"The first American to set foot on Iwo Jima in WWII was neither a Marine nor a Sea Bee. He was Robert Bulford Tant a radioman & combat crewman flying TBMs in VT - 14 aboard Uss Wasp (CV - 18). He had enlisted at the age of 17.
On July 4th, 1944, while flying wing on the squadron CO for a predawn strike on Iwo Jima, his airplane took a AAA hit 2 feet from Tant's battle station. Barely able to jettison the hatch because the Avenger was in a steep dive, he managed to get out at 2,500 feet, seconds before the plane crashed into the sea.
Descending in the chute he was shot at by Japanese troops on the ground. Once in the water he struggled to cut his shroud lines with his survival knife as a Zero approached. Tant, deflated his Mae West & submerged as the Zero expended all its ordnance in a failed effort to kill Tant. He was near the Iwo Jima shore line but swam out to sea, hoping for rescue from Navy ships or planes.
The TBM's wounded gunner & best friend, Warren Atlee Goodwin, had also bailed out. He set out with Tant to swim to the sea lane where U.S. support vessels were scheduled for shore bombardment later that day. Both men became exhausted just keeping afloat in their life vests which remained only partially inflated. They were attacked by dive bombers but a pair of F6Fs splashed this bandit. The Navy fighter pilot did not see the survivors.
In the morning, the men activated fluorescent dye, creating a 100-foot circle of color, but this also failed to attract searchers flying overhead so close the swimmers could see the pilot's helmet clasps. Well away in the distance they sighted their pilot, ENS Drake, but he had not spotted them. Drake was floating in a one-man raft. An OS2U spotted Drake & picked him up. The 2 aircrewman had still not been sighted.
Their condition worsened in the next 2 days. They jettisoned flashlights, orange dye, mirrors, & Very pistols, retaining their .38 revolvers which, unfortunately, wouldn't fire due to the wet tracer rounds. Then came a shark which circled them before charging. Both men thrashed & yelled even though this was not the recommended procedure. The shark tore Tant's right shirtsleeve but he was otherwise unharmed.
The shark departed & the men decided to swim to shore, now about 3 miles away. Rip tides worked against them & shocked from exposure & fatigue, they floated in & out of consciousness, bobbing in the sea only to be awakened by slapping waves. Their shirtsleeves rubbed against developing sores on their biceps & their faces were cooked by the sun & abraded by salt water. Tant's mouth had become one massive canker sore.
By evening of the second day they were a mile from shore. Goodwin was in desperate need of medical help so Tant decided to swim alone & gain assistance from someone to aid Goodwin. He reached a large rock as the sun was setting & clawed his way up it, his bare feet & hands badly lacerated by the barnacle-covered coral. Totally spent, he passed out.
At daybreak, Tant found several deserted houses & drank from pools of stagnant, larvae-filed rainwater to survive. He lashed his skivvy shirt to a bamboo pole & hoisted it. 2 eternal days later he was spotted - but by a Japanese plane which dispatched a landing craft manned by 50 infantrymen to the site. Tant was captured & beaten & became a POW for 14 horrible months but survived & is alive today.
Tragically, no trace of Goodwin was ever found."
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