A phone call from a fellow church member led Mooresville native William Goodman Young to a trip to Washington, D.C., in mid-February to mark the 70th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima.
Young, 90, fought on the island as a 20-year-old Marine in the bloody battle that raged for more than a month in February and March 1945. He hadn’t been thinking about the anniversary until the call from Mooresville resident John Shields, 43.
Not only did Shields discuss the anniversary but he also offered to drive Young to Washington for it. Young said he would go.
Shields also encouraged Young to bring his Marine uniform. Young was reluctant – it was in moth balls and he could barely fit into it – but he took it anyway.
“I wore it all day … and I had an awful lot of people taking pictures of me because most of them hadn’t seen one like that,” Young said. “So many (other veterans) told me ‘Gosh I can’t get my big toe in mine.’ Nobody else had one. I’ve had that thing for over 70 years.”
Young described his meeting with 36th Commandant, four-star General Joseph Dunford Jr., the highest-ranking officer in the Marine Corps.
“I had my picture taken with him and he said, ‘Young, you’re looking good in that uniform.’ I had it on then. I never thought I’d ever meet the commandant much less talk to him, but I did.”
Young called the meeting a highlight of the trip.
Twenty-eight Marines who fought at Iwo Jima attended the ceremony which included a visit to the World War II Memorial in icy weather and the Marine Corps museum, which was another favorite part for Young.
At a hospitality suite, Young found one other Marine from his unit, saying, “I kept looking at name tags until I finally found him.”
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., sent his top military adviser to present a letter honoring Young.
The only surviving Medal of Honor recipient from Iwo Jima, Cpl. Hershell Woodrow “Woody” Williams attended the ceremony, too.
Young brought some items he received in the war.
“I had a throw that sits on my couch at home with my picture on one end of it in my uniform and the other end of it had the flag raising of Iwo Jima on it. It’s a blanket. I’ve got it on my living room couch. Written across on the bottom it says ‘William G. Young witnessed Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945.’ … I had Japanese flags, chopsticks, ammunition patches off Iwo Jima. I had a Japanese sword and I had a lot of pictures of Nagasaki after the bomb.”
Young returned to Hawaii after Iwo Jima and was sent to Japan where he spent nine months, including six months in Nagasaki, after the atomic bomb was dropped.
“We got along fine with the Japanese … They never showed any animosity.
“They didn’t have much to eat. They had money but they didn’t have food,” Young said. “So if I got a hold of some food, I’d give it to them but you had to ask them if they’d accept it; you didn’t just give it to them. I never saw anyone begging there. They were very proud people.”
The Japanese ambassador attended the anniversary event. A group of veterans were organizing a trip to Iwo Jima, but Shields said Young declined, noting, “I reckon I saw enough of it. I got a good enough look at it the first time.”
After the war, Young returned to his life in Mooresville, saying with a laugh, “I had to pick it up and run with it. I’ve had a good life; I’ve enjoyed it. I try to enjoy every day.
“I had a wonderful marriage for 58 years I enjoyed every day of that. I teach Sunday school for the seniors. … I play the chimes in the hand bell choir. I sing in the senior choir. I’ve sung in the choir for many years. I’m not very good but I still sing.”
He called Shields a real blessing, and said the journey to Washington was “a trip of a lifetime.
“You know at my age, I don’t plan to make another one like that. I had a wonderful time.”
Suzanne Ruff is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Suzanne? Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.