The dwindling numbers and failing health of the vets in their 80s and 90s provides a sense of urgency to honor those veterans that remain.
“You’ll be called heroes all morning long,” emcee Scott Murray said.
World War II is often cited as forging “the greatest generation,” Americans who came of age in the Great Depression, fought to save democracy from fascism and went on to lead the country into an unprecedented era of prosperity and social change. They felt it was important to be a part of the political system and have a stake in it. They joined clubs, service organizations, supported the arts, and enriched their communities. Seventeen Iwo Jima veterans were invited to sit on the stage with Murray, who provided a microphone so each could share their wartime experience. They were given a medal on a ribbon along with a crystal eagle award.
The Battle of Iwo Jima (Feb. 19 – March 26, 1945), was a battle in which the United States fought for and captured the island of Iwo Jima from Japan. The U.S. invasion was one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific Campaign of World War II.
Bill Houston was 18 at the time he served in the Marines and the experience aged him quickly. Bodies were floating in the water and he walked on dead bodies. “I was 18 when I arrived, and two hours later I was 45 years old,” he said. Many of the Iwo Jima Veterans were meeting for the first time. “I was sitting at the table with someone I met for the first time, yet we just found out we landed on Japanese soil at the same time,” James Carver, who served in the Navy, said. Tom Barnhouse (Navy) was on the bridge of an aircraft carrier and saw the flag being raised. His commander turned to him and said, “Son, that is an expensive and precious piece of real estate.” Clyde Jackson served in the Marines and was only six feet away from the famous flag raising. “If I had known how famous the Joe Rosenthal photo would be, I would have grabbed hold of the pole,” he said.
Eighty six-year-old Jackson will be going back to Iwo Jima next month with Honor Flight DFW, an organization that is providing veterans an all expense paid trip to see the black sands. “There is nothing there but a landing strip and a weather station, but it will be an honor to return after 67 years and remember the thousands who fought – those who lived and those who died.”
Janie Simon is Vice President of Honor Flight DFW, part of a national organization of volunteers that was established for the express purpose of getting as many WWII Veterans as possible to Washington, D.C. to view the World War II Memorial. She became involved with the organization when she saw the dramatic change in her uncle Paul after he returned from an Honor Flight trip.
“World War II veterans came back, got jobs, married, raised children and never talked about the war,” said Simon. “My uncle never talked about being a German POW and at age 83 went to the VA Hospital for treatment of depression. A worker told him about Honor Flight and the trip was life changing for him.” A planeload of veterans went together and shared their experiences. He learned to pass on his legacy through his stories.
Laura Leppert is co-founder of the Daughters of World War II, a nonprofit organization founded in 2010 to collect and preserve the stories of the men and women who served during World War II.
“With the average age of 89, the number of World War II veterans is dramatically diminishing,” Leppert said. “Approximately 1,000 are passing away every day. We want to collect and preserve all of the stories we can. These were ordinary men who performed extraordinary deeds on the battle field.”