Veterans Return To Iwo Jima 65 Years Later: Heilman's Story
(April 10, 2010)
||OKINAWA, Japan (MCN - 4/8/2010)
Heilman, 84, said he can still remember the
sound of gunfire blazing throughout the
historical battle that took place more than six
decades ago during World War II on the island of
Sixty-five years later, he recently returned to
cross the black sands once more to celebrate the
anniversary of that famous battle.
Today, Heilman is the chancellor for the University of Richmond, Va., and the
chairman for the Marine Corps University Board of Visitors.|
Although he has come far since his years in service, he said he still takes
pride knowing he fought for his country many years ago.
It was an experience that changed his life, Heilman said.
Growing up a simple farm boy in Kentucky on the verge of flunking out of high
school, Heilman said he saw a greater opportunity for his life.
Following in the footsteps of his older brother, Heilman said he wanted to
defend his country as a U.S. Marine.
"Back then, it was a time (when) everyone believed in fighting for freedom, and
the Marines were the best," he said.
"The Corps was for young men, like me, who really wanted to test their metal,"
said Heilman who was 17 when he enlisted.
Like his father, Heilman said he was a firm believer in work-ethic. So it wasn't
hard for him to see himself as a Marine.
"Enlisting in the Marine Corps was 'an interruption that lasted a lifetime,'" as
he claims in the title of his autobiography, "An Interruption that Lasted a
Lifetime: My First 80 Years."
Heilman graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego in August 1944 and
graduated Radio Gunnery School in February 1945. From school, he transferred to
the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, II Marine Expeditionary Force, to be a radio
gunner and dive bomber.
Within a year after graduating top of his class in gunnery school, Heilman was
in a plane, flying over the grounds of Iwo Jima in April 1946.
Heilman said there were moments when he truly thought he would die during the
invasion. He recalled nearly losing his life when his squad's plane was shot out
of the sky.
"It's kind of a weird experience when you are hanging upside-down in a plane,
clenching to your seatbelt," he said.
"All I could think about was making it out alive and getting back into the
Even after the war was declared over, Heilman said he still was ready for more.
"I was ready and willing to give my life, it was all we believed in," he said.
"But if [America] hadn't dropped that A-Bomb, we probably never would've made it
back to tell the story."
Heilman said he remembers going to Hiroshima after the bombing and walking
through the ashes where so many of his comrades died.
"That is a part of my life I can never forget. A lot of lives were lost during
that time, but I know it was for a greater cause," he said. "You can't fight a
war if you don't understand what you are fighting for."
Heilman said he came through the Marine Corps during a time when the troops
truly knew why they were fighting.
"It was about more than just having the courage to take a life. Anyone can do
that," Heilman said. "Being in the Marine Corps was about having the courage to
stand up for what you believe in, and it still is."
He said he still holds on to the values America fought a war to protect. He also
said he will never forget the part he and his fellow warriors played as Marines.
"65 years later, I'm still a Marine at heart," he said.
Article by USMC LCpl. Antwain J. Graham,
Marine Corps Bases Japan
Photo by MCBJ PAO
Marine Corps News
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