Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Tale of Two Marines

at Two Writing Teachers!
Every Memorial Day, I fasten my USMC pin to my TBDBITL Alumni shirt and head across town to the Legion post of a nearby suburb.  Horn in hand, I study the splendid uniforms of the assembled veterans and marvel at their weapons, tanks, and trucks.  When the drum major's whistle blows, I pop my shoulders back, chin up, heels together.  On days like this, our band's military precision means a little bit more.  On days like this, our usual cycle of school songs is replaced by the proud strains of the Armed Forces Medley.  And on days like this, two faces swim in my head.

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.



  1. What a wonderful story of your two 'special' men, Jennifer. I think we've talked before about my father, who was shot down over the Philippines during these battles too. They are such an important generation in our lives, aren't they? I just have one uncle of that group left, who fought in the Korean war. Time to remember! Thank you for writing this!

  2. I love the way you wove the story of the two Marines together. I especially love the line that they both loved you. Your pride shines through in this tribute to these two heroes.

  3. Like Elsie, I love how you intertwined your grandfathers' stories together using the two different colors and then you brought it all together in the end. I found myself smiling as I read the descriptions of each of these great men. It's evident how important they are to you. :)

  4. What a proud family history. Your pride in and love of these two Marines shines through. It makes me remember the Marine friend I had who was also in the Pacific during World War II. Roger was one of the first US soldiers to set foot in Japan as the war drew to an end.

  5. I noticed you really meshed their stories together. What a rich family history you have to pass on to future generations.


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