March 31, 2020

Final thoughts about editing Spearhead News and serving as FifthMarDiv Association secretary

It’s been my honor to edit Spearhead News for the Fifth Marine Division Association since 2008 and to serve as secretary since 2014. Bert Clayton, who had served as editor for many years, offered me the editor’s position after he had already resigned to concentrate on the establishment of the $125,000 “BAR ON THE BEACH” statue in Semper Fidelis Memorial Park on the grounds of the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Triangle (near Quantico), Va. 
         He had been able to report that he was resigning as editor, although most of his column was about the BAR project, which he was locked in on. All he said, quite simply, about resigning as he outlined the project and proposed an ad hoc committee to get the job done was, “Add to that your Spearhead editor, resigning 31 December 2007, but willing to carry on as secretary of the committee as long as I’m needed.”  
         I wanted to say a bit more about my exit from the roles. 
         Since I had not been informed about my status for continuing the two positions when the Fall/Winter 2019-20 Spearhead issue that I’d promised to edit was due to be published, I was unable to write my farewell column for publication. So, I’m taking this opportunity to let FMDA members and others know that I have been replaced as editor and secretary. 
         Expressing the full extent of my thoughts about having had the opportunity to serve the Association for the past 12 years would take a book. To get to know so many of the Iwo Jima veterans who fought and survived that horrific battle and the Vietnam veterans who carried on the tradition of their predecessors in their own intense battles in the reactivated Fifth Marine Division during the harrowing days of the Vietnam War, to meet their families and to be able to share their stories through their writing, my writing, the letters, emails and phone calls I’ve received, and the personal meetings at reunions and travels has been an incredible experience. 
         You can read what I’ll continue to write about Iwo Jima and Vietnam veterans and other issues I find worthwhile by going to my blog and subscribing at No obligations. It’s free.
         I served with several World War II veterans during my own time in the Marine Corps and respected their service, but from the time I attended the first FMDA reunion in Raleigh, N.C., and started editing Spearhead later, I got to truly appreciate and know many Iwo Jima veterans as I had the A/1/28 Marine Iwo veteran in my hometown—a neighbor and family friend who saw the flag flying on Mount Suribachi as he was being hoisted up the side of the hospital ship on D+4 after he’d been wounded on D+3. 
         Then there were subsequent reunions in Washington, D.C.; Houston, Texas; Biloxi, Miss.; Branson, Mo.; Reno, Nev.; San Diego, Calif.; Tampa, Fla.; Virginia Beach, Va.; San Antonio, Texas; Kailua/Kona, Hawaii, on the Big Island where the Fifth Marine Division trained; Champaign, Ill., which my wife Vanessa and I were privileged to host; and New Orleans, La. I attended them all and always had a special time honoring and remembering the service of the veterans and those who hadn’t made it back. And I’m looking forward to the 2020 FMDA reunion scheduled for October this year in Dallas, Texas. 
         At every reunion, I was honored to meet many of the Iwo Jima veterans and their families and develop lasting friendships with them, as well as the Vietnam veterans we’ve worked hard to recruit and make feel welcome. And through the years, I’ve received many phone calls, letters and emails—which is probably why my inbox is always crammed full. All of those letters, articles and photos enabled my wife and me to publish Spearheads that helped to keep the veterans and their families close.
         The downside and saddest part of those relationships was all the Final Muster letters, emails and calls that I received on a regular and an increasing basis. 
         I’ve met many other Marines and Marine veterans through the years, but none of them have had more of an impact on me as a human being or treated me any better than the veterans of the FMDA. I could fill this entire page with names and examples, but if I tried to do that, I’d invariably leave out somebody’s name and regret it. They’ll forgive me if I mention one Marine, though, although he’s not an Iwo Jima veteran and was only in Vietnam for a brief time before the war escalated. No matter.
         John Butler is a Marine through and through.
         I was fortunate to meet him on the 2005 60th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima Military Historical Tours trip to the island where the Americans and the Japanese meet annually in peace for the “Reunion of Honor.” From then on, he’s been the rock that’s always there with historical information about the Marine Corps battles in the Pacific War, particularly on Iwo Jima, but about Vietnam, too. He wrote several articles and provided photos for Spearhead and made recommendations for others. 
         As Association president for five years, John provided true leadership and, more than anyone, helped “perpetuate the name and glory and spirit of the Fifth Marine Division, and (to) preserve the friendships formed while serving with the Fifth Marine Division,” as stated in the preamble of the constitution of the Association. I am grateful for his unconditional friendship and his wholehearted support.
         John is the eldest son of LtCol John Butler, CO of the First Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, who was killed in action on Iwo Jima on 5 March 1945 when John was only 5 years old. John had an older sister and two younger brothers, one of whom was on the trip. I met the other brother later, a great family who was raised by their mother and their grandmother and step-grandfather on the Caloosahatchee River just north of Fort Myers, Fla.  
         John has written many stories about those years and will also tell you some of them whenever he has a chance. Great storyteller. And, as I’ve said, he’s quite well versed on the history of the Marine Corps action during the war in the Pacific and in Vietnam. I learned much from him. But some of the stories John tells about growing up have stuck with me through the years. 
         Doc Holmes, his step-grandfather filled the paternal role that made the Butler boys into the men they became. One of my favorite sayings John has shared with me that Poppa, as they called him, had told them early on that rings so true in today’s world was, “There is what you know and what I know, and then there is the truth.” 
         John Butler, the other Butlers and all the Iwo Jima and Vietnam veterans and their families offered me something I can’t begin to thank you for. I hope I’ve been able to repay you somewhat with my service. It’s an honor I never asked for, it’s one I never expected, but one for which I have the greatest appreciation. You can see all of the Spearheads I edited from Spring 2008 until the Fall/Winter 2019-20 in the archives of the Tales Press website at You’ll find some of John’s works in there. And you’ll find many of the memories of those who fought and survived one of the most iconic battles in the history of warfare.
         Spearhead provided a way for me to help share and preserve the stories of these incredible, brave, selfless Marines so that others will know more about what they did and who they were for years to come.
         Semper Fidelis.

