Sands of Iwo Jima

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Sands of Iwo Jima
Sands of Iwo Jima poster.jpg
Original film poster
Directed byAllan Dwan
Written by
Produced byHerbert Yates
Narrated byArthur Franz
CinematographyReggie Lanning
Edited byRichard L. Van Enger
Music byVictor Young
Republic Pictures
Distributed byRepublic Pictures
Release date
  • December 14, 1949 (1949-12-14) (San Francisco, premiere)
  • December 28, 1949 (1949-12-28) (Los Angeles)
Running time
  • 100 minutes
  • 109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$4 million (US/Canada rentals)[1]

Sands of Iwo Jima is a 1949 war film starring John Wayne that follows a group of United States Marines from training to the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. The film, which also features John Agar, Adele Mara and Forrest Tucker, was written by Harry Brown and James Edward Grant, and directed by Allan Dwan. The picture was a Republic Pictures production.

Sands of Iwo Jima was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (John Wayne), Best Film Editing, Best Sound Recording (Daniel J. Bloomberg) and Best Writing, Motion Picture Story.[2]


The story is told from the viewpoint of Corporal Robert Dunne.

Tough-as-nails career Marine Sergeant John Stryker (John Wayne) is greatly disliked by the men of his squad, particularly the combat replacements, for the rigorous training he puts them through. He is especially despised by PFC Peter "Pete" Conway (John Agar), the arrogant, college-educated son of Colonel Sam Conway, whom Stryker served under and admired, and PFC Al Thomas (Forrest Tucker), who blames him for his demotion.

When Stryker leads his squad in the invasion of Tarawa, the men begin to appreciate his methods. The platoon leader, Lieutenant Baker, is killed seconds after he lands on the beach, and PFCs "Farmer" Soames and Choynski are wounded. The Marines are pinned down by a pillbox. Several more men are killed before Stryker is able to demolish the pillbox.

Later on, Thomas stops for coffee when he goes to get ammunition for two comrades. As a result, he returns too late — the two Marines run out of ammunition, and Hellenopolis is killed, while Bass is badly wounded.

On their first night, the squad is ordered to dig in and hold their positions. Alone and wounded, Bass begs for help. Conway considers Stryker brutal and unfeeling when he refuses to disobey orders and go to Bass's rescue.

After the battle, when Stryker discovers about Thomas's dereliction, he gets into a fistfight with him. A passing officer spots this serious offense, but Thomas claims that Stryker was merely teaching him judo. Later, a guilt-ridden Thomas abjectly apologizes to Stryker for his dereliction of duty.

Stryker reveals a softer side while on leave in Honolulu. He picks up a bargirl and goes with her to her apartment. He becomes suspicious when he hears somebody in the next room, but upon investigation, finds only a hungry baby boy. Stryker gives the woman some money and leaves.

Later, during a training exercise, McHugh, a replacement, drops a live hand grenade. Everybody drops to the ground, except Conway, who is distracted reading a letter from his wife. Stryker knocks him down, saving his life, and then proceeds to bawl him out in front of the platoon.

LVTs on Iwo Jima.jpg

Stryker's squad subsequently fights in the battle for Iwo Jima. The squad suffers heavy casualties within the first couple of hours. Stryker's squad is selected to be a part of the 40-man patrol assigned to charge up Mount Suribachi. During the charge, Eddie Flynn, Stein, and Fowler are killed. While the men are resting during a lull in the fighting, Stryker is killed by a Japanese soldier emerging from a spider hole. Bass kills the Japanese shooter. The remaining squad members find and read a letter on his corpse, a letter addressed to his son and expressing things Stryker wanted to say to him, but never did. Moments later, the squad witnesses the iconic flag raising.


General Graves B. Erskine (right), Col. David M. Shoup (center) and John Wayne (left) on the set. Erskine and Shoup were provided as technical advisors for the film by the U.S. Marine Corps. Shoup also appeared as himself in a cameo role.

