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.
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
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.'”
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
“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.
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
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
“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,”
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.
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
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.
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
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