Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)

In director Allan Dwan's revisionistic, politically-correct, blatantly-patriotric, historically-inaccurate action-war drama, made after the war by Republic Studios; the film's backdrop was of the training and preparation required of the US Marine recruits before they landed on Iwo Jima in 1945; specifically, it followed the conflicts that emerged between two individuals in particular, a war of words and values between Sgt. Stryker and PFC Peter Conway:

  • the film's opening was accompanied by the playing and singing of the Marines' Hymn ("From the Halls of Montezuma To the shores of Tripoli..."), followed by an appreciative scrolling tribute to the brave members of the Marine Corps and for their help in the making of the film
  • tough, battle-hardened and harsh Marine Sergeant John M. Stryker (Oscar-nominated John Wayne, with his first Academy Award Best Actor nomination) addressed his combat soldiers in New Zealand in 1943 - a new batch of rebellious greenhorn recruits-troops to fight in the Pacific theatre of the war as a rifle squad. Although he would exhaust the recruits with his rough training methods, the infamous commander was determined to mold them into fighting men. His strict expectations were echoed in his commands to the rifle squad: ("In boot camp, you learned out of a book. Out here, you gotta remember the book and learn a thousand things that have never been printed, probably never will be. You gotta learn right and you gotta learn fast. And any man that doesn't want to cooperate, I'll make him wish he hadn't been born. Before I'm through with ya, you're gonna move like one man and think like one man. If you don't, you'll be dead...You joined the Marines because you wanted to fight. Well, you're gonna get your chance. I'm here to see that you know how. If I can't teach ya one way, I'll teach ya another. But I'm gonna get the job done")
  • the gung-ho Stryker repeatedly used the phrase: "Saddle up!" to get his platoon of soldiers moving
  • one of Stryker's men was Pfc Peter Conway (John Agar) - the college-educated son of Colonel Sam Conway (Stryker's deceased former commanding officer at Guadalcanal) who was killed 10 months earlier; Conway felt that his commanding officer Stryker was similar to his demanding father, who had shamed him, thought he wasn't tough enough, and had considered him cowardly and inferior; the two often sparred with each other
  • five years earlier, the hard-nosed Sgt. Stryker had separated from his wife Mary and now 10 year-old son (who failed to write to him), and had become embittered with life, when his ex-wife took full custody; he began drinking, and often took out his frustrations on the men under his command
  • almost immediately, Stryker again lectured his squad: "I'm gonna make it nice and simple so you'll all understand it. They handed you guys as a present, a regular Easter basket. And they told me to get ya into some kinda shape so you could handle a little piece of this war. And that's what I'm gonna do. And that means I'm gonna tell ya what to do - every day, and every minute of every day. I'm gonna tell ya how to button your buttons. I'll even tell ya when to blow your noses. And if you do somethin' I don't like, I'm gonna jump and when I land, it'll hurt. I'm gonna ride ya until you can't stand up. And when you do stand up, you're gonna be Marines."
Examples of Film's Many Action-Battle Scenes - at Tarawa Atoll
  • during the brutal November 1943 assault on the Japanese base at Tarawa atoll, Stryker's unit landed on the beach head, but they were faced by non-stop machine-gunfire from a bunker that slaughtered many of the men; Stryker took it upon himself to single-handedly race forward, grab the satchel charges (from a downed soldier) and toss them into the bunker - and he successfully blew it up
  • and assertively told Sgt. Stryker: "Aren't you human at all? Don't you realize a friend of yours may be dying!...Well, you can sit here and be tough if you wanna. But I'm goin' out there and get that guy. And the only way you can stop me is to kill me," to which Sgt. Stryker replied: "That's just what I'll do" and pointed his rifle in Conway's face; Bass was ultimately rescued the next morning
  • ironically, Conway proved his manhood and worth by heroically saving Stryker's life during a difficult landing on the rocky cliffs of Japan's island of Iwo Jima, when Stryker was unexpectedly jumped by a Japanese soldier with a sword; Conway jumped in to defend Stryker by stabbing the enemy to death; afterwards, the two established a strong friendship and bond; Conway also told Stryker that he was going to name his son Sam after his father: ("We're gonna name him Sam, Sam Conway")
  • in an unexpected scene, Stryker died an unheroic death from a random bullet; he had just completed the strategic assault on the volcanic Japanese island fortress of Iwo Jima; he had paused to relax with a cigarette after having just told fellow Marine Conway: "As a matter of fact, I never felt so good in my life." He was asking: "How about a cigarette?" - when he was shot and killed by a Japanese sniper in an underground spider hole

Stryker Lighting Up a Cigarette on Iwo Jima

Conway Reading Dead Stryker's Unfinished Letter to His Son

Stryker's Corpse After an Unexpected Death
  • as Conway embraced Stryker's dead body, he discovered an undelivered and unfinished letter written by Stryker to explain himself to his son; it was a somber and dramatic moment as Conway emotionally read the letter out-loud: ("Dear son, I guess none of my letters have reached you, but I thought I'd better try again 'cause I have the feeling that this may be the last time I can write you. For a long time, I've wanted to tell you many things. Now that you're a big boy, I will. If we could have been together even for a little while, I could've explained many things much better than writing them. You've gotta take care of your mother, and love her and make her happy. Never hurt her or anyone as I did. Always do what your heart tells you is right. Maybe someone will write you some day and tell you about me. I want you to be like me in some things, but not like me in others, because when you grow older and get to know more about me, you'll see that I've been a failure in many ways. This isn't what I wanted, but things just turned out that way. If there was only more time, I..."); the letter abruptly ended unfinished: "I guess he never finished it," but Conway promised to finish it
  • the film's last line (accompanied by the singing of The Marines' Hymn) was delivered by Conway (using Stryker's words) - it was heard with the memorable raising of the flag ("There she goes") on Mount Suribachi in February of 1945: "All right! Saddle up! Let's get back in the war!"

Sgt. Stryker (John Wayne) Addressing His New Recruits

Stryker: "Saddle up!"

Pfc. Peter Conway (John Agar)

Stryker Again Lecturing His Men

Stryker in the Trenches With His Men at Tarawa

Conway Arguing with Stryker About Rescuing Wounded Pfc Bass

Approach-Assault on Iwo Jima
Stryker Thanking Conway For Saving His Life

Raising of the Flag on Mt. Suribachi

Conway: "All right. Saddle up. Let's get back in the war!"


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