Actual Marines[edit]

Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, and John Bradley (Iwo Jima) the three survivors of the five Marines and one Navy corpsman who were credited with raising the second flag on Mount Suribachi during the actual battle, appear briefly in the film just prior to the re-enactment. Hayes was also the subject of a film biography, The Outsider, and Bradley the subject of a book by his son James, Flags of Our Fathers. Ironically, subsequent research has established that the figures identified in the flag raising photograph as Bradley and Gagnon were actually Marine PFC Harold Schultz and Marine Cpl Harold Keller, respectively.

Also appearing as themselves are 1st Lt. Harold Schrier, who led the flag-raising patrol up Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima and helped raise the first flag, Col. David M. Shoup, later Commandant of the Marine Corps and recipient of the Medal of Honor at Tarawa, and Lt. Col. Henry P. "Jim" Crowe, commander of the 2nd Battalion 8th Marines at Tarawa, where he earned the U.S. Navy Cross.[3][4]

Actual battle footage is interspersed throughout the film.


The film was based on a screenplay by Harry Brown and James Edward Grant from a story by Harry Brown.

Filming Locations included Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Leo Carrillo State Beach, Santa Catalina Island, Channel Islands, Janss Conejo Ranch, Thousand Oaks, Republic Studios and Universal Studios.


Several of the actors were re-united in the 1970 western Chisum (1970): John Wayne, John Agar, Forrest Tucker, and Richard Jaeckel.

In the television show King of the Hill (1997–2010), this is the favorite film of Cotton Hill, father of main character Hank Hill. Hank recalls that, during his childhood, his father would travel around Texas searching for showings of this film.

The episode "Call of Silence" (2004) in NCIS's season 2 references the film and a documentary as shared background to Marine history and legacy. The episode shows the NCIS character Timothy McGee watching the documentary To the Shores of Iwo Jima; the character Anthony DiNozzo approaches and, in furtherance of the character's schtick as an avowed and knowledgeable movie buff, begins talking about the theatrical film Sands of Iwo Jima, some scenes of which were taken from the documentary.

The Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers have a song title "The Sands of Iwo Jima" on their 2004 album The Dirty South. It is sung from the perspective of a young boy who has been exposed to World War 2 through old John Wayne movies. He asks his great-uncle, a World War II veteran, if The Sands of Iwo Jima represents the war properly; the old man smiles, shakes his head and responds, "I never saw John Wayne on the sands of Iwo Jima."


The first recorded use of the phrase "lock and load" is in this film: twice as a metaphor for "get ready to fight" and once as a humorous invitation to drink alcohol (get loaded). As a period term, it similarly appears in the 1998 film Saving Private Ryan. Although the original use and implied meaning may be disputed, it typically described preparations for charging the M1 Garand semi-automatic rifle[5] by first locking the bolt back by pulling the charging handle rearward and then loading an 8-round en bloc clip into the now open magazine.

The phrase was similarly used in US Army infantry basic training in the Vietnam era - "lock" a magazine into the rifle, "load" a round into the chamber by pulling the bolt back and releasing it. During helicopter combat assaults rifles were typically not loaded when boarding the helicopters in a secure area. Approaching the unsecured Landing Zone, the command was given, "Lock and Load."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "All-Time Top Grossers". Variety. January 13, 1954. p. 10. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  2. ^ "The 22nd Academy Awards (1950) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-18.
  3. ^ T. M. P. (1949-12-31). "Movie Review - Sands of Iwo Jima - At the Mayfair". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-02-16.
  4. ^ Suid, Lawrence H. (2002). Guts & Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Film. University Press of Kentucky. p. 121. ISBN 0813122252. Retrieved 2014-02-16.
  5. ^ "Saving Private Ryan: "Lock and Load"". Saving Private Ryan Online Encyclopedia. 2009-04-11. Retrieved 2021-06-06.

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