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Letters From Readers -- May 2007 World War II Magazine

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: April 20, 2007 
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Given a Second Lifetime
For the past several months I have been reading current and back issues of World War II, which my mother gave me following the death of my father, Robert G. Barnhart. I had been unaware that your magazine was such an important part of his life in his later years.

My father served in Europe with the 47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, and like so many veterans he didn't discuss his experiences in the war. As he grew older, however, he became more open. In 1995 he agreed to accompany my mother, my wife and me to Germany. We had a great trip together, retracing the footsteps he had taken 50 years earlier in Schmidt, Bonn, Remagen and a small village in the Ruhr River valley. My father started to reminisce about his war experiences, particularly his all-night trip to Remagen by truck, crossing the bridge there under fire, commandeering a German house early in the morning on March 7 and frying potatoes while waiting for additional troops to build up on the east side of the bridgehead.

Several miles to the east, we reached Vettelschloss, the village where he had been wounded by artillery, before moving on to Oberkirchen. He grew very quiet and reflective, because it was here, in the "Ruhr Pocket," that he had experienced some of his fiercest combat and his most terrifying days. He remembered sniper fire hitting the door frame above his head, and German soldiers marching toward him and his comrades, their hobnail boots striking the cobblestone pavement.

In December 2005, my father was diagnosed with a fast-growing lung cancer. I made three trips home to Ohio to see him that winter. He was a man of few words, but he had a strong sense of family. He was determined to celebrate his 58th wedding anniversary with my mother on March 4, and to celebrate it with us, too. The following week, he lingered, growing steadily weaker, and I was called back to Ohio on Saturday, March 11. Two days later, as he struggled to breathe in the early morning hours, we all knew his time was short.

As I sat in a chair near him, I mentioned to my sister-in-law, who was hovering over him, that it was the 61st anniversary of the day he had been wounded in Germany. She had no idea what I was talking about, so I repeated it louder. She then told me that before I arrived my father had been asking what day it was, but they had no idea why he wanted to know.

The hospice nurse said hearing is one of our last senses to go. When my father realized what day it was, he started to settle down and became less agitated; then, within 90 minutes or so, he was gone. He had reached the second anniversary date that had meant so much to him: his wounding in Germany on March 13, 1945.

As we lose more and more WWII veterans, it is important for us to learn what they went through during those war years. I feel that in the end my persistent interest in where my father was and what he did during the war helped his passing. His near-death experience in 1945 must have seemed like a "rebirth" to him in the 61 years that followed. Your magazine and its stories helped him achieve closure in his second life. Thank you.

Terry R. Barnhart
Broomfield, Colo.

Keep Your Focus on the "Good War"
While I have been occasionally surprised at the admiration so many of your articles have shown for the armed forces of our former enemy, Nazi Germany, overall I have enjoyed my subscription. But the March 2007 issue was quite disappointing. Not once, but twice, you inserted articles ("Lessons for Today" and "The Prisoner Dilemma") that were nothing less than opinion pieces and criticisms of our ongoing war with radical Islam. If I want to hear or read that kind of material, I can get plenty on the network news or in my local liberal fish-wrapper. Kindly stick to the "good war," as your readers no doubt want and expect no less.

Roger Soiset
Lilburn, Ga.

A Very Important Helmet
We thought the readers of World War II might like to see a picture of the helmet our father, Lieutenant Robert E.V. "Candy" Johnson, was wearing when a bullet pierced it, as mentioned in "A Very Important Prisoner," the story about Taizo Sakai in the March 2007 issue.

Just a couple of things to add to the record: Sakai told dad that he had surrendered because he was angry that the Japanese officers would not allow him to commit hara-kiri with them; he would have to go do it by himself. The helmet incident occurred on a different day. Dad was shot through the helmet on the 35th day of the 36-day battle for Iwo Jima. He was silhouetted against the sky while looking over a ridge.

My father later wrote: "After we got back to Hawaii I knew I would have to get another helmet since this one leaked. I went to the quartermaster and asked for a new helmet. Then I asked if he might bend the rules a little and let me keep the old one as a souvenir. The rough old sergeant grinned and replied, 'Yes, lieutenant, I think we can let you keep that helmet.'"

Thanks for a wonderful article!

Mark, Trey and Lori (Staffel) Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

Flags Atop Mount Suribachi
Gene Santoro's WWII Today story "Ra­sho­mon Atop Mount Suribachi" (March 2007) suggests that Navy corpsman John "Doc" Bradley helped raise the first flag on Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi. The story specific­ally references Dustin Spence's article about this controversial issue in the October 2006 edition of Leatherneck magazine.

The principals such as Spence who have interpreted Marine Sergeant Lou Lowery's photographs—which were taken while he was with the Suribachi patrol, one that was sent from my company—have not considered that Lowery did not actually take a photo of the first flag "raising." As six Marines hoisted that flag, Lowery was busy reloading film into his camera. His subsequent photos captured men in the vicinity of the flag or moving into the area to steady the pole and/or to have their photo taken with the flag. For example, the Lowery photo that is always referred to as the "first flag raising" shows Pfc James Michels, with his carbine, kneeling between the photographer and the flag as though he were guarding the area. Michels, in fact, had just helped raise the flag.

