A WWII Veteran's Journey | Through Hell and Back to Tell About It

A WWII Veteran's Journey | Through Hell and Back to Tell About It

At 4:30 p.m., April 6, 1945, the United States Ship John C. Colhoun II received a call for help from a ship under kamikaze attack. When the Colhoun sailed toward the vessel in distress, the kamikazes turned on the Colhoun, crashing into the bridge of the ship and sinking it. Navy veteran Donald Irwin survived, but lost 34 shipmates that day, off the coast of Okinawa.

On the 72nd anniversary of the Colhoun sinking, Donald returned.

“I thought to myself, ‘Am I too old to have a bucket list?’” said Irwin, a 93-year-old, San Jose, California, native. “I’ve always wanted to return to Okinawa.”

As he laid a wreath on Toguchi Beach, Okinawa, Japan, in commemoration of the 34 fallen service members, he closed a chapter of his personal journey.

During their two weeks on Okinawa, Donald and his wife Geneva toured the Battle of Okinawa Historical Display, the former Japanese Naval Underground Headquarters, and visited active duty Marines and Sailors to tell his story.

The veteran’s story reads like a timeline of the Pacific campaign. When the bombs descended on Pearl Harbor, Donald heard them explode. Afterward, the veteran participated in the Battle of Midway, raids on the Marshall Islands, the invasion of the Solomon Islands and the Doolittle raid in Japan. From the beginning of the war until the end, Donald was fighting somewhere in the Pacific.

One of the Marines listening was Cpl. Dakota Ford, a field radio operator with Marine Wing Communications Squadron 18, Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force. Ford, who met Donald Irwin at the Camp Foster United Services Organization building, said he felt humbled to hear the veteran’s story.

“Sometimes we complain about us working in a sweaty workshop, but he’s actually been there, taking rounds and sending rounds down range, and watching his buddies to his left and right die, so it’s definitely humbling, and I’ll instill that in my Marines,” said Ford.

Donald and Geneva also toured Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st MAW, where they got the chance to see the MV-22B Osprey and ask questions about its development. Donald said he walked in between two lines of Marines, shaking the hands of over 200 service members. He described the moment as overwhelming.

“Emotionally, seeing all those people standing in line to meet me was absolutely amazing to me — that those young people went out of their way to meet me,” said Donald.

Throughout this trip, Donald and Geneva said they both felt very honored and welcomed. Donald said his most memorable experience was seeing what Okinawa looked like now and comparing it to the last time he was here.

“The last time I was here was, of course, in the dark, and the war was still going on, and things looked messy,” said Donald. “All of the city build-up through 72 years covered up the bad parts. So that made an impression on me.”

Not only did Okinawa leave a memorable impression on Donald, but he also said he hopes that he left an impression on the service members stationed in Okinawa. He said he believes the service members here would still be the first to fight.

“I say to them, ‘When we were here, we were on the front line,’” Donald said. “And then I tell them, ‘So are you.’”

Story Originally published here >>

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4 comments


  • Harry

    In reply to Sgt Robert L Sisson.
    Hey Sgt Sisson were you with the 171st by any chance? If you were did you know a guy named Dennis Bailey? Harry


  • Sgt Robert L Sisson

    In reply to Harry.
    I was the same as you Harry. My Dad was in the Marines during the 2nd world war and he NEVER talked about it either. It wasn’t until 4 months before he died and he was in a Nursing home that the subject came up. It is a long story but I retired from the Air Force reserve after 27 years. That is when he told me how much he loved the Marine Corp. He always wore a Marine Corp Buckle. He said his biggest regret in his life was not staying in after the war, but my Mother wanted him to go back to construction, which he did. I never knew he was on Okinawa till then. I was REALLY SHOCKED at his funeral how many Marines from the 2nd World War were at his funeral. He had kept in touch with these guys all these years. It was like he had a second life I never knew about.


  • Michael Harris

    My Step-Father, CPO Louis E. Vidal was aboard a destroyer that was hit by a Kamikaze during WWII. He only spoke of it just before he passed away. I called him my “Papa,” and he was a hero to me.


  • Harry

    This a great article! I enjoy reading stories about our WW-2 Vets.It is common knowledge that these Veterans will all be gone within the next decade or so and,unfortunately so will a lot of stories like this one.Most of the WW-2 Vets came home,went back to work and started a family. I never really knew what my Dad did in the war until late in his life and, that was only because I ask.Like most combat vets,he would never talk about it. So many stories have been lost.never told, history lost. Harry


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