February 15, 2020

Feb. 23, 1945—the day E-2-28 Marines raised both flags on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi

Col. David E. Severance, USMC (Ret.), who turned 101 on Feb. 4, was a 26-year-old mustang captain and company commander of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division, when he landed at Green Beach on Iwo Jima with the third wave on Feb. 19, 1945. At the time, he had no idea of the fame men from his company would attain for raising a flag on Mount Suribachi five days later. 
            The campaign was only going to last about that long, the troops were told. That’s all it would take to secure the sulphur island only 8 square miles, 5 miles long and from 800 yards to 2.5 miles wide miles at its widest point. Taking Iwo Jima was important because it was roughly halfway between the Mariana Islands, where the bombing raids on Japan originated, and the Japanese mainland. Radar on the island warned the Japanese that the bombers were coming, and Japanese fighter planes and mainland antiaircraft guns often were instrumental in damaging planes returning to the Marianas, causing them to go down in the Pacific and losing the entire crew. 
            For the first five days, the fighting was ferocious and casualties high. 
            “We had nearly 30 percent casualties those first few days,” Severance said. “Our CP was set up at the base of Suribachi and we were headed north. The vantage from Suribachi and the fire from various spots there made it necessary to secure the mountain.”
            When battalion commander Lt. Col. Chandler Johnson told then-Capt. Severance to send a patrol up Mount Suribachi to secure and occupy it, he sent a 40-man patrol led by Lt. Harold “George” Schrier, along with an American flag the colonel wanted raised, if possible. The patrol found a pole, fastened the flag to it and raised it at about 10:30 a.m. 
            “That boosted our morale,” Severance said. The Marines below the mountain cheered and hollered, and the ships at sea blasted horns and clanged bells and whistles, thinking the battle was over that, in fact, raged on for more than 30 days.
            Plt. Sgt. Ernest “Boots” Thomas later told a reporter aboard ship that the flag was raised by Lt. Schrier, Sgt. Henry “Hank” Hansen and himself by fastening it to a Japanese water pipe. Cpl. Charles Lindbergh, Navy Corpsman PhM2 John Bradley, Pvt. Phil Ward and Pfcs. James Michels and Raymond Jacobs were there helping. No photo of the first flag raising exists because Marine photographer Sgt. Louis “Lou” Lowery was reloading his camera.
             Soon afterward, Johnson wanted a larger flag in its place and the first one brought back for the battalion, which Severance says was later placed in the battalion safe. Easy Company runner Pfc. Rene Gagnon was taking radio batteries to Schrier and was given the second flag to take with him that later was pictured in Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photo and Marine photographer Sgt. William “Bill” Genaust’s moving picture film.
            Gagnon went along with four men Severance was sending up the mountain to string combat telephone wire to Suribachi. Those four men, Sgt. Michael Strank, Cpl. Harlon Block, Pfcs. Franklin Sousley and Ira Hayes, Gagnon and Pfc. Harold Scholtz (identified as one of the second flag raisers in 2016) helped attach the second flag to another pole and raise it as the first flag came down. (In 2019, Cpl. Harold Keller was identified as one of the second flag raisers in place of Gagnon.)
            “We didn’t think more about it until a couple of weeks later when they wanted the men identified from the second flag raising to take back for the bond tour,” Severance said. Only Hayes and Gagnon were still alive (Scholtz and Keller were alive but not recognized as helping raise the second flag). The other four had been killed a few days after the flag was raised. Hayes did not want to go back and reportedly threatened Gagnon, who was asked to identify the flag raisers, if he named him. But back in the States at Headquarters Marine Corps, Gagnon was apparently persuaded to name Hayes and also named Navy Cross recipient Bradley as the surviving flag raisers. 
            Severance has continuously been asked about the flag raising and the 40-man patrol for the last 75 years, including responding to a large number of claims from men who say they were one of the flag raisers or were on the 40-man patrol. 
            “If everybody who said they were on the mountain then were there,” he first said years ago and no longer wants to talk about it, “the whole mountain would have sunk into the ocean.”
            Severance enlisted the Marine Corps in 1938, later received a commission, served with the 1st Parachute Battalion and fought on Bougainville. After the Paramarines were disbanded, he later joined the newly formed 5th Marine Division and received the Silver Cross on Iwo Jima, then became a Marine aviator and received the Distinguished Flying Cross in Korea, where he flew some 60 missions.

January 31, 2020

‘The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ and a little kindness along the way

