One day in the cinder-coated hell that was Iwo Jima in March 1945, Sgt. Nealy Adolph Sweat of Summerville, S.C., single-handedly killed five Japanese soldiers. The last one was an officer who attacked Sweat with a sword.
And not just any sword. The katana–which GIs more typically referred to as a “samurai sword”— was a priceless heirloom, having been made in about the year 1600.
Today that sword is by far the oldest military artifact on display at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, which features exhibits from all conflicts South Carolinians have participated in, from the Revolutionary War through the War on Terror.
Sweat donated the sword to the museum in 2008. He had been drafted when he graduated from high school in 1943 and sent to Fort Benning, Ga., for basic training for the U.S. Army’s airborne service. He was then sent to Camp Hale, Colo., for additional training. He learned to ski and climb as part of the 10th Mountain Division. He was then placed in the 147th Infantry Regiment as a private and sent to the South Pacific in 1944. By the time of the bitter, last-ditch battle for the ugly rock called Iwo Jima, he was leading a platoon as a sergeant.
Sweat passed away in 2012.
The sword he brought back is signed “Kyushu Higo Dotanuki Kozukenosuke” on the tang. “Dotanuki” refers to a school of highly regarded sword makers from the Higo Province. “Kozukenosuke” was a sort of pen name for one of the Dotanuki sword makers. He was active around 1596- 1615.
As curator of education Joe Long tells visitors to the museum, “That sword was passed down, perhaps, from father to son within the same clan until a Japanese officer walked up a hill on Iwo Jima with it, and the next day, a South Carolina sergeant walked down, carrying the same weapon” as a prize of war.
That may be the oldest, but that is not the only katana in the collections of the Relic Room, and not the only one with a compelling war story behind it.
Another one can be seen being held by Long in a new video on the Relic Room’s Facebook page. That one was donated in 2015 by Kenneth Moffitt. It had been picked up by his grandfather, Donald G. Bridger, at Okinawa. He picked it up off a Japanese officer while clearing out a cave. The sword is signed on the tang as, “Noshu ju yoshiaki saku kore” which means “Yoshiaki from Mino Province made this.” It was made in the first half of the 20th century.
You don’t have to wait until the museum’s annual Sword Fest to see these exotic weapons. The 400- year-old katana, for instance, can be seen any day as part of the Relic Room’s World War II display.
Founded in 1896, the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum is an accredited museum focusing on South Carolina’s distinguished martial tradition through the Revolutionary War, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Vietnam, the War on Terror, and other American conflicts. It serves as the state’s military history museum by collecting, preserving, and exhibiting South Carolina’s military heritage from the colonial era to the present, and by providing superior educational experiences and programming. It is located at 301 Gervais Street, sharing the Columbia Mills building with the State Museum. For more information, go to crr.sc.gov.