Photo by Joe Rosenthal

More than 600 Marines who endured indescribable carnage on Iwo Jima gathered this weekend to relive the corps' bloodiest battle and talk about what the 55 years since has brought their country.

Many among these veterans speak with sadness of the dwindling numbers of men and women now choosing military service as career. It is a symptom, they say, of a loss among many young Americans of a sense of honor and duty to country.

Now, said veteran John McElroy, 77, "You just, don't see that respect that was once there."

McElroy and the others risked their lives to capture a speck of land no more than 8 square miles of Pacific island, 600 miles south of Tokyo.

The battle began February 19, 1945. After merciless fighting, five Marines and a Navy corpsman raised the American flag on Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi four days later, an event that came to symbolize being a Marine. By the time Iwo Jima was secured March 16 - 6,318 Marine dead were among the 25,581 casualties.

"We weren't heroes .We just went where we were sent to go", said Russ Kohloff, 77, of Beloit, Wisconsin. The was was on and we did what young people did."

Among events planned at the anniversary gathering was a wreath-laying at the Marines' revered Iwo Jima Memorial, Felix DeWeldon's massive bronze statue modeled on history's most widely reproduced photograph. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal's picture of the Mount Suribachi flag-raising.

Veterans from all over the country said they wanted to renew the camaraderie, they felt more than half a century ago, to recapture a feeling of devotion they had to each other.

He's like my brother. We lived together and died together," said McElroy, 77, putting his arm around the shoulder of Nick Paciullo, 76. "The only one who understands me is him".

The two served together in the same company in the 23rd Marines, 4th Division, and have remained lifelong friends. During the war, both were wounded. McElroy, of North Bergen, NJ, caught shrapnel in his left side and leg.

 

The first flag raising atop Mt. Suribachi. Jim Michels holds the gun with (left to right) Hank Hansen, Boots Thomas, Harold Schrier and Chuck Lindberg behind. Photo by Lou Lowery. 10AM, Feb. 23, 1945

A piece of shrapnel hit Paciullo, of Hackensack, NJ., in the left eye.

The Marines' objective in 1945 was to capture Iwo Jima stop the Japanese from using it as a base and to provide the Army Air Corps with a field where crippled bombers could land in emergencies during the expected invasion of the Japanese mainland. "Everybody got hit. There were wounded and dead all over," said Kohloff. The memory brought tears to his eyes.

 

Four of the Flag Raisers (Bradley, Hayes, Sousley & Strank) appear with their jubilant buddies. Strank,
Sousley and many of these boys would soon be dead.

On the local news last week:
A marine named Deere was in the first group on Iwo and he shot a Japanese soldier and only wounded him. The Japanese soldier went into a cave and committed suicide with Deere following close behind him. The soldier had a Jap flag in his helmet which Deere removed and he and several of his platoon signed it.

Deere brought the flag home and his children played with it until a kid in the area asked if he could make a frame for it. Over the years Deere lost contact with the kid. In 1997 a contractor was tearing down an old house and found the flag - its having been lost for about 40 years. The flag was traced to Deere who lived near Tulsa. He also found 10 of the group who signed the flag and they were to meet at a Marine base in one of the Carolinas at the dedication of the Iwo Memorial and presentation of this flag there this week. Camp Lejune comes to mind but that may be a WAC training center.

This story was done on KOTV channel 6, by Scott Thompson who does human interest stories and is one hell of a story teller -- sent to me by Ford Tolbert