Ralph Anthony Ignatowski

1926 - 1945

Marine Corps.

Their Story

Ralph Anthony Ignatowski was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 28, 1926 into a large family with nine brothers and sisters. It was Ignatowski’s dream to become a United States Marine, though his dream was almost cut short when he was rejected during enlistment at the urine test due to a kidney problem. Showing great dedication toward achieving his dream, Ignatowski returned the next day with another person’s urine to subvert the test and become a marine.

            Ignatowski was sent to Camp Pendleton for training, where he became fast friends with John “Doc” Bradley, who referred to him by the nickname “Iggy”. Doc and Iggy were “buddies”: a pair of Marines that are meant to look out for each other through training and combat. The buddy-system in the Marine Corps makes men into deeply close friends and comrades. Doc’s son and biographer, James, writes of the pair, “They bunked together, ate ice cream together, went on liberty together and generally came to know each other’s deepest hopes, fears, and joys.”[1] The two comrades would together be sent to fight with the 28 Marines 5th Marine Division at the Battle of Iwo Jima, where Ignatowski would meet his tragic fate.

            Iwo Jima is a small island in the Pacific Ocean, seen by the American forces as “the step to the Japanese heartland and to the end of an awful war.”[2] Likewise, the Japanese on the island saw themselves as the last line of defense before the war made its way to the shores of their home islands. The battle that was to take place on the volcanic island, roughly only 2 and a half times the size of Davenport’s Credit Island Park, would be an ensemble of carnage that would haunt those who fought there for the remainder of their lives.[3] Iwo Jima was the only battle where the US Marine casualties would exceed those of the Japanese: the battle saw 26,000 American casualties of the 70,000 Marines who fought in the battle, with 6,800 American deaths. Of the 22,000 Japanese defenders, the majority died in defense of the Island.[4] The Japanese’s fierce resistance was possible due to their years of preparation in creating defenses on the island, Major General Fred Haynes recalls, “There were complex, subterranean levels, some two stories down. From these the defenders could approach the enemy on the surface virtually anywhere through warrens, spider holes, caves, and crevices.”[5]

            It was in one of these caves that Ralph Anthony Ignatowski would be tortured to death by the Japanese. Within the Maelstrom of combat, Ignatowski was thought to have been killed by shellfire. In truth, Iggy was captured by the Japanese, who took him to one of Iwo’s caves to torture him to death. Doc Bradley somberly recalls the capture and death of his close friend,

I have tried to blank this out. To forget it. We choose a buddy to go in with. My buddy was a guy (Iggy) 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. Nobody knew where he was… A few days later, someone yelled that they 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 so hard to forget this.[6]

Ignatowski’s body was recovered by his comrades, and he is now laid to rest at National Cemetery on Arsenal Island.

Ignatowski is remembered in the book Flags of Our Fathers, a history of the flag raisers at Iwo Jima written by Doc Bradley’s son James. Ralph Anthony Ignatowski was a man committed to the defense of his nation, so committed that he subverted enlistment standards despite the danger to his health posed by his kidney problem. The torture he was subjected to on Iwo Jima is a harsh reminder of what evils men are capable of in the nightmare of war, and the bravery of our servicemen and women for risking the most painful tortures to defend our freedoms.


[1]Bradley, James, and Ron Powers. Flags of Our Fathers. New York: Bantam Books, 2000 Quoted in Wundram, Bill. “Iggy: Friend Buried at Arsenal.” Quad City Times, July 4, 2000.

[2] O’Brien, Cyril. “Iwo Jima Retrospective.” Military.com. Accessed January 9, 2022. .

[3]Wundram, Bill. “Iggy: Friend Buried at Arsenal.Quad City Times, July 4, 2000.

[4]O’Brien, Cyril. “Iwo Jima Retrospective.” Military.com. Accessed January 9, 2022.

[5]O’Brien, Cyril. “Iwo Jima Retrospective.” Military.com. Accessed January 9, 2022.

[6]Bradley, James, and Ron Powers. Flags of Our Fathers. New York: Bantam Books, 2000 Quoted in Wundram, Bill. “Iggy: Friend Buried at Arsenal.” Quad City Times, July 4, 2000.