The only living authority as to the identity of the six Marines who raised the first flag that day is the sole surviving member of that group, Corporal Charles W. Lindberg of Richfield, Minn. Lindberg has told me that John Bradley was near the group as it prepared to raise the flag but that he walked away before it was raised.

The other authority is Bradley, now deceased. On February 19, 1985, while being interviewed by video producer Arnold Shapiro, Bradley was asked if he had seen the first flag being raised. The exchange between the two went as follows:

Shapiro: Tell us what you were doing at the time of the first flag raising at 10:20 a.m.

Bradley: Well, I didn't recall what time it was—I was—at 10:20 a.m., but I was around there checking on things, and as a hospital corpsman you always had to wait and hear for the old familiar sign—uh, familiar word—"Doc, Doc, come here quick"…and fortunately nothing like that happened. So I just don't remember what I was doing at that exact time.

Shapiro: So you didn't see the first flag raising?

Bradley: I don't recall it…no, sir. I didn't see the first flag raising. No!

Since John Bradley told the interviewer that he hadn't seen the flag being raised, he obviously didn't help raise it.

Colonel Dave E. Severance (ret.)
La Jolla, Calif.

I enjoyed the article "Rashomon Atop Mount Suribachi" by Gene Santoro. Raising the second, larger American flag was very important, but no one seems to know where that flag came from. I address the issue in my book A Slow Moving Target: The LST of World War II with the story of Lt. J.G. Alan Wood, a communications officer on LST 779.

Wood was responsible for his ship's flag, and before leaving for Iwo Jima in early 1945 he found one at a Navy salvage depot in Hawaii. "I was just rummaging around looking for anything I might use when I found this brand-new flag in a duffle bag," Wood recalled. "It was a very large flag, and I took it on board LST 779."

It so happened that Lieutenant Wood's ship was the first to be beached on Iwo Jima, and was closest to Mount Suribachi. On February 23, the Marines managed to secure Mount Suribachi and raised a small flag. A battle-weary Marine later came on board Wood's LST and asked the lieutenant if he could borrow a large American flag. "What for?" Wood asked, to which the Marine responded: "Don't worry. You won't regret it."

Lieutenant Wood said later, "When I saw Joe Rosenthal's Pulitzer Prize–winning photo, I looked for that Marine who borrowed our large American flag, but I didn't see him."

 

Joseph F. Panicello
North Hills, Calif.

More on That Stinkin' Little Island
I wanted to respond to Harold Storhaug and his experience landing a disabled B-29 bomber on Iwo Jima on May 23, 1945 ("One Man's War," January/February 2007). My brother, Frank J. Paich, served in E Company, 2nd Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, and landed on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. Frank's unit was assigned to take Airfield No. 1—not Mount Suribachi, which was the 28th Marines' target—and his machine gun squad, like many that sad day, was hit by mortar fire. He was wounded and died on a hospital ship on February 20, only 23 years old.

Since that day, my family had learned very little about what happened on Iwo Jima, other than what we had seen through government paperwork. About 7,000 other families with loved ones who died on the island have been in the same position.

Now I, a former Marine myself, am the last living member of the Paich family. After waiting so long, I was happy to read Harold Storhaug's article about finding a place to land his B-29 after an aborted bombing raid to Japan. I really want to thank Harold for his story. It has provided me closure of sorts.

Why, oh why, did we need that stinkin' little island that cost us so dearly? Today more than ever I realize that thousands of lives were saved because damaged bombers returning from raids on Japan had a safe place to land.

The great soldiers, sailors and Marines, like my brother Frank, who gave their lives on Iwo Jima were so young and innocent—as they are in all battles. What those gallant men and women accomplished will always be remembered.

Tom Paich
San Lorenzo, Calif.

Ireland's Modest Merchant Marine
I would like to provide a postscript to your article "No Ports in a Storm" (January/February 2007). The Irish government had decided that Ireland needed a merchant marine and had purchased a merchant ship in New York City. When a flag was ordered, a Sinn Féin (HAPP) flag was delivered. Eventually, Ireland had five ships in its merchant fleet. German submarine commanders, it turned out, were confused by the Irish tricolor. Most thought it was the Italian flag.

William L. Reinshogen
Las Vegas, Nev.

Rare Chivalry During a Tempest
I was intrigued by Ed Drea's story on the invasion of Biak ("A Tale of Too Many Chiefs," December 2006). After the war, I worked with a Kenny Kater, who had served in the 41st Infantry Division. Kenny once told us about the invasion of Biak, when his unit drove to the interior of the island and discovered, as Mr. Drea wrote, that water was quite scarce. At one point, Kenny's unit found itself stopped in front of a small water hole, with the Japanese dug in on one side and the 41st on the other. The two foes actually allowed the other to go for water without firing a single shot. It might well have been the only case of chivalry the two sides displayed in the entire Pacific War!

Robert D. Brown
Salem, Ore.


Send letters to World War II Editor, Weider History Group, 741 Miller Drive, S.E., Suite D-2, Leesburg, VA 20175, or e-mail to WorldWarII@weiderhistorygroup.com. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Letters may be edited.



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