WWII vet remembers combat days on Iwo Jima

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Manny Goldberg is a World War II veteran who crawled through the hills and caves of Iwo Jima hunting for the enemy, but he did not use guns or grenades and he was often able to lead his “prisoners” to a better way of life.

“We didn’t work with blood and guts,” the nearly 30-year resident of Bayside said in a recent interview. “All we did was talk.”

As one of the few Japanese interpreters serving at that time, Goldberg led an elite group of about 20 men whose mission was to communicate with and rescue thousands of civilians hiding in the caves of Iwo Jima.

The veteran has worked throughout the years to ensure soldiers he served with receive the medals they earned during the war and he was recently honored at the Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade as a division marshal.

Goldberg, 83, became proficient in Japanese after his father moved the family to Japan to open a new office for his company in the late 1920s, when Goldberg was just 14.

After his mother died in an accidental fire in Japan, his father moved the family back to America. Later on when World War II broke out, Goldberg — who was unable to join the Army as a soldier because his arm was injured in the fire that killed his mother — offered up his services as an interpreter in the early 1940s.

A native of Manhattan who was also raised in Brooklyn, Goldberg joined a military Japanese class at New York University when he was 25, and found he could not read or write the language, but “I had an ear for it.”

Eventually the need for Japanese interpreters during the war was so intense Goldberg was plucked from one of his classes to serve in Iwo Jima, where Japanese civilians were brainwashed into believing American soldiers would harm them if they were captured.

“They were told by the [Japanese] soldiers they would be raped and killed,” he said. “Some committed suicide and took their kids and walked backwards off the cliffs.”

Goldberg said the civilians hiding in the dark caves of the island were generally hungry and in need of medical attention. When he began his work to rescue them, Goldberg said there was immediate success.

After reaching out to 12 farmers willing to help, Goldberg directed them to work in fields near the caves where people were hiding, he said.

“After a while 80 people came out and saw them working,” he said. They were offered food and assistance and agreed to come out of hiding, Goldberg said.

“We got 80 the first day and in three weeks there were 300,” he said proudly.

In the two years Goldberg spent on Iwo Jima he estimates nearly 2,000 people were saved. He later earned both the Silver and Bronze stars for his efforts.

After the war Goldberg, who has diligently kept records of his experiences in the numerous letters he wrote to his wife during the war, followed his father’s path and eventually moved his family to Japan for several years.

Later the family came back to the United States and settled in Queens, where he and his wife opened a business selling parts for sewing machines.

Nowadays Goldberg is working to track down former Army buddies, help those who need it to receive the honors they earned, and is a music student at Queens College.

“So many exciting things are happening,” said Goldberg, who has helped 11 veterans get their medals.

When asked about his march in the Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade, one of the largest Memorial Day parades in the country, Goldberg laughed delightedly.

“It was a very exciting thing,” he said, commenting on the crowds, the 1976 Cadillac that took him down the parade route and the USO show at the end. “They really did it up right.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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