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Iwo Jima Icon Moves Recruiters With Rare Account of War
by USMC Sgt. Justin Pack - November 22, 2011

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DENVER (MCN - 11/16/2011) — The crowd stood as the old man slowly walked to the podium, his red hat standing out among the Dress Blue uniforms and ball dresses. The 86-year-old gentleman removed his hat, took the microphone, lowered it to his lips and began to tell his story about a little island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that changed his life forever.

Recruiting Station Denver Eighteen young Marines stand atop Mt. Suribachi, Feb. 23, 1945, for a photo taken by Joe Rosenthal. The picture became known as the Gung Ho photo. Thurman is standing on the far left with his helmet in the air behind Cpl. Ira Hayes. Photo Courtesy of Jack Thurman
Recruiting Station Denver Eighteen young Marines stand atop Mt. Suribachi, Feb. 23, 1945, for a photo taken by Joe Rosenthal. The picture became known as the Gung Ho photo. Thurman is standing on the far left with his helmet in the air behind Cpl. Ira Hayes. Photo Courtesy of Jack Thurman
 

A crowd of 222 Marines and family listened as Jack Thurman gave his account of landing on Iwo Jima in 1945, standing on top of Mt. Suribachi with Ira Hayes and being in a famous photo taken by Joe Rosenthal, during Recruiting Station Denver's Marine Corps Birthday Ball held Oct. 29 at the Denver Marriott Tech Center.

Thurman recounted that on the morning of Feb. 19, 1945, he was part of the first wave of transport ships to land on Iwo Jima. He remembered the morning in vivid detail as he spoke to the crowd.

“The landing craft to my right was hit by a shell and sunk,” he said. “The water was swirling around where the craft used to be. There was an American plane that was hit and was going down. I could see the rear gunner as it flew on fire, feet above our heads. It crashed into the landing craft on our left and sank it.”

After four days of fighting, on Feb. 23, 1945, Thurman watched as the first flag was raised on Mt. Suribachi. Hours later he made his way to the top and responded to a request to be in a

photo taken with the second, much larger flag. The photo is known as the “Gung Ho” photo. Thurman appears in the photo behind his friend and fellow Marine, Cpl. Ira Hayes.

“After the war, Ira visited my parent's house in South Dakota,” remembers Thurman with a smile. “Unfortunately I was not there, I never saw him again.”

After Thurman's speech, Maj. William Brown, the RS Denver commanding officer, and Sgt. Maj. David Reid, RS Denver's sergeant major, presented Thurman with a gift to thank him for his presence and moving words of wisdom. After receiving the gift, Thurman exclaimed “I got my K-Bar back!” The crowd erupted in laughter.

“We were honored to have a true American hero at our ball,” stated Brown. “He represents the sacrifices made by all Marines during World War II.”

Several other Marines were moved by Thurman's words, including Master Sgt. Samuel Casillas, RS Denver operations chief.

“I was honored to hear Mr. Thurman speak,” said Casillas. “Sadly, the “Greatest Generation” is dying off; soon the memories of his era will be gone.”

The rest of the celebration continued into the night with dinner and dancing. The evening will be remembered as one of the most memorable birthday balls for the Marines of RS Denver and it is due to being honored by the presence of history.

More photos available below

By USMC Sgt. Justin Pack
Recruiting Station Denver
Marine Corps News
Copyright 2011

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