Second Lieutenant Robert E. Schuelzky landed on Iwo Jima on 19 February 1945 with Easy Company, Second Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, the company whose members raised the flag on Mount Suribachi. The lieutenant became Easy Company commanding officer Capt David E. Severance’s executive officer, then was killed on 17 March and buried in the Fifth Marine Division Cemetery near the base of Mount Suribachi.
            Two months later, Robert E. Schuelzky Jr. was born to the deceased lieutenant’s wife, Margaret (Mitchell). Like so many other young children of Iwo Jima fathers, and children of all fathers who die in war, Robert Jr. grew up without his father and felt alone.      His mother remarried. He says she never talked much about him, “just saying my father was killed in the war.” His grandparents were devastated and would take the young boy to the cemetery after they had their son’s remains brought back and buried in the Cedar Lawn Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
            “I felt I was lost,” Bob says today, “and didn’t know about him. That’s the way it was. It really changed me over the years. I felt I was in the background. So, what could I ask about my father?”
            Bob grew up, went to college, earned a degree, married, worked for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and had one daughter. There had never been any closure.
            When his mother died, he had to go to court in 1973 to get his father’s box of pictures and personal things his stepfather had in the attic. Bob also got some photos from his grandparents and his father’s footlocker from their attic.
            Fast forward to November 2018 when military historian Brent Westemeyer called, saying he was looking for information about Bob’s father to put a name to the face of the last unidentified Marine in the “Gung Ho photo” on Mount Suribachi.
            “My father sure has the features that match the person’s face,” Bob said. “But it’s still not decided who he is.”
            Going through the footlocker, Bob learned more about his father. And he sent for his military records from St. Louis in the National Personnel Records Center that told him more about his father.
            Feeling he never had closure, a memorial service was held at the gravesite in March 2019 with 100 people in attendance, and friends donated a granite bench.
            Then at a 2019 Memorial Day service, Bob met Iwo Jima veteran Duane Tunnyhill (I-3-28) from Omaha, Neb. He told Bob about the Fifth Marine Division Association. He belonged to, its Spearhead newsletter, and an upcoming reunion New Orleans. Bob joined the association, and he and wife Evelyn attended the reunion, hoping, as many do, to meet one person who knew his father. That didn’t happen.
            “The reunion was wonderful,” Bob said. “God gave me many news friends from the reunion.”
            After learning that his father’s commanding officer was still living, Bob hoped to talk to him. When Bob had gone through his father’s footlocker, he found a letter then-Captain Severance had written his mother—a typed, single-spaced letter of a little more than a page—after the company got back to Camp Tarawa after Iwo Jima was declared over and the division was preparing for the invasion of Japan.
            “Captain Severance knew my mother was pregnant with me,” Bob said, aware that the captain’s wife had also given birth to a son not long before, “and that my father would never see me.
            “The letter to my mother showed so much compassion. It was overwhelming to have a captain that showed that he cared about my mother and me. I was born 62 days after my father’s death.”
            Bob said he read the letter over and over that the captain had written to his mother. Then when the colonel called a few days after the reunion, Bob said, “I was in shock and had to take a second breath.”
            For the next few minutes, Col Severance, USMC (Ret.), told Bob about his dad, whom he always called “Ski,” and they talked about each other’s families.
            With that, Bob said, “God gave me what I needed. The call really meant so much to me.”
            Those are the kind of stories that make groups like the Fifth Marine Division Association so great: Three men with connections from a battle 75 years ago, meeting at a memorial service, going to a reunion, talking on the phone and sharing the experiences that have shaped lives and have helped the healing process.

