Kuribayashi, Tadamichi, born 07-02-1891 in Nagano, into a lower class samurai family in the Hanishina District. He was the fifth generation of a family of samurai who had served six emperors and carried this tradition with pride and full dedication. According to Vice Admiral Shegeji Kaneko, who attended Nagano High School with Kuribayashi, “He once organized a strike against the school authorities. He just escaped expulsion by a hair. In those days, he was already good in poetry-writing, composition, and speech writing. He was a young literary enthusiast.” Kurbayashi graduated from Nagano High School in 1911. Although he had originally aspired to be a journalist, Kuribayashi was persuaded by his high school instructors to instead enter the Imperial Japanese Army Academy . Kuribayashi graduated from the Army Academy’s 26th class in 1914, having specialized in cavalry. Kuribayashi was designated as deputy military attaché to Washington DC in 1928. For two years Kuribayashi traveled across the United States conducting extensive military and industrial research. For a short time he studied at Harvard University. Kuribayashi later recalled, “I was in the United States for three years when I was a captain. I was taught how to drive by some American officers, and I bought a car. I went around the States, and I knew the close connections between the military and industry. I saw the plant area of Detroit, too. By one button push, all the industries will be mobilized for military business.” After returning to Tokyo, Kuribayashi was promoted to the rank of major and appointed as the first Japanese military attaché to Canada. He was promoted to lieutenant colonol in 1933. During his services in Imperial Japanese Army General Staff in Tokyo from 1933-1937 he wrote lyrics for several martial songs. In 1940 Kuribayashi was promoted to Major General. On 27-05-1944, he became commander of the IJA 109th Division . Just two weeks later, on 8 June, he received orders signed by Prime Minister Hideki Tojo
to defend the strategically located island of Iwo Jima in the Bonin Islands chain. He was accorded the honor of a personal audience with Emperor Hirohito on the eve of his departure.
In 1944 he was selected by Emperor Hirohito and Prime Minister Hideki Tojo to plan the strategic defense of the Bonin Islands, including Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima. He had to concentrate mainly on the island of Iwo Jima, which had an important strategic location. Aware that this was not going to be an easy task and that a lot of pressure was put on his shoulders, he left for Iwo Jima on 8 June. Before Kuribayashi flew to Iwo Jima, he was given the honor of personally greeting Hirohito, who gave him the message that the Americans must be stopped at all costs. This meeting was a very rare event even for a samurai. Because of his training, discipline and loyalty to the emperor, Hirohito was convinced that Kuribayashi was the right man to save Japan from disgrace, invasion and defeat. On Iwo Jima he was the commander of the Ogasawara Army Group, which consisted mainly of soldiers of the 109th Division.
On 19-02-1945, the United States Marine Corps landed it’s first men on the southern shore of the island. In a radically different approach, American officers and men were first allowed to land unmolested and then shelled and machine gunned from underground bunkers. As night fell, Marine Corps General, Holland Smith studied reports aboard the command ship Eldorado. He was especially stunned that Kuribayashi’s men had never attempted a banzai charge. Addressing a group of war correspondents, he quipped, “I don’t know who he is, but the Japanese General running this show is one smart bastard.
At the Battle of Iwo Jima, only 214 survived of the more than 21,000 Japanese who took part in the battle.
Death and burial ground of Kuribayashi, Tadamichi.
Kuribayashi was married to Yoshii Kuribayashi and had three children. He was deeply committed to his family and anything but satisfied that Japanese policy did not allow his wife and son to go to America. He regularly wrote them letters with detailed descriptions of places he had seen and people he had met.
On the evening of 23-03-1945, Kuribayashi radioed a last message to Major Tomitara Hori , “All officers and men of Chichi Jima — goodbye from Iwo.” Major Hori later recalled, “I tried to communicate with them for three days after that, but in the end I received no answer.” The exact circumstances of Kuribayashi’s death remain mysterious. He was most likely killed in action on the early morning of 26-03-1945, while leading his surviving soldiers in a three-pronged assault against sleeping Marines and Air Force ground crews. Kuribayashi and his men silently slashed tents, bayoneted sleeping men and lobbed hand grenades. The assault climaxed in a hand to hand battle to the death between the men of both armies. The General’s body could not be identified afterwards for he had removed all officer’s insignia in order to fight as a regular soldier. According to less credible theories, Kuribayashi is alleged to have committed seppuku. “The name of General Kuribayashi has been accorded a place of honor in postwar Japanese history, alongside that other outstanding commander Admiral, Isoroku Yamamoto.
In his autobiography, Lieutenant General Holland ‘Howling Mad’ Smith paid him one of his highest tributes: ‘Of all our adversaries in the Pacific, Kuribayashi was the most redoubtable.’ He is buried, age 53, on the cemetery of Yasukuni Jinja, Tokyo.