Friday, March 16, 2012

RETURN TO IWO JIMA

Posted by BH

RETURN TO IWO JIMA
UPDATED:  SEE THE VIDEO ADDED TO THIS POST MAR 18

 

Wednesday  · 


Marine Jim Blane glances out on Iwo Jima from the air. (John Riedy photo)
 — at Iwo Jima.


 


Jim Blane atop Mt. Suribachi memorial on Iwo Jima (John Riedy photo)
 — at Iwo Jima.
 



 

"Iron" Mike Murvosh on Mt. Suribachi; behind him, the beach he stormed February 19, 1945 (John Riedy photo)
 — at Iwo Jima.
 

 


Navy Seabee Joe LaNier looks out of Blue Beach, Iwo Jima (John Riedy photo)
---------------------------------------------------------------------

~~~~~


~~~~~
Written by
John Wilkens
12:01 a.m., March 11, 2012

Follow »


Also of interest



March 11, 2012
Joe Weinmeier, a veteran of the battle of Iwo Jima, sees Mount Suribachi for the first time in 65 years through the window of a plane. John Riedy Photography

Mike Mervosh holds photos of himself at the beginning and end of his 35-year career in the Marine Corps. When he retired in 1977, the sergeant major was the most senior enlisted member in all the armed forces. HOWARD LIPIN • U-T




Eugene Roberts, a Pearl Harbor survivor, stands beneath the mountains where Japanese planes flew in to begin their raid. John Riedy Photography

Joe Weinmeier, a veteran of the battle of Iwo Jima, sees Mount Suribachi for the first time in 65 years through the window of a plane. John Riedy Photography

The island is Iwo Jima, two words that make anyone who knows anything about World War II shudder. Flamethrowers and swords and hand-to-hand combat in the middle of the night.
Mike Mervosh once spent more than a month on an island in the Pacific Ocean. Relaxing, it wasn’t. War never is.
“It was kill or be killed,” Mervosh said. Of the 240 men in his rifle company, only 31 survived the battle, and most, like him, were wounded. He saw buddies decapitated, blown in half, shot in the head and their brains spattered on his shirt sleeve.
Makes you wonder why he’d ever want to go back.
The Oceanside resident is scheduled to arrive Wednesday, part of a Denver-based program that returns vets to their battlefields, to the places that shaped them when they were young and haunt them now that they’re old. For some, the defining moments of their lives happened there.
All expenses are paid by The Greatest Generations Foundation, but that doesn’t mean the trip is free. Not all the baggage they bring is hand-carried.
Some of the veterans go for closure, to reflect on how the person they were then became the person they are now. They go for camaraderie, to bond again with the dwindling ranks of those who fought alongside them. And they go to say thank you.
Thank you to those who lost their lives, and thank you to whatever it was that enabled them to keep theirs.
After the war, Mervosh stayed in the Marine Corps for 32 more years, retiring in 1977 as a sergeant major and the most senior enlisted member in all the armed forces. He fought in three wars, earned a Navy Commendation Medal for heroism in each of them. He has three Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.
Everybody calls him Iron Mike. He has club rooms named after him at Marine bases on both coasts. At age 88, he still works out three times a week, can still fit into his dress uniform, still hands out business cards with his picture on them and this underneath: “Keep on Chargin’.”
Ask Mervosh if he expects to get emotional on Iwo Jima and he says no. “I don’t usually react that way,” he said.
Except the first thing he wants to do when he gets there is head to Blue Beach 2, where Charlie Company came ashore on Feb. 19, 1945, en route to fighting for 36 straight days.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I’m going to kneel down and say a prayer.”

Sharing stories

John Riedy is headed to Iwo, too. The Carlsbad photographer has been on 10 of these battlefield trips, volunteering his time and talent to capture the moments when the veterans come face to face with their past.
He takes portraits of them that he’s honored to know might one day be used at their funerals.
“Some of the hardest, most blustery guys when we’re on the way break down the most when we get there,” he said. “The sights and sounds just overwhelm them.”

A wedding photographer by trade, Riedy got involved with the program through a friend he played softball with. At first he saw it as a great experience, a chance to visit places such as Pearl Harbor, the beaches at Normandy, and Belgium, where the Battle of the Bulge was fought.

CLICK BELOW TO READ MORE
 
Then he heard the veterans’ stories and saw the project as something more. He’d like to turn his photos into a book one day.
“I think we’re forgetting too soon,” he said. “Having seen what these guys went through, the idea of forgetting their sacrifice is just unacceptable.”
Veterans apply to go on the trips, which are funded through donations. Usually about a dozen go each time. They are accompanied by college students — this time, from Ohio State University — who record their stories.
That’s part of the deal: The veterans have to share what they went through. Only then can the legacy be preserved, program organizers said. Only then will history remember.
Mervosh won’t have any trouble with that. He still recalls so much about Iwo Jima — how his rifle jammed when an enemy soldier was coming at him with a sword, how his binoculars blocked a piece of shrapnel, how he was too busy fighting to see the famous flag-raising on Mount Suribachi.
Mike Mervosh holds photos of himself at the beginning and end of his 35-year career in the Marine Corps. When he retired in 1977, the sergeant major was the most senior enlisted member in all the armed forces. HOWARD LIPIN • U-TThe Pittsburgh native joined the Marines in September 1942, after he graduated from high school. He was battle-hardened by the time he got to Iwo, having already fought on the Marshall Islands, Saipan and Tinian. But he had never seen anything like this.
“It was the combat of all combats, fighting man against fighting man, cave to cave,” he said. He was wounded by shrapnel in the legs and stomach. “If I had only lost an arm or a leg or even my eyesight, I would have considered it coming out ahead.”
The fight for every foot of territory was so fierce that Mervosh sometimes spent six days in the same foxhole. During the whole battle, he changed his socks once — and little else.
He didn’t dare stand up to switch pants or raise an arm to change his shirt because he knew he’d get shot by a sniper.
After the war, he and a foxhole buddy, another Pennsylvanian, had grown so close they came home and married each other’s sisters.

Permission granted

One thing about the trip makes Mervosh shake his head. To go there, the Americans have to get approval from the Japanese.
“We fought like hell to claim that island, lost 6,800 men, and then we gave it back,” he said. “And now we have to ask permission?”
He knows he’s old-fashioned. “Times have changed,” he said.
When he’s on the island, there will be a ceremony with some of the Japanese who survived the battle, too. “I’ll probably have to hold my temper,” he said. “I’ll want to ask them how come we didn’t kill their butts.”
He didn’t kill theirs, they didn’t kill his, and he left that place of volcanic ash and blood and made a life for himself. He was married for 63 years to Margaret, who died last year. He has a daughter who is a nurse. He has a bedroom full of memorabilia: commendations, books, photos of him with Presidents Ford and Carter. He’s grateful, even if he doesn’t come right out and say it.
Actions speak louder than words. He’s going back to Iwo Jima.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...