January 12, 2020

Cadillac Ranch a ‘potent image’ out in the Texas plains

Driving through Amarillo, Texas, on Interstate 40 recently, I fully intended to stop by the Cadillac Ranch I’d visited years ago. But we took one exit east to get a bite to eat and took the surface road west and got back on the interstate one entrance west and missed it. By the time I got to the point I could head back east, I kept driving west.
            From recent photos, I knew it didn’t look like it did back in the ’80s when I’d climbed into a pickup truck with two friends and headed out across the north Texas plains and stopped to check out the unique artwork of 10 old Cadillacs buried front end in the ground at a slight angle as if they had had an emergency landing in formation with the tail fins sticking up in the air, inspired by Amarillo entrepreneur Stanley Marsh back in the 1970s. Through the years, it’s been vandalized, cars have been burned, and they’ve painted with graffiti. But the tail fins of the 10 Cadillacs still highlight the horizon.
            While I didn’t see Cadillac Ranch this time, the image and the day have stuck in my mind. And I remembered juxtaposing the image I have of it with the Picasso sculpture at Daley Plaza in Chicago and knew it was time to remember what I saw a few miles west of Amarillo on that hot Texas day years ago.
            I was vaguely aware back then that our destination was Amarillo and beyond. What we were going to do was more vague, though. I was just along for the ride. And for most of the 50-odd-mile ride, I stared out the window at the rolling grasslands scattered with cattle spread out from near the highway to tiny dots far away in the distance.
            The Amarillo skyline flashed by, and we were headed west on Interstate 40 when I heard one of the guys say, “That’s surely not it.”
            I glanced off in the direction the other two were looking. I didn’t know what “surely wasn’t it.” But what I saw was something that looked like several surface-to-surface air missile bunkers, missiles poised and ready to send off a volley to the east. 
            “That’s about where it should be,” the guy said. “At least that’s where it says it is on the atlas.”
            “What is it we’re looking for?” I asked.
            “Stanley Marsh’s Cadillac Ranch,” the driver said, laughing.
            I vague recalled hearing about that on some TV show or from some feature article somewhere. I later learned I’d heard a song about the place, too.
            But there wasn’t any clear image of it in my mind then. I could imagine several things, none of them resembling the mock missile site back up the road. 
            We pulled off at the next exit and stopped at a small market and gas station to ask for directions. The two middle-aged women exchanged glances as if to say, “Here’s more of ’em,” but answered the question.
            “You just go down this road right here—not the interstate,” one of the women said. “Five or six miles and you’ll see it. Can’t miss it—it’s just a bunch of cars buried in the ground with the back ends sticking up.”
            It was the missile bunker, I thought. And we drove east on the frontage road until we saw the cars. I counted 10 of them as we pulled off the road and stopped before an opening in the fence. A narrow, well-worn dirt path between the rows of maize led nearly a hundred yards to the cars, buried nose down in the ground, up to each windshield, and all standing semi-proudly in a neat row. 
            They spread out at 4- or 5-foot intervals for 20-25 yards in an area about 10 or 15 yards deep. Stanley Marsh’s Cadillac Ranch isn’t otherwise identified or explained. People took pictures from several angles, smiling and laughing as they looked at the old cars buried in the dirt.
            “It’s not quite what I thought it’d be,” I heard somebody say. 
            I didn’t know what I’d expected and wasn’t sure what I was seeing. It seemed to be saying something about the bygone era of the big Cadillac. Whatever it was and for whatever reason it was there, though, it made me feel good that somebody had done it.
            While others took photographs, I walked around the buried cars and read the graffiti and looked inside some of them. They had evidently been painted red to cover up past graffiti, but more graffiti quickly took its place. One girl from Ft. Worth plastered her name and address in several places, always saying this was her second visit to the place and to look her up in Ft. Worth.
            “The Boss” was written on the top of one old Cadillac; “Springsteen” was written on another, both evidently because of the song called “Cadillac Ranch” he’d written a few years earlier.
            Before I walked back down the dirt path to the road, a young guy climbed to the top of one of the protruding rear bumpers, stood up and provided a moon shot of his rear end to add his contribution to the statement being made. 
            When I got home, I called information—this was before much Internet access was available—for Stanley Marsh and caught him entertaining, unavailable for my questions.
            The next day I called for him at Marsh Enterprise, a media company. Marsh was unavailable for comment, but would be later.
            All I really wanted to know was what was on his mind when he had the place created, how much it had cost him and a profound quotation or two about the meaning of life from him. The secretary did refer me to Doug Michels, one of the three creators of the Cadillac Ranch. He was available.
            “He was looking for a great piece of art,” Michels, then a Washington, D.C., architect, told me about Marsh’s commission to the Ant Farm, a California-based architectural and design firm between 1969-1978.
            Marsh was familiar with the work of Michels and his two partners, Chip Lord and Hudson Marquez, through houses they’d designed in Texas and other artwork they’d done, Michels said.
            “It was pretty open-ended,” Michels said about the job and how he and his partners went about completing it. 
            When he, Lord (an architect then at the University of California-San Diego) and Marquez (then working in the Hollywood film industry) visited the site to decide what to create, the wheat was moving in the wind like waves in the ocean. 
            “What we did was inspired by dolphins,” Michels said. “Their tail fins show above the water as they swim. The wheat field reminded me of the ocean, and we reached the decision on the spot.”
            Completed in 1974, the 10 Cadillacs represent each styling change from 1949-1963, Michels said. People interpret the creation in their own ways, but Michels said they had a definite meaning in mind when they created the piece.
            “It’s a monument to the rise and fall of the Cadillac tail fin from ’49 to ’63,” Michels said. “Some people see it as the end of the gas-guzzling automobile, but that’s not what the artists had in mind.”
            Springsteen’s lyrics are just as open to interpreters. He wrote that the Cadillac “rides just like a little ball of heaven here on earth” and “when I die throw my body in the back/and drive me to the junkyard in my Cadillac. …” 
            I’d still like to know what Marsh wanted when he approached the Ant Farm and why he wanted anything on the place at all and whether he was satisfied with what he got.
            That’ll have to wait for another day, if at all. The completed work was most of what was sticking in my mind. 
            “It’s a potent image,” Michels said, saying something like what I’d been thinking since I first saw the Cadillac Ranch—“The American Stonehenge.”