On this day in 1945, a war correspondent makes history when she lands at Iwo Jima. Barbara Miller Finch was not only the first woman to make the landing during wartime, but she was also the first American reporter to arrive on the scene.
It wasn’t for lack of trying to do it earlier.
Indeed, Finch had already been in the Pacific for months, but the Navy wasn’t then too keen on giving credentials to female war correspondents. “She spends a good part of her time trying to convince the Navy that she is a reporter, not just a woman,” the Los Angeles Times reported in August 1944.
“I talked my way out of Shanghai when the Japs had taken over,” Finch joked at the time, “but I can’t talk my way into the Navy.”
Perhaps she was persistent? She ended up receiving her credentials from the Navy in early October. Her first assignment was to cover a press conference given by Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. “He entered the room with a ‘Good morning gentlemen,’” Finch described, “and with those words my work as a naval correspondent began.”
Nevertheless, she was only halfway there. She now had credentials, but she still wasn’t supposed to go into a combat zone. Finch found a workaround for that, unsurprisingly. A female correspondent couldn’t follow Marines into combat, but she could travel aboard unarmed hospital ships or planes.
Naturally, that’s exactly what she did. On March 2, 1945, she volunteered as a nurse’s aide so she could accompany a flight into Iwo Jima.
“I was aboard the first hospital supply transport plane landing here this morning,” the feisty Reuters correspondent soon wrote, “the first American woman to step ashore on this pitted, black-sanded isle where thousands of gallant marines have fought and died to gain an essential foothold in Japan’s ‘front yard.’”
Her flight into the combat zone wasn’t without incident. The Japanese saw the plane as it came in, and they began firing. “Fortunately, their aim was bad,” Finch shrugged. The plane landed, and Finch emerged. She was clutching her typewriter, which stunned a nearby Marine. “Gosh. How the hell did you get here?” he spluttered.
It wasn’t long before Finch was flying back to safety with a group of wounded Marines. “Every man on the plane,” she reported, “even the gray-faced Marine who lost his left leg and most of the toes on his other foot by mortar fire—brightens eagerly at the mention of a hospital. To him it means real beds and cleanliness and rest by nightfall.”
Another Marine, she wrote, pulled out a bundle of letters to read to her. The bundle was bloodstained from combat. “I’m afraid my girl will be pretty mad at me for getting her letters dirty,” the Marine said, but Finch noted that he was grinning.
Finch spent time in Iwo Jima, but she later went to Okinawa, too. On that flight, she accompanied Jane “Candy” Kendeigh, the first Navy flight nurse to land in an active Pacific combat zone. Finch’s reporting helped focus attention on Kendeigh, who quickly became a much-loved figure back home. Just one month after that, Finch was allowed to board the submarine Spadefish. The Navy had been slow to invite reporters aboard a submarine, but now Finch was granted access.
Her work helped regular citizens back home to gain insight into what life was like for our men and women serving overseas—and to ensure that certain sacrifices would not go unforgotten.
Perhaps Kendeigh said it best when she was later interviewed about these days in the Pacific and her time with the gutsy Reuters reporter. “Mrs. Finch really gets around,” she observed dryly.
Yet another member of the Greatest Generation, taking risks and giving her all.
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Barbara Finch, “Gosh—How the Hell Did You Get Here!” (Ventura County Star; Mar. 3, 1945) (p. 2)
Barbara Miller Finch, Iwo Jima Casualties Give Plane Journey to Hospital (San Bernardino County Sun; March. 6, 1945) (p. 3)
Brave, Bold and Fearless Firsts: The WarTime Experiences of Two Women at Iwo Jima and Okinawa (Naval History and Heritage Command brochure) (reprinted HERE)
Gene Sherman, Pacific Echoes (LA. Times; Aug. 28, 1944) (p. 2)
Laurie Johnston, American Fighters on Okinawa Astounded by Sight of Pretty Navy Nurse on Plane (Honolulu Advertiser; April 12, 1945) (p. 1)Mrs. Finch. Reporter, Gets Credentials for Pacific Area (Honolulu Advertiser; Oct. 10, 1944) (p. 4)
Richard Hulver, The Wartime Experiences of Two Women at Iwo Jima and Okinawa (The Sextant: Naval History Heritage & Command; March 27, 2017)
World War II at 75: The Women at Iwo Jima (Submarine Force Library & Museum Association)