|at Two Writing Teachers!|
One was an ornery welder from a small riverboat town in Southern Ohio. With sandy hair and a crooked smile like Paul Hogan, he loved cars, Westerns, and having fun. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he couldn't wait to join up.
Knowing his talent, the Marines offered him a position as a welder, but he didn't join the Marines to do no #$*& welding. He wanted to fight.
Farther north, a studious engineering student also joined up. Originally from Cleveland, this bright young man was almost finished with his degree at Ohio State.
Both ended up on a tiny volcanic island in the Pacific in February 1945: Iwo Jima.
Granddaddy charged the black sand beach on the first day. A sniper, he separated from his company quickly and found himself pinned down for days. Several days later, he saw the flag go up on Mt. Suribachi, but he couldn't tell if it was Japanese or American. On the eighth day, a Japanese sniper bullet caught him in the spine. If it wasn't for an unknown Marine who dragged him off the beach, my mom never would have been born. Only 3 other men from his company made it off that island alive. With the bullet lodged in his spine, Granddaddy spent the rest of the war in the hospital in Bethesda, learning how to use a cane to limp along.
On another part of the island, Grandpa was working with the other Marine engineers to build landing strips for American planes. He went on to serve in Okinawa and then finished his last quarter at OSU after the war.
Unable to weld after his injury, Granddaddy became a fixture at the local VFW and Legion posts, entertaining the whole town with his card games and antics. Everybody in town knew Snuffy.
Continuing to serve in the USMC as a captain during the Korean War, Grandpa was so humble and kind that he often played baseball with the neighborhood boys at Camp Lejune. One morning, he inadvertently startled them as he left the house in his captain's uniform. Astonished, they realized that all this time, they had been playing ball with the captain! When he moved back to Ohio, he became a renowned mechanical engineer, obtaining eight patents and traveling around the world as an expert on walking draglines.
With a 4th Marine Division tattoo on his bicep, a concrete bulldog in the living room, and a metal eagle over the front door, Granddaddy was the quintessential "crusty old Marine". Every other word in his drawling Appalachian accent was unfit for me to publish on this blog, and I've never met anyone more stubborn. When he'd get riled up, my mom would just roll her eyes and say, "Once a Marine, always a Marine."
On the other hand, you would never guess that Grandpa was also a Leatherneck. Aside from the full-height flagpole in the yard where he hoisted and lowered the Stars and Stripes every day, Grandpa had nothing to indicate his Marine past. His house was full of memorabilia from his trips around the world, and his patents were modestly displayed in the basement. Always wearing a smile, he hummed constantly, often breaking spontaneously into little snippets of big band songs.
While they couldn't have had more different personalities, Iwo Jima wasn't the only thing they had in common. They both loved me, and they were both heroes.