On our way to this event, we stopped by Camp Ripley to say Hi and give a salute to my Grandpa, who is buried there. As my dad and I were visiting his grave, my dad shared a thought with me as we looked over all the WWII Verterans who were laid to rest. "This whole generation is almost gone. All of their stories are being silenced." We started talking about their stories and how when they leave this earth, no one will be able to hear their stories and their heroic tales...their stories will be gone. My dad said they are the ones who have paved the way for his generation to take up the torch for the next generation to take it up and keep the freedoms and liberties that they fought and died for, safe. That's a pretty incredible thought.
When we actually got to the event, they had introduced my dad and two other men that were in his unit. And then they introduced Erv, a World War II Marine who had received 7 Purple Heart Metals! My eyes began to tear up as this 87-year old man walked to the front of the room, receiving a much deserved standing ovation. When they dismissed everyone to begin packing their care packages, my dad came up to me and said we were going to go meet him. I was so excited to get the honor of shaking his hand and thanking him for his service. As my dad began to introduce me to him, I started to cry. Yes, I am an emotional girl. Deal with it. I was completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of emotion and honor I felt, knowing this man is a hero, and I have the privilege of meeting him. A man of the last great generation.
Erv joined the Marine Corps in 1945 and was in the 4th Marine Division. He was the first wave into Iwo Jima, the first wave of Marines to enter Tarawa and the first wave into Okinawa. WOW! He said while he was up on the hill, all of his Officers were dead, leaving him, a PFC, the highest rank still alive. His Commanding Officer got on the radio with him and said, "Sergeant, get those men off that hill!" This is how he said he got promoted. Erv said, "I knew I wasn't going to be able to push the men off the hill, but I could lead them. I knew they would follow me." Erv was responsible for getting his men off that hill. He told me that 182 men went in with him and by the end of the fighting, there were only 22 of them left. I began to cry and he began to tear up, telling me that of the 18,000 men, over 17,000 (Erv knew the exact number, but I don't remember what is was) died in battle. I could see the hurt and emotion in his eyes as these stories brought him right back to that time. Erv told me that one of his best friends helped put up the flag on Iwo Jima.
Erv was in the Marine Corps for five years, receiving 7 Purple Hearts. The first time he was injured, he was shot right through the chest. He said two Navy Corpsmen, that were trained for only a year before being sent to battle, propped him up against a rock, ripped open his chest, and sewed him back together. Another time, he got his elbow blown off by a hand grenade. His 1st Lt had been his and his back was blown out by a grenage, who then fell of Erv, who fell on a hand grenade, nearly blowing off his arm. While in the hospital, the doctors told him they could either take off his arm, or give him a metal elbow replacement. "Well, put it on!" he said to them. Rev was the first ever recipient of a metal elbow. He called himself, "their guinea pig." Out of the five years Erv served during WWII, he only came back to the states once, only to heal after being wounded, and then he was shipped right back to war. He had never returned home until he left the Marine Corps.
As our conversation came to a close, Erv game me a hug and shook my hand again. I thanked him for taking the time to talk to me, and told him how honored I was too have met him. He said, If you ever see me, come kick me in the shins and let me know!" :-) I am completely honored and humbled at the opportunity to talk with the greatest Marine I've ever met. It will be a day I will honestly never forget. These are just a couple stories from a generation who gave their lvies to fight for the freedoms we have, making our Country great. It is our turn to take up the torch they once carried. If you have the change to talk to a Veteran, I encourage you to talk to them, ask them about their stories and experiences. Don't let their stories die without being told.