RIDGECREST, Calif. - With Veterans Day on Nov. 11 commemorating the end of World War I, fewer Americans today know someone who served in the first two world wars as those still living are nearly 90 years old.
Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans and two Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division employees celebrate it with gratitude and pride.
Joan Shillings, a NAWCWD senior office manager, holds WWII very close to her heart, as her father, 89-year-old Lionel Louis Ramos, served as a Navy corpsman attached to 4th Marine Division (4th MarDiv), from 1942-1945.
Ramos is also the grandfather of NAWCWD employee Joel Shillings, an electronics technician at the Electronic Warfare Threat Systems Branch.
Eighty-nine year-old Lionel Ramos receives his flag that was raised in honor of his Navy service during World War II, at China Lake on Oct. 18, 2013. Ramos fought in the battles of Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima. He is also the father of Joan Shillings, a senior office manager at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division and grandfather of Joel Shillings, an electronics technician at NAWCWD. (U.S. Navy photo by Matthew Denny)
Ramos was born in 1924 in Los Angeles and was raised in Bakersfield, Calif., during the Great Depression.
“The most unusual part of my life before the service was having to watch my parents endure the depression,” Ramos said. “I used to hear them talk about how difficult it was; everything we purchased was paid for on the installment plan. But even in my family's hardship, I never considered myself poor, because my friends and everyone around us were suffering the same thing.”
In 1942, Ramos enlisted in the Navy at the young age of 17. The Navy assigned him to become a corpsman and attached him to Marine Company D, 4th Medical Battalion, 4th MarDiv.
“I really did come to admire the Marines,” Ramos said. “They have the saying ‘once a Marine always a Marine' and I felt that brotherhood during my time serving with the Corps. They took in a young Navy doc and treated me like one of them. The Marine Corps has a nickname of being ‘devil dogs' and they called me their ‘devil doc.'”
Shortly after assignment to the Corps, Ramos was sent to Saigon and Tinian where he had his first machine gun pointed at him.
“I can still see the bullets firing out of the machine gun as we were on patrol on Saipan,” said Ramos. “The sounds of bullets whizzing over your heads is very frightening. It is like someone turned on a sprinkler; but instead of water it was hot lead firing at us.”
From Saipan, Ramos and the 4th MarDiv were sent 10 miles up the ocean to Tinian, which is where he experienced close-range explosions for the first time.
“As we approached in an amtrac, (amphibious landing vehicle), we were 50 yards from shore when I heard a loud explosion and then seconds later saw a splash in the water next to us,” Ramos said. “We then knew we were under enemy fire. As soon as our tracks hit sand, we jumped out of the vehicle and the water was chest deep; which made it difficult to move under fire, trying to push a wall of water. As I came ashore, I began looking for foxholes on the beach to find cover but they were all full. Finally we found an empty hole, jumped in and began saying prayers our mothers taught us as kids. It was the scariest moment in my life at the time.”
After U.S. Forces conquered both islands, his unit was sent back to Hawaii for rest and relaxation. A few weeks later, 4th MarDiv was called to support the invasion of Iwo Jima.
What is now known as the Battle of Iwo Jima involved 450 American ships, 60,000 Marines and several thousand sailors.
“As we sailed over, our officer told us this would be a difficult battle, because it was only 750 miles from mainland Japan and there was an airfield on Iwo Jima that they knew we would use against them. As we arrived, it was like seeing a pimple in the ocean. We arrived about four days into the battle and medics were getting picked off by the Japanese very quickly, which had me frightened; but I pushed forward. As my LAV (landing assault vehicle) landed on Invasion Beach, I jumped out and immediately sunk into the heavy, black volcanic sand and began pressing forward under extreme machine gun and mortar fire. It was a constant battle for survival; for five straight weeks I got little sleep, little food and was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.”
The 36-day assault resulted in more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,000 dead. Of the 20,000 Japanese defenders, only 1,083 survived.
