Story by Barb Gersna
Iwo Jima Survivor Finally Sees Memorial
The first time I met World War II Veteran Eugene Mack he was getting off the bus from the Sandusky Veterans Home at Cleveland Hopkins Airport. By the end of the day I would come to know his story of survival and how he was one of the “lucky ones” who made it to the top of Mount Suribachi. I would also become friends with this brave Marine Veteran who fought in the U.S. Marine Corps's deadliest battle.
The battle was immortalized by Joe Rosenthal's photograph of the U.S. Flag raising on top of the 545-foot Mount Suribachi by five U.S. Marines and one battlefield Hospital Corpsman. The photograph records the second flag-raising on the mountain, both of which took place on the fifth day of the 35-day battle. Mack witnessed both flags raised and shared that the first one was too small. He told me how three of the men died days after this iconic image was recorded.
I was his guardian on his journey to Washington, D.C., courtesy of Honor Flight Cleveland to finally see the monuments honoring his brave service to our nation- in our deadliest battle in the Pacific in WWII.
He was proud of the six years he served in the Marine Corps, and became teary-eyed when talking about the battle – Operation Detachment. “Thousands of Marines died on Iwo Jima,” Mack said. “There was a lot of blood.”
“One of my jobs was bagging bodies,” Mack said. “They were so young.”
There were 6,821 American Servicemen killed, two were captured but recovered and 19,217 were wounded. The Imperial Japanese Military had no plans to surrender Iwo Jima, despite being outnumbered.
“We had to kill them all,” Mack said. The Americans knew the Japanese would never surrender. Japanese losses totaled 22,844. Only 226 were captured because they were unconscious and presumed dead.
Mack was only 21 in 1945, but said the others seemed so much younger, many only 18 at the time. “They were too young,” Mack sadly said.
Our first stop in D.C. was at the World War II Memorial with fountains carved with the battle names and quotes from leaders throughout. Ninety-two year old Mack sat in his wheelchair full of emotion, remembering his time as a young Marine. “Being here today means so much to me,” he said. “Today is one of the happiest days of my life.”
His favorite stop in D.C. Was the Marine Corps Memorial, built in 1954 representing this nation's gratitude to U.S. Marines and those who fought beside them. It reads, "In honor and in memory of the men of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since November 10, 1775."
Mack looked up at the massive bronze memorial depicting what he witnessed on Iwo Jima. “I was there,” he said. “I watched them raise the flag on Suribachi!”
“I climbed the mountain. I survived!”
Honor Flight Cleveland
It is the mission of Honor Flight Cleveland to pay tribute to U.S. Veterans who served our country by providing them a safe and memorable all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials honoring their service.
Writer and Army Veteran Barb Gersna proudly thanks Avon/Avon Lake “David F. Schneider” VFW Post 7035 for sponsoring her volunteer guardianship and paying her $250 fee on Honor Flight Cleveland to accompany and aide WWII Veteran Eugene Mack. Barb is an employee of the Auditor's Office and volunteer veterans advocate. She is board secretary for Valor Home Lorain County - creating transitional housing for homeless veterans. Gersna is a life member of VFW Post 7035 in Avon and American Legion Post 211 in Avon Lake where she is member of the Honor Guard. Gersna served four years as an Army Journalist. She is also a member of U.S. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur's Veterans Advisory Board.
Photo – WWII Marine Corps Veteran Eugene Mack and guardian Barb Gersna in Arlington Cemetery in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.