediately he walked over to the soldier and
turned him over, crossing his arms. After that,
Kirby took the soldiers identification picture, not
as a trophy but as a memorial for him. Kirby still
has that picture and it is in his will to be buried
with it. Kirby said that he learned that day that “people
in war, if they are really truthful, never really
hate the enemy because the real enemy is war
Iwo Jima Backround:
This picture shows the Island of Iwo Jima and the
places where the battles were fought. Iwo Jima is a
tiny island, only four and a half miles long, and
two and a half miles wide, and it lies at the
bottom of the Bonin chain of islands in the Pacific
Ocean. This island was important for the United
States to capture, so that they could win the
portion of the war in Pacific. The island was
particularly important because it had three air
fields. The Japanese wanted to utilize the fields
so that their fighter planes could destroy the
United States bombers on their way to Japan. The
United States wanted to use the fields so that
distressed planes could land there, or for American
fighter planes to escort bombers to Japan. On this
tiny island, there were almost 100,000 soldiers,
22,000 Japanese and 70,000 American troops. The
island is very desert like and there is hardly any
vegetation, so it was very hard for the troops to
find coverage. Because of this, the capture of Mt.
Surbachi (southern most tip) by the United States
was a key take over (History).
At 10:20 a.m. on February 23rd, 1945 forty men from
the third division of the Marine Corps, marched up
Mt. Surbachi. Commanded by Lieutenant Harold
Schrier, six marines, Michael Strank, Rene Gagnon,
Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley, Ira Hayes, and John
Bradley, raised the American flag up from the
rubble, and dug it into the ground (premier).This
was important because it showed the fighters
elsewhere on the island that the United States had
taken control of the mountain, and it gave them
hope. It also discouraged the Japanese troops.
Marine Corps photographer Sergeant Lou Lowery
quickly took a picture of this scene, and that
picture is extremely famous. There was another
raising after the original one, three hours later,
to put up a bigger flag, and this was taped by Joe
Rosenthal (United).A statue was built on November
10th, 1954 depicting this original flag raising,
based on the photo in Washington D.C. It is one of
the worlds largest statues, weighing about 100
tons. This picture will be remembered throughout
history, and the original flag raisers were made
national heroes (M. R.).
Iwo Jima Stories:
Kirby’s division landed three days late on
the island, as another portion of the island
hopping campaign. The division arrived after the
first flag had been raised on Mt. Surbachi, on
February 23 rd, 1945. Once Kirby got onto the
beach, he saw soldiers raising another, larger
American flag up on the mountain. “At
the time, I didn’t know I was witnessing
history,” said Kirby. Though this was an
amazing scene, there was still fighting to be done
and very little cover. Kirby knew a naval doctor
who worked on Iwo Jima and took care of the
patients till more help could come. Once the doctor
was taking care of a patient, and a young soldier,
only about eighteen, walked into the tent “with
tears running down his face from combat fatigue.”
The boy was in such shock that he could only ask
the doctor for help. The doctor told the young man
to sit outside the tent and wait for him. As the
doctor went back to his patient, he heard a huge
explosion. When he went outside, “there was
nothing but a hole where the young man had been
Also at the battle of Iwo Jima, Kirby held his best
friend as he bled to death. The most horrible thing
to him was that as his best friend was dying, there
was nothing he could do to help him. “All I
could do was sit there as his blood seeped into my
jeans” Kirby described. Kirby was one of
thirteen from the two hundred and thirteen in his
division still living after the battle.
After the War:
When Kirby returned from the war, he spent five weeks in
psychiatric evaluation. “I couldn’t see the
justification of me living and them dying” said Kirby.
Kirby arrived home in 1945 on Christmas Eve. His family did
not know that he was coming home, and his whole family was
over for Christmas. Kirby said that the moment he arrived
home was one of the best moments of his life. After he
arrived home, he attended Emerson College for one year and
worked for a steel company. He met a lady named Mary at
college and they were married. After that, Kirby attended
Northeastern University for five years and got a bachelors
degree in history and a law degree. They then moved to Long
Island and had their first child. After that, the two moved
back to Brookline and had two more kids in two years. Later
on, they had their fourth. His sons Larry and Tom both
fought in the Vietnam War.
When Larry moved back to Brookline, he worked as a marketing
analyst and traveled a lot. After that job, he worked as an
operating vice president for a computer company. He is still
happily married and has visited Europe with his wife over 20
times. He is also involved in many committees in his town
and loves to get involved.
Talking about the war:
Larry wrote a book about his experiences at war, called “Stories
from the Pacific.” It was extremely hard for him to
talk about his time there, “it took me forty five
years to talk to my wife about it” said Kirby. At
first his book was just memoirs for his kids, but his sister
urged him to publish it. The book was very successful and is
now on its second printing. It is also hard for Kirby to see
his friends from war. Kirby said that though he would die
for them and they would die for him, “they remind me
of something terrible.”
I met a youthful enemy
My fear reflected in his eye.
I loathed him not, nor did he me.
But we must fight and one must die.
No longer boys but no yet men
Just sad young soldiers sick with fright
Flag and face our difference then
One’s timeless sleep would come that night
Panic grew with every breath
I had to kill, I had to try.
Why do I seek a stranger’s death?
With vain despair I wondered, why?
I could be his friend, not foe
Such wish was true, not foolish whim.
The brave, young lad will never know.
With tragic skill I murdered him.
Long years have passed since when he fell
My heart still aches, no sense of pride.
Though I seem here I live in hell
On that cruel day I also died
~Lawrence F. Kirby
This poem was taken from Kirby's book, "Stories from the
Pacific." It was written by Kirby after he killed the
Japanese soldier while scouting on Guam.
* Wikipedia Encyclopedia. Post World War II.
Sep. 23rd, 2004. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ira_Hayes
* Premier Image. The Flag Raisers.
* M. R. Patterson. Michael Strank. Jul.
20th, 2004. www.arlingtoncemetery.net (11/18/04).
* United States Marine Corps. Battle for
Iwo Jima. http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/7338/usmc.html
* Pictures, Maps and Charts.
* The History Learning Site. The Battle of
Iwo Jima. Apr. 2003.
* Jane Resture. Guam Postcards 5. Oct.
4th, 2002. http://www.janeresture.com/guam_postcards5/
* USS Guam. Battle of Guam.
* Free Republic. Pryaer for our