Historians with the Marine Corps Historical Society, described U.S. forces' attack against the Japanese defense as “throwing human flesh against reinforced concrete.”
The Battle is known as the bloodiest battle in Marine Corps history.
“The biggest personal loss to me during the Iwo Jima Campaign was a few days before the seise fire, when I saw my best friend, Francis Raker,” Ramos said. “Raker and I had served together for nearly two years but hadn't seen each other since the beginning of the invasion. As he walked up, I knew he had been to hell and back; I looked him in the eyes and said ‘Raker, take care of yourself.' I remember the fear in his voice as he looked at me and said, ‘yeah, I will.' That was the last time I ever saw Raker; he was killed a few hours later. When we got home, I sent his family a letter telling them how much I loved Raker like a brother. I miss him every day.”
Since that day nearly 70 years ago, Ramos has stayed in contact with Raker's family exchanging Christmas cards and often expressing his gratitude for Raker's sacrifice.
“The real heroes of the war are the ones that didn't come back,” Ramos said.
Ramos was 17 when he went into the Navy and a child of the depression. At age 20, he left the service and was offered the GI Bill, which allowed him to get a college education, something he never thought he would have the money to do.
“I am very grateful for the creation of the GI Bill and what it did for me,” Ramos said.
While attending a Bakersfield Junior College, Ramos' friend asked him to accompany him to visit his girlfriend in a place in the middle of the desert called China Lake. After meeting up with his friend's girlfriend, he met a girl named Marian Rademacher at the Midway Caf� in what is now the city of Ridgecrest, Calif.
“I saw this beautiful blonde bombshell and after meeting her, I was impressed,” Ramos said. “I asked her out on a date, and surprise to me she said yes. At that time, it was the best day of my life; she had me wrapped around her finger and a while later we were married on April Fool's Day in Bakersfield.
Shortly after marriage, the newlyweds moved north when Ramos was accepted to attend what is now the University of California, Berkeley. While attending school, the Ramos family had Julie, their first daughter. Later came, Jackie, Larry, Janie, John and Joan.
Ramos started an insurance investigation company and owned it for 50 years, before his son, Larry, took over and currently runs it. Ramos and his wife traveled the world and he said having her in his life was like waking up to an angel every day.
Ramos has 14 grandchildren and six great grandchildren. In December 2012, Ramos' wife, Marian passed away after 63 years of marriage.
In July 2013, Ramos attended his 75th high school reunion at East Bakersfield High School. Ramos' first day of high school was the first day of doors opening in 1938.
“He was like a celebrity, since he was part of the first graduating class and was the oldest person in attendance,” Joan said. “Everyone wanted to shake his hand and ask him questions.”
Ramos commented on how proud of a father and grandfather he is, and cannot wait to see what his children do next.
“Grandpa is extremely proud to have worn both the Navy and Marine Corps uniform and it made him the person he is today,” Joel said.
On Oct. 18, Joan arranged for a flag to be raised at China Lake in honor of his service to his country in a time of war.
“The flag rising was a wonderful experience, because I did not expect it at all,” Ramos said. “I had to remember my military etiquette; it was quite a thrill for those feelings to return like it was yesterday. It is an unexpected thrill to have you contact me for this story; I am glad to know that someone knows I exist and cares about my service and my time with the Marines. It gives me a chance to express my admiration of the Marine Corps and how proud I am to have served my country.”
Even though Ramos served in the Navy, he refers to himself as a Marine because that is how they treated him during the war.
Ramos currently lives in Arroyo Grande. He plans to continue living his life as long as he can and expressed how much he shows off his flag that was raised especially for him at a real Navy base. Ramos said he will never forget his time during WWII and holds it very close to his heart.
“Among the Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue,” said Fleet Admiral of the United States Navy Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, deceased, one of four officers to hold the five-star rank in American Naval history.
By U.S. Navy Matthew Denny
Provided through DVIDS
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