Lawrence F. Kirby
By:Casey Thomas
Larry Kirby

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 enlist.

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 scout.

Guam Backround:

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 (United).    


map of japan

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 itself.”

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).

The Flag Raisings:

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 sitting.”

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.

us soldier

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. (11/18/04).

*    Premier Image. The Flag Raisers. 2004. (11/18/04).

*    M. R. Patterson. Michael Strank. Jul. 20th, 2004. (11/18/04).

*    United States Marine Corps. Battle for Iwo Jima. (11/18/04).

*    Pictures, Maps and Charts. (11/19/04).

*    The History Learning Site. The Battle of Iwo Jima. Apr. 2003. (11/19/04).

*    Jane Resture. Guam Postcards 5. Oct. 4th, 2002. (11/20/04).

*    USS Guam. Battle of Guam.

*    Free Republic. Pryaer for our Troops.