We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France


Iwo Veteran poses and reminisces

During the reunion for the 71st anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, I had the chance to meet Norman L. Baker.

Veteran posing with Thompson SMG in front of map of Iwo Jima

Norman Baker of the security element for HQ Company, 62nd Naval Construction Battalion, attached to Fifth Amphibious Corps

Norm served in the Sea Bees (Naval Construction Battalions) during World War II, but Norm wasn’t a skilled laborer like most of the men in the Sea Bees. He was just a young guy and assigned as part of the security detachment for Headquarters Company, 62nd Naval Construction Battalion. The battalion was attached to the Fifth Amphibious Corps, so he landed on Iwo Jima to provide security for the engineers and tradesmen.

Unlike Marines in the line, this ended up allowing him some opportunities for ‘wandering’. He told me of his fascination with airplanes, especially fighter planes. As soon as the airfields were “secured” enough that they could risk basing planes there, they did. So, Norm had a chance to get up close and personal with the planes. He related that one time, a fighter plane taxied off the runway and the pilot hopped down when he was nearby. The pilot was a young red-headed fellow, probably right about Norm’s age and was thrilled to be able to show him everything there was to know about the plane. It’s a thrill he still remembers. When he went back a few days later to see if he could find his new friend, Norm was told he wasn’t there anymore. One hopes that the pilot was merely injured or reassigned, but I can’t help but imagine that he was among the thousands who paid with their lives for the Marines to secure Iwo Jima.

Due to the proximity of the National Museum of the Marine Corps and the high profile of the event, several docents from the museum were in attendance and brought along some artifacts. When Norm was on Iwo Jima, he carried a Thompson Submachine Gun, as he is here in the photo. It was just happenstance that I saw him drift over and ask the docents if he could hold the gun. So, we all got some nice shots of Norm posing in front of the map they’d brought from the museum.20160220_151905

Attending these reunions is always among the highlights of my year because there’s such an opportunity to meet and mingle with some wonderful veterans, their families, historians and Marines of every era. Importantly, never forget the Sea Bees!

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Veterans Panel: Iwo Jima 70th Anniversary

Touring the National Museum of the Marine Corps with veterans of the Battle of Iwo Jima is an amazing privilege. While one can often find Iwo Jima veteran Frank Matthews in the museum working as a docent (feel free to stop for a moment and Google Frank Matthews Iwo Jim Marine Museum), there have never been and will never be so many veterans of the battle in the museum as there were on Friday. As part of the Iwo Jima 70th Reunion and Symposium, there were more than 20 such veterans at the museum. You couldn’t swing a camera without finding another to interview.

Many of the veterans stopped in front of the map of Iwo out in the main hall and, prompted by the docents (generally retired Marines themselves), pointed out where they’d landed and some of what they saw.

PFC Albert Pagoag, with whom I share a Basque ancestry, pointed where he landed with E/2/27 in the first wave. By the time he was wounded 20 days later, there was only one other Marine left in his company. After time in hospitals on Guam and back at Mare Island, he was discharged in February of 1946. He was promoted on his discharge to E-3, Corporal at the time, but in modern terms, a terminal Lance Corporal. Efforts of a Viet Nam era Marine secured funding for Albert from the Boise community and he not only attended this reunion but will attend the Reunion of Honor on Iwo Jima itself in late March.

Looking down from the stairs, I spied Josef Reece speaking to docent Mac Kolar about his time on Iwo. Josef served as an amphibious tractor (Amtrac) driver, making two trips to deliver fellow 5th Division Marines ashore on Blue 1. His LST had enough supplies that he stayed busy with that ship unloading for 4 days, then began unloading other ships while the battle raged.
Many of them spoke of that terrible black sand of Iwo Jima. The short beach lead directly to a tall wall of sand. The black sand was ‘like coffee grounds’ and Marines tell of feeling as though all the were doing when trying to climb up it was slide further down it.

On Saturday, there was a veteran’s panel with 6 veterans of the battle. The participants were General Lawrence Snowden, Don Mates, Charles Frazier, Wilson Horde (Navy), Walter O’Malley and Ron “Rondo” Scharfe (Navy). They offered recollections on the service, poignant reminiscences of battle buddies, and insight into the plight of the average Marine or sailor. It’s 75 minutes you won’t regret.

If you’re curious about Jimmy Trimble, who was Don Mates’ tent mate and a Washington Senators pitcher, you can see Gary Bedingfield’s biography of Trimble on his Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice website or ESPN’s Page 2 article on The Legacy of Jimmy Trimble by James Roberts.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to add the videos from the Museum later. Thanks to the folks over at Load the HEAT for prodding me to publish.



Iwo Jima Association Reunion 2015

The Iwo Jima Association of America is holding it’s 70th Reunion and Symposium on 18-22 February 2015 at the Sheraton Pentagon City Hotel. It’s always a magnificent event, with the opportunity to mix with Iwo Jima veterans, active duty and retired Marines, descendants and historians.

The base schedule is:

18 February – Registration (2-6pm) and welcome reception (6-8pm)

19 February – Ceremonies in DC/Arlington (8am-3:30pm) and a hospitality evening (6-8pm)

20 February – National Museum of the Marine Corps tour (8am-3:30pm) and Show & Tell (6-8pm)

21 February – Symposium and Panel Discussion (8:30am-3:30pm), Luncheon (noon-1pm, with a briefing by a senior Marine representative), reception (5-6pm, cash bar) and Banquet (6-11pm)

22 February – Farewells and departures

I can’t say enough about how well-run and well-attended this event is. As the touchstone event in the history of the Marine Corps, senior Marine leadership is actively in attendance and support. The Commandant will be the guest of honor at the Banquet and one of the top-level officers will speak at the luncheon. I have to admit that meeting and getting my photo with General Mattis two years ago was a true highlight. There are always several authors in attendance, selling and signing their books. They also usually have both a raffle and a silent auction to help support the organization. The band for the Banquet is our favorite big band, Radio King Orchestra, who do swing better than anyone else (and donate their time for this performance).

You MUST register by the 21st of January to ensure your space. After that, it is ‘space available’. Registration can be done online or by mail. In either case, best to download the event brochure, which details the schedule and provides the mail-in registration form.



2014 Iwo Jima Association of America Reunion
1 November 2013, 07:00
Filed under: Marines, Veterans, WWII | Tags: , , ,

Just wanted to get the word out that the 2014 reunion of the Iwo Jima Association of America will be held 13-16 February at the Sheraton Pentagon City, where we hold the Operation Dragoon and Colmar Pocket events. The strong turnout from active duty Marines always makes for a robust event and there were also many WWII veterans in attendance last year (fewer every year, though). I was able to get my photo with GEN James N. Mattis after his luncheon speech and truly enjoyed dancing to our favorite swing band, Radio King Orchestra at the banquet. It’s a marvelous event and I suggest that if nothing else, you spend $15 for the general registration to meet some of the veterans and enjoy the Saturday symposium (lunch is extra, but will include another excellent speaker and the banquet is extra, but includes not just a speaker, but plenty of dancing time as well!) The schedule can be found online and registration via Armed Forces Reunions is also available online. I’ll be present for the whole kit & kaboodle, since touring the Marine Corps Museum and visiting the Memorial with veterans of Iwo Jima is simply priceless.



Mattis on reading

There’s no mistaking the respect of the Marines for many of their Generals and high in the pantheon must be General James N. Mattis. Back in 2004, “a colleague wrote to him asking about the ‘importance of reading and military history for officers,’ many of whom found themselves ‘too busy to read.'” Mattis responded in an email that has since gone viral. Mattis continues the grand tradition of well-read Marine officers who also excel in combat, following the example of none other than Chesty Puller, who carried a copy of Douglas Southall Freeman’s “Lee’s Lieutenants” with him in the Pacific. In his email, he dispenses with those who think there is nothing to learn for the modern warrior from books:

For all the “4th Generation of War” intellectuals running around today saying that the nature of war has fundamentally changed, the tactics are wholly new, etc, I must respectfully say … “Not really”: Alex the Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying (studying, vice just reading) the men who have gone before us.

Unfortunately, Mattis had been planning on retiring this year. Evidence of the regard in which he is held are two hilarious articles posted on the military satire site, The Duffel Blog: Chaos: General James Mattis Announced As Next Commandant Of Marine Corps and James Mattis Retires To Search For Ancient Artifact.
At the Iwo Jima Alumni Association‘s annual reunion, Mattis spoke and I asked him if he’d ever had the chance to visit Iwo Jima or other Pacific battlefields with veterans of WWII. While he had done so on Okinawa, he’s not been to Iwo Jima. Mattis’ retirement may enable him to make that trip during the 70th anniversary of the battle with the IJAA. It might be the last trip authorized by Japan, as it may be the last trip involving veterans of the battle.


Mattis speaks to Iwo veterans
19 February 2013, 18:57
Filed under: Marines, Veterans | Tags: ,

At Saturday’s luncheon, General James Mattis spoke to the veterans of Iwo Jima, their families, and a number of active duty Marines and their families. I was lucky enough to attend the event and have since joined the Iwo Jima Alumni Association as an associate member.

The General, needless to say, gave an excellent speech. He talked about the pride that Marines have in the example set by the Mattis and Navarreveterans of Iwo. In particular, he mentioned that when he was outside Fallujah before the assault companies stormed the town, he listened to a nervous young Marine who told his Corporal he was worried and the Corporal responded, “We took Iwo Jima. Fallujah won’t be nothin’.”

Marines take pride in their Corps. The General related that John Glenn once said that his wingman, Ted Williams, was asked about the best team he’d ever been on and Williams responded “the Marines”.

Marines maintain a sense of humor, even when the going gets tough. General Mattis didn’t shy away from a little self-deprecating humor. He related a story about Ramadi, saying he asked a Corporal one of the most inane questions ever asked in a firefight. The Corporal was exchanging fire with the enemy and the General asked, “What’s going on, Corporal?” The young man turned over his shoulder and lowered his rifle. “Sir, we’re takin’ the fun outta fundamentalism.”

When I got to the front of the line for photos with the General, I was completely disarmed when he called me by name. As a Navy Chief once told a just-graduated Navy ensign at the Academy, “Refer to your sailors by name, they’ll love it and they’ll forget it’s written on their chests.” Nonetheless, it was quite an honor for me.

The banquet on Saturday evening was also wonderful, with Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos as the guest of honor. The additional treat of having Radio King Orchestra play after dinner. Melissa and I love swing dancing and RKO had played at our wedding, so it was a reunion of sorts for us as well.



Veterans of Iwo Jima reunited
16 February 2013, 11:53
Filed under: Marines, Veterans, WWII | Tags:

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I’ve had the privilege of joining the veterans of Iwo Jima at the reunion at the Sheraton Pentagon City where we hold our Dragoon and Colmar events. It’s been a wonderful event and I expect to attend more than just the seminar next year.




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