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Iwo Jima survivors come together for anniversary

By Staff | Feb 23, 2015

There aren’t very many of these brave men remaining.

But on Saturday, 12 survivors of the battle at Iwo Jima came to the Veterans Memorial at the Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve Eco Park pavilion in Cape Coral for the annual commemoration of the flag raising on the tiny pacific island which happened 70 years ago Monday.

Some of them stayed behind the scenes, others were in the thick of the battle, with one receiving a Purple Heart for his efforts.

Their reward was victory, securing the island and its three landing strips for U.S. pilots to use for emergency landings. The flag-raising is one of the most iconic photos in U.S. history.

In honor, they were recognized Saturday as the heroes they are.

Merle Klein, of Cape Coral, said he appreciated the recognition as well as the remembrance for those who didn’t survive.

“It was a horrible war. I was on a ship, so I didn’t do any fighting. We provided escorts to protect them from torpedo boats and suicide bombers,” Klein said. “I had field glasses and saw the flag go up from the ship, we were in so close.”

Kenneth Stone, 90, of Fort Myers, earned a Purple Heart during the battle. He was knocked unconscious and apparently left for dead. He woke up and saw someone off in the distance.

“It was someone who was taking people and putting them on hospital ships. I don’t know what happened. A shell landed near me and I was out completely,” Stone said. “I was there all by myself.”

“I’m glad to still be here and celebrate this occasion. I’m getting up there in years,” Stone said.

Truitt Bradley, 91, from North Fort Myers, said the city has always done a great job of presenting this event.

“I’m happy to be here or anywhere. I was a corpsman. My job was to take care of the wounded and it got to be an overwhelming job,” Bradley said. “We did not expect it to be the way it was. We thought it would be a 72 hour operation and it took 36 days and we buried 6,000 Marines.”

There were many injuries and no way to get them off the island because the small boats were bombed, Bradley said, adding he remembers when they raised the flag, and though the battle wasn’t over, it was a symbol that they had conquered.

“That was a sad day. But today is a happy day for a city to hold remembrance,” Bradley said.

The event’s theme was “The new breed learning from the old breed,” and not only recognized the 12 survivors (a 13th, Victor Chalker of North Fort Myers, was too ill to attend), but also featured words from a young local Marine, as well as local dignitaries.

“Most gave some and some gave all, as they say. My father was in World War II and every time I come here I feel a little closer to him,” Councilmember John Carioscia said.

Sgt. Ron Michael Abeleda, a veteran of the Afghan war and a current Marine recruiter in Cape Coral, was the guest speaker, and he spoke from the heart when describing these heroes.

“The only reason we’re able to invest so much in our future is because of those gathered here today and those no longer with us,” Abeleda said. “It’s because of your efforts that I can stand here today and give that opportunity to young men and women. Evil is out there, but you fought that evil and gave us a chance to make something of ourselves.”

The event also commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Iwo Jima statue in Cape Coral, which earned a historic designation from the state, the first such landmark in the history of Cape Coral.

“It reminds me that a lot of good people, both American and Japanese, were killed. It was a heavy toll, so it needs attention and respect,” Klein said.