Military Matters

Feb 25, 2011 10:26 AM by Judy Slate

Bozeman man recalls Battle of Iwo Jima

Each year there are fewer and fewer World War II veterans, men and women who risked their lives for our freedom.

One World War II veteran who lives Bozeman recently recalled his experience. He is a man who many consider a hero.

Bob McGray was a corporal in the U.S. Marines. He was just 19 years old during the Battle of Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest battles in U.S history with more casualties than D-Day. He maybe 85, but his memories are vivid.

"Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to be a Marine," McGray recalls.

McGray signed on as a Marine when he was just 17. A couple of years later he found himself in the South Pacific.

"I was an ammunition man. I kept the gun and ammunition, and I cut the powder to send it," he said.

In February 1945 he and thousands of other Marines were in the waters off the coast of Iwo Jima. Boats eventually took them to the shores of Iwo Jima where the Japanese were hiding and waiting.

"They were smart, they waited until we started landing, getting up onto the island. They knew every inch of that, they knew exactly where we were," McGray said.

He says they had trouble right off the bat because of the terrain.

"We couldn't get up there because all the sand and we'd go up a little bit, and then we'd slide down," he remembers.

In the meantime, up ahead it was a bloodbath.

"The infantry was having a terrible time. I lost friends and I seen people I didn't know lying on the ground heads gone, legs gone, arms gone it just made me sick," he said. "Frankly, we were absolutely befuddled. We were tired. We were achy all our fire had gone out."

McGray believes it was the flag that helped them turn around the situation.

"Somebody said, ‘Look, the flag!' They hoisted our flag up Mt. Suribachi, and you should have seen it, a bunch of Marines come to life, they just went wild."

The battle was far from over. It would be weeks before the Marines took control of Iwo Jima, securing strategically important airfields, giving the allies an advantage.

Sixty six years ago, McGray was one of the men who helped secure our freedom.

"I'm telling everybody, ‘I'm not a hero, I'm just a plain old Marine.' Once a Marine always a Marine," he said.

McGray is one of the oldest surviving veterans in the Bozeman area.

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