On February 23, 1945, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the now-iconic frozen moment of the flag-raising on the summit of Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima. While the invasion of that island had begun on February 16, three divisions of U.S. Marines began their involvement on February 19 and continued through the end of March, by which time more than six thousand Americans had been killed.
A much-decorated Marine from West Virginia, Private First Class Elbie Adkins, was one of those six thousand. Pfc. Adkins was born on August 13, 1921, at Harts, Lincoln County, the son of Robert E. and Spicie Fry Adkins. The 1930 Federal Census lists Elbie as the only child in the small household at that time. Little else is known of his early life. His enlistment in the Marines apparently took place toward the war’s end. A rifleman in the infantry, he became part of the 25th Marine Regiment.
With the mid-1944 conquest of the Marianas, Iwo Jima, strategically placed between those islands and Japan, was the next target for U.S. troops. The Japanese fully understood the importance of the island, and although the way for Marine ground troops had been prepared by U.S. bombers and Navy warships, they faced over 20,000 Japanese defenders in an engagement that lasted more than a month (Source: “Iwo Jima Operation, February-March 1945: Overview and Special Image Selection,” Naval History and Heritage Command, http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/wwii-pac/iwojima/iwojima.htm [accessed Feb. 9, 2012]).
Iwo Jima may have been the most difficult siege of World War II for the U.S. Marines, and it proved the importance of infantry even when backed by superior aerial and naval power. The heroes of that campaign were awarded many accolades for their bravery and service, and one of the most highly decorated was Pfc. Elbie Adkins.
In his short time in the Pacific Theater, Pfc. Adkins had seen action in the Marshall Islands, the Marianas Islands, Saipan, Tinian, the Volcano Islands, and Iwo Jima. Killed while on a volunteer mission on March 12, 1945, Elbie had been wounded three times in action between July 1944 and February 1945. For his service and valor, Pfc. Elbie Adkins received the Silver Star, the Purple Heart with one gold star, the Presidential Unit Citation with one star, the Victory Medal, and the Asiatic-Pacific ribbon.
In 1949, Pfc. Adkins’ remains were returned to the States, where a funeral with military rites was held at Guyan Baptist Church on Little Harts Creek, with burial in the Adkins-Fry Cemetery.
Article by Patricia Richards McClure
West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history. For more information contact Constance Baston at (304) 558-0230.
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