James “Jim” Kelly, 98, of Urbana, a World War II Marine veteran who was on Iwo Jima for the entire 36-day battle, recently received a surprise in the mail from Tony McDaniel, adjutant of the Ira H. Hayes American Legion Post No. 84 in Sacaton, Ariz., and Urbana High School alumnus Gene Atteberry, a classmate of Kelly’s son, James Jr.
When Atteberry, now living in Baton Rouge, La., attended a flag-raising ceremony for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima in Sacaton on Feb. 24, he received a Legion Post challenge coin from a tribal elder and wanted to honor the senior Kelly by giving it to him. When Atteberry told the officers at the American Legion, they put together a larger package of two post hats, two T-shirts, four challenge coins, and four pins and sent it all to the 98-year-old Marine veteran.
A letter from McDaniel enclosed with the gifts explained that they were being given to Kelly “in honor of yourself, our comrade, and your dedicated sacrifice of military service to the best nation in the world. Your sacrifice to service gave veterans like me the opportunity to serve my nation as the democratic free country that it is.”
Kelly served with the Fifth Service Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment of the Fifth Marine Division. During the battle on Iwo Jima, Kelly lost his friend and fellow Urbana High School classmate, Richard L. Pittman, on Feb. 21, 1945. The local Marine Corps League #1231, formed in 2005, is named in his honor. Kelly also lost three of his service battalion buddies in the battle when they were hit by a mortar round as the four of them were delivering ammunitions and supplies to the front.