Melanie D. Hayes
Bill Moon joined the Marines as a 17-year-old. Within months he was deployed to the Battle of Iwo Jima.
He grew up immediately.
Moon, 84, fought for 32 days in the bloody battle, and he even watched as the American flag was raised on the Japanese island’s Mount Suribachi.
He was on a beach, and someone pointed up toward the mountain. A guy standing next to Moon let him borrow his binoculars so he could better witness the memorable moment.
Thinking of that day—even 66 years later—makes the Anderson man choke up. He touches his chest and averts his tear-rimmed eyes.
“Pride,” he said, lifting his gaze in determination. “My heart just wells up.”
On Saturday, about 25 Iwo Jima survivors gathered for lunch at Lutz’s Steakhouse in Noblesville to honor the 66th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Twenty years ago, when these survivors began having annual reunions, the number of veterans was much larger. As years pass, more survivors die—and with them go a wealth of history.
“We do this in memory of the guys who are not here anymore, (whom) we lost in Iwo Jima and who keep dying off,” said Rudy Mueller, 85, Indianapolis. He is an Iwo Jima survivor who helps organize the event.
The aging Indiana group gathers to share stories and laugh about some of the good memories that came out of the terrifying experience. Family and friends listened intently and asked questions. It’s a way to keep the memories alive and pass them on.
“Everybody has a story,” said Jim Baize, 83, Carmel. “There are only a few of us left out of the 70,000, and we are carrying that history around. The history should not be forgotten. We fought for our country.”
And that fight was bloody. Almost 7,000 Americans lost their lives in the 35-day battle.
You could consider Baize, who joined the Navy at age 15, among the lucky ones. He was shot twice—first on Feb. 19, the first day of battle, and again a week later—but he survived, earned 23 medals and led a great life. Moon was even luckier. His guardian angel—who he said is still with him today—kept him out of harm’s way. But both men lost many friends.
Moon said he doesn’t talk much about his experiences at Iwo Jima, unless it is at a reunion, where others understand what he went through. Even his wife didn’t know he fought in that battle until 20 years into their marriage, when he was invited to a reunion.
“You are closer to them (survivors) than you are to your own family,” he said. “We talk about the fellowship. We don’t talk about the gruesome parts.”
Bill Woodman, 70, Greenwood, worries that today’s society does not understand the sacrifices that have been made by these survivors. He believes there is a missing component in the education of youth.
“How important do you think it is for present-day society to remember your contributions?” asked Woodman, a friend of Braize’s.
Baize said he has encountered too many young people who do not know what Iwo Jima is—and it’s jarring, because the battle there and in other wars shaped America and the world in so many ways.
“People have to remember that freedom is not free,” he said. “If you don’t protect it, it’s easy to lose.”
Call her at (317) 444-6048.