June 12, 2020

Robert C. “Bob” or “Mo” Mueller, 1924-2020

The last time I saw Bob Mueller was in February at the West Coast Iwo Jima Memorial Service and Banquet at Camp Pendleton to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, which was to be the last time the group sponsored the event. Bob was pleasant, jovial and feisty as ever. It never occurred to me that it would also be the last time I’d see him.
            Knowing that Bob was a good friend, Gail Chatfield, long-time committee member of the West Coast Iwo Jima group that hosted the commemoration, emailed me not long before the event and asked if I’d like to sit with Bob Mueller and his daughter, Sue Campion. 
Bob Mueller and I at the 75th anniversary West Coast Iwo Jima banquet at Camp Pendleton
            “Absolutely,” I replied immediately. I’d known Bob or “Mo” for several years and visited him in his home every time I was in California. He was one of several Iwo Jima veterans I felt very close to through the years after I first met him at the Fifth Marine Division Association reunion in San Diego in 2010, where he was on the committee as he had been for the annual West Coast Iwo Jima Memorial and Banquet.
            I liked the glint in his eyes and his quick wit from the first time I met him. You never had to wonder what he meant. Bob was a tough Marine with a heart of gold. 
            After he heard that my son in Oakland, Calif., had died unexpectedly from a heart attack, Bob sent me an email with his condolences: “I can probably relate to this situation better then most because I lost my wife at age 37. She left me with three girls ages 3, 6, 10. It was a bitch raising them. They learned the difficult way from this hard-ass Marine veteran. Fortunately, they have done well in life. Hang in there, my friend.”
             It was much appreciated.
             A native of Omaha, Neb., Bob had joined the Marine Corps in September 1942—not long after Ira Hayes, who later became a good friend, had also joined, and they went to Parachute School at the same time and were in Bravo Company of the Third Parachute Battalion at Camp Elliott, Calif. Both were shipped out to New Caledonia in March 1943 but soon went to Guadalcanal during March and April 1943. From there, Bob went to Vella Lavella (Oct. 14-Dec. 3, 1942) and on to Bougainville (Dec. 4, 1943-Jan. 29, 1944), where he fought in the battle for Hill 1000 and “Hellzapoppin’ Ridge.” Bob then went back to the States, where the ’Chutes were disbanded in February 1944.
            After a 30-day leave, Bob reported to Camp Pendleton, where the Fifth Marine Division was being formed, then went to Camp Tarawa on the Big Island of Hawai’i where the Fifth trained for what the troops later learned was the Battle of Iwo Jima. He had reported to Dog Company, Second Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment. Hayes reported to Easy Company, Second Battalion, with Capt Dave Severance as commander, and became one of the flag raisers of the second flag raising on Mount Suribachi on 23 February 1945 that AP photographer Joe Rosenthal captured in the iconic photograph. That photo became the image that the American public rallied behind to finance the final days of the war and is depicted in the Marine Corps War Memorial statue in Arlington National Cemetery and other places around the country. Laura Dietz is spearheading the effort to erect one at Çamp Pendleton overlooking the 5 Freeway and the Pacific Ocean. 
            On the morning of Feb. 23, Bob was part of a four-man patrol that set out to climb the west side of Mount Suribachi at about the same time the Easy Company 40-man patrol climbed the north side of the mountain with the first flag. Hayes, Mike Strank, Harlon Block and Franklin Sousley went up later with wire for Easy Company patrol leader Lt Harold “George” Schrier’s radio and were accompanied by Rene Gagnon with the second, larger flag to replace the first and retrieve the first one for the Second Battalion.  Harold Keller and Harold Scholtz joined the four in raising that flag
            When I asked Bob about the patrol, he said it was led by Sgt J.D. Mulligan, a large man who had played professional football but had to drop out, Cpl John Wieland, Pfc Fred M. Ferentz and himself (also a Pfc).
            “Due to Mulligan’s weight,” Bob said, “he didn’t complete the task. He was having difficulty and was knocking rocks and dirt back on us. Wieland took charge, and we finished the climb.” 
            Mueller was a paramarine, and the other three were former Raiders. 
            “We were on top of the mountain when both flags were raised,” Bob said.  He never said anything about any fierce fighting on the way up the side of the mountain and only a little about a brief firefight on the top of the mountain. One account said the Dog Company patrol was the first one the reach the top. 
            “That could be,” he said. “I wasn’t looking to see who was first.”
            He did say that there had been an article about his patrol in a Stars & Stripes article in the fall of 1945. I didn’t find that one, but I did find an article in the Marine Corps Chevron publication Volume 4, Number 35, dated September 1945 that had information about the patrol and may have been the one to which he was referring.
            Bob was in the second landing wave on Green Beach on Feb. 19, was wounded on March 9 but returned to the company the same day, spent all 36 days of the battle on Iwo Jima, and went back to the Big Island of Hawai’i to prepare for the Invasion of Japan, but was spared that with the dropping of the atomic bomb. And after the Occupation of Japan, Bob went home like many veterans of World War II, put the war behind him, went to work, got married and started raising a family.
            After his first wife died in 1961, leaving the three girls to raise, he married again in 1965 and had another girl. After 23 years with the local Omaha, Neb., utility company, Bob moved the family to Cleveland, Ohio, for a short time, then moved the family to Southern California in 1969 and worked as a service representative for Carrier Corporation for 20 years before retiring. His second marriage ended in divorce in 1974. He remarried in 1976 and again lost a wife to death in 2011.
            All the time, Bob remained a Marine’s Marine in the way he handled death and adversity and worked with the West Coast Iwo Jima Committee for as long as he was able and also served as a trustee for the Fifth Marine Division Association until shortly before his death.
            After I met him in 2010 and heard stories that sounded a bit farfetched or like another sea story, I’d call Bob. Sometimes he’d laugh and say he hadn’t heard that one. But sometimes he had. After hearing one story, he emailed me, “The BS gets stronger with age. These people sure do want to claim last-minute fame.”
            Bob never told me those kinds of stories himself.  He just told it like it was.

June 1, 2020

Watching a man die ...

For the last week, I’ve seen the video of police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee in the throat of George Floyd until he was dead while the three police officers stood idly by doing nothing and heard the criticism of them all. And their behavior was appalling. No question about that.

But one of the bystanders filmed it while others stood by and made comments that the man couldn’t breathe and the officer should stop. Really? That’s great.

My question is why one of these bystanders didn’t step up, grab the police officer by the collar and jerk his ass off of George Floyd’s neck? Or is it okay to stand by and let a police officer kill a helpless man?