On 3 May 1946, a little-known battle fought off the coast of San Fransisco on the infamous Alcatraz Island would determine the fate of the U.S. Marines.

To understand the importance of the battle on “The Rock,” we need to first set the stage for what life was like for the Marines in post-war America during the mid-1940s.


Back From the War

When the calendar flipped over to 1946, WWII had just concluded and battle-hardened troops were returning stateside to their families and a new normal. These men had been a part of ferocious battles in Africa, Italy, and all over the Pacific on islands like Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The men who returned home had made it through what many consider to be the toughest war in human history. By the time the war ended, the men who had survived these battles were hardened, decorated, and skilled weapons of war.

Alcatraz sign
A sign displayed at Alcatraz. (Courtesy of author)

Upon their return home, U.S. troops were met with a newly minted “G.I. Bill,” that allowed them to get an education or buy a house or a farm. Radio was becoming ever more popular and television was starting to break through into American culture. Additionally, many professional athletes who had been to war had returned home and now were national heroes on multiple levels. Americans couldn’t seem to get enough of seeing these gods of both sport and war perform. America was certainly progressing beyond where it had been just a decade prior.

Nevertheless, the troops’ return home certainly wasn’t all sunshine and roses.

Besides the fact that the United States lost some 400,000 troops during the war, some of the roughly 670,000 soldiers who were wounded returned home with life-altering physical and mental conditions. There was also the mental shift for the troops as they put the war behind them and moved on with their lives. This shift was also reflected in the federal government’s decision to dramatically decrease the Marine Force by nearly 80 percent.

Mt. Suribachi Iwo Jima Marines
U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Japan, on February 23, 1945. (Stripes.com)

The U.S. Naval Institute (USNI) summed up the days following the end of the war perfectly: