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By Marshall McClung
Veterans Day, November 11 : As we pause on this day to honor our country's veterans, let us reflect for a time on the high price that freedom carries with it. One of the most devastating wars of our time was World War II This war changed the history of the world and involved every nation of the world in existence at that time except two, Switzerland and- Sweden. On a more personal level, it changed many peoples lives forever. Graham County was no exception. Arvil Webster, a W.W.II veteran said the population of Graham County during W.W.II was around 5,000 persons. Eight hundred went to war, and twenty-one were killed in combat. Many more were wounded. All have memories of the war they will never forget.
One of the bloodiest battles of W.W.II was fought on Iwo Jima a tiny island about six miles long and two miles wide. Iwo Jima is located about 600 miles from Japan and was defended by 23,000 Japanese troops. Another local veteran, Leonard Lloyd was involved in this battle.
Leonard entered the U.S. Marines in 1942 at the age of 18. He was shipped overseas the first time in early 1943 and saw action in the Solomon Islands, Guadacanal, and Bougansville. He returned to the U.S. in 1944 and was involved in the formation of the 5th Marine Division which was made up of paratroopers and raiders.
Leonard went back overseas in 1944, this time to Guam where forces were training for the landing on Iwo Jima. The landing took place on February 19, 1945. Leonard's group landed on Red Beach and by the second day had cut the island in half. Even though U.S. forces had bombed and shelled the island for seventy-two days straight, most of the Japanese had survived by digging caves which offered protection from the intense shelling. On the third day, U.S. forces captured the airfield. Leonard said the Japanese were dug in deep and as soon as the shelling let up, they came out and started firing at the Americans. Leonard said there were snipers everywhere who were well camouflaged. The Japanese snipers would target American officers and concentrate on firing at them especially Leonard's group lost every platoon leader they had. Leonard said most of the Japanese would not surrender. Many of the Japanese troops in the caves were killed by flame throwers. Others were buried alive in the caves by explosive charges placed at the mouth of the caves and detonated. Leonard said the Japanese did not fear death and considered it an honor to die for their emperor. Leonard said often the Japanese would attack them at three or four o'clock in the morning yelling "Marine you die now", and would walk into the American's machine gun fire like herds of cattle.
As Leonard was leading a charge up a hill to capture more caves, he was struck in both legs by Japanese machine gun fire and almost buried alive. The machine gun bullets broke leg bones and inflicted wounds that involved a lengthy healing process.
Leonard was evacuated from the battlefield and placed on a hospital ship. He was taken to a U.S Navy field hospital on Guam. Prom there he was taken to a U.S Navy hospital in San Francisco. Then came two years of surgery including bone grafts.
Leonard was awarded a battlefield commission of Lieutenant, two purple hearts, and the Bronze Star for Valor for leading the charge on Iwo Jima. Leonard was still wearing leg braces when he entered college.
Several local women were also involved in the war effort: Mary Sherrill, Marie Webster, Marie Grindstaff, Marie Stevens, Jessie Haney, and - others. Many worked at Oak Ridge, Tennessee helping develop the atomic bomb, although they had no idea at the time that that was what they were doing.
Some thoughts and feelings that Leonard and other veterans would like to express: They are disappointed in the brief coverage now given W.W.II in school history books. They feel patriotism should-be emphasized by teachers and others. The high cost of freedom paid by our veterans of all wars to preserve our freedom should be stressed.
The veterans are also dismayed by the way our American flag is sometimes treated. They disagree in particular (as does this writer) with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that authorizes desecration of the American flag as part of freedom of speech. Thirty-eight states have passed state laws against flag desecration. However, North Carolina is not one of these. Veterans groups are now involved in an attempt to get the N.C. General Assembly to pass such a law.
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This page is maintained by Tom Livingston, Robbinsville, North Carolina