Ralph Anthony "Iggy" Ignatowski (April 8, 1926 – March 4–7, 1945) was a United States Marine Corps private who was captured and killed by the Japanese in the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. The circumstances of this personally involved one of the Iwo Jima flag raisers, John Bradley.
Ignatowski failed the physical examination when he first tried to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1943. However, he tried again, taking a friend's urine sample with him and this time passed the physical. In 1944, after "boot" camp training, he was assigned to the 3rd Platoon of E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division. He became a close buddy with one of his platoon corpsmennamed John "Doc" Bradley, who was to become one of the American flag-raisers on Iwo Jima and who was with Ignatowski just before he was captured on the battlefield.
Service record: Private Ignatowski was aboard the USS Missoula at sea on February 5, 1945, and arrived at Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall Islands on February 7. Ignatowski was at sea again from February 8 to 10, and disembarked at Saipan, Marianas Islands, on February 11. Ignatowski boarded USS LST-481 and sailed to Iwo Jima from February 11 to 18. Ignatowski, E Company, 28th Marines, arrived at Iwo Jima on February 19. Ignatowski was wounded by shrapnel in the jaw on February 20, 1945 and returned to duty the same day.
Regiment record: On March 4, 1945, Ignatowski was seen captured and taken into a cave by Japanese soldiers and about 2 hours later, the deceased body of Second Lieutenant Leonard Sokol (KIA) was taken away at same location by Japanese soldiers. On March 7, 1945, both their bodies were found. The following entries from the 28th Marine Regiment records describe the timeline of their deaths:
- Mar 4, 1845 hrs - Fr LT228 - One P.F.C. from Easy Co, name unknown, believed captured by Japs in vicinity of Hill 215.
- Mar 4, 2030 hrs - Fr LT228 - Lt. Sokol was killed at 1330 at 233 X and body taken by Nips - No maps or shackle codes known to be on his person according to Capt Severance.
- Mar 4, 2100 hrs - Fr LT 228 - All quiet - Easy Co reports Japs were definitely seen grabbing man into cave near where Lt. Sokol's body disappeared.
- Mar 7, 1900 hrs - Fr. LT228 - Body of captured PFC from "E" Co (Ignatowski) had apparently been searched (pack emptied) and tortured - arm broken, body beaten. Location 450 yds north of tip of Hill 362. Forward and left of E Co's present CP - Lt. Sokol's body nearby mutilated by one of our own flame throwers.
- Mar 7, 1940 hrs - Fr D2 - Corps requests written statements from men in "E" Co who saw Ignatowsky captured.
- Mar 8, 0855 hrs - Fr 5th Div. Red Cross - Request details on capture of PFC Ignatowsky "E" Co. Call Mr. Thomas c/o Columbus #1
- Mar 8, 1010 hrs - Fr LT228 - Ignatowski body evacuated with Lt. Sokol's. En route, via Regt.
- Mar 8, 1150 hrs - To D2 - Requested Regimental ARC representative and Regimental Surgeon examine body of P.F.C. Ignatowski and prepare affidavits.
- Mar 9, 1154 hrs - Fr D2 - Requests detail re Ignatowski and statements: a. Circumstances of capture b. Events intervening between capture and recovery. c. Circumstances of recovery of body.
Although the exact circumstances are uncertain, Ignatowski was either taken prisoner by Japanese troops, tortured, and killed, or he was killed and then mutilated.
Ignatowski's death is referenced in several books:
"On March 3, Private Ralph Ignatowski was somehow dragged into a cave within a small canyon. What I tell you next is what I heard but did not see. He may have tried to rescue Ignatowski, but I don’t know for sure.”“I walked into the canyon and found Lieutenant Sokol on a road, Ralph Ignatowski close behind. An officer approached me and said, 'Don’t touch them. We may have an atrocity here.’ I understand Ralph had been bayoneted numerous times; some punctures bled, some did not.”
- In his book Semper Chai!: Marines of Blue and White (and Red) about Jews in the U.S. Marine Corps, author Howard J. Leavitt collected eyewitness reports regarding the actual circumstances of Ignatowski and Sokol's deaths, including a letter to the surviving members of the family of Lieutenant Sokol by fellow Marine James Buchanan:
"I have tried so hard to block this out. To forget it. We could choose a buddy to go in with. My buddy was a guy from Milwaukee. We were pinned down in one area. Someone elsewhere fell injured and I ran to help out, and when I came back my buddy was gone. I couldn’t figure out where he was. I could see all around, but he wasn’t there. And nobody knew where he was.A few days later someone yelled that they’d found him. They called me over because I was a corpsman. The Japanese had pulled him underground and tortured him. His fingernails... his tongue... It was terrible. I’ve tried hard to forget all this."Many years later, in researching my father’s life, I asked Cliff Langley, Doc’s co-corpsman, about the discovery of Iggy’s body. Langley told me it looked to him as though Ralph Ignatowski had endured just about every variety of physical cruelty imaginable."Both his arms were fractured," Langley said. "They just hung there, there like arms on a broken doll. He had been bayoneted repeatedly. The back of his head had been smashed in."
- Ignatowski's death is also mentioned in the book Flags of Our Fathers, coauthored by the son of flag raiser John Bradley. The following are his recollections of Ignatowski's death:
Other eyewitness reports further indicated that Ignatowski had been tortured in the cave by the Japanese for three days, during which time they also cut out his eyes, cut off his ears, smashed in his teeth, and cut off his genitalia.
Ignatowski's remains were initially interred with military honors in Grave 1201, Row 11, Plot 5, 5th Marine Division Cemetery, Iwo Jima. In 1949, his body was exhumed and reinterred at the Rock Island National Cemetery in Illinois.