By: Mike Mooney, Cpl. of The Marine Corps, 1959 – 65 – 2571
Judge Advocate, Det. 1163, Marine Corps League, Hickory, N.C.
As we Marines prepare to celebrate the birth of our Corps each year we are sometimes amazed at the wide range of stories that begin to emerge. Here in Hickory, North Carolina our detachment has a genuine icon living in our midst and listed in our roster. John Link, a verified member of the "Class of '34" who reached the Warrant Officer rank of Gunner during his service, brought one of the stories of the Battle of Iwo Jima to life at the detachment’s Marine Corps Ball.
The committee was just about finished with putting all of the ‘ducks in a row’ including lining up the NCO sword which would be used to cut the birthday cake. That’s when the Gunner threw a curve ball. As he would be celebrated as the oldest Marine present he asked if he could bring his own ‘knife’ to cut the cake. Commandant Greg Bridges couldn't turn down the request and agreed. John Link, who enlisted in 1934, was "only" 94 years old and it would be difficult to say "no."
For many years this spry and slender Marine had managed the daily operation of his boiler installation and repair company, a chore that he has since handed over to his daughter and son-in-law. He still drops in to the shop each day for a cup of coffee and some friendly chat with the employees. But I digress.
When John arrived the evening of the Ball he carried his "knife" in its sheath with him. We were surprised when he handed it over to the committee. This was a genuine Japanese Samurai sword that he had captured during the battle of Iwo Jima between 19 February through 26 March, 1945. History tells us that the United States sent more Marines to Iwo than to any other battle; 110,000 Marines in 880 ships that sailed from Hawaii to Iwo in 40 days.
He handed this "knife" to us adding a warning to treat it carefully as it was still as sharp as a razor, a statement which we had no reason to doubt. Later on that evening during the ceremonies when the Gunner prepared to cut the cake he gave a short comment of his experiences during the Battle of Iwo and when he ended his poignant delivery he said, "…under an old adage, To The Victor Go The Spoils." Gunner, you have earned the spoils.
At this Birthday Ball we had the opportunity to hear Lt. Col. (ret.) Joseph Shusko, Director of the Quantico-based Marine Corps Martial Arts Center of Excellence (MCMACE) as our guest speaker and at the cake cutting ceremony Lt. Col. Shusko joined in with our oldest Marine present, Gunner John Link, a 94 year-old member of the Class of '34, and the youngest Marine present, Cpl. Jon Watts.
After the first three cuts were made, the chore of cutting the cake was handed over to an NCO sword for the remainder of the session. John Link, who jokingly said that at his age he doesn't make any long-term commitments, enjoyed the rest of the evening chatting with the Marines, their families and guests. Lt. Col.Shusko was especially intrigued at the clarity of the stories of that most important battle of WWII as he listened to the Gunner.
This celebration of the founding of the United States Marine Corps, memorializing those who have gone before us and those Marines who wear the uniform around the world today is one that will not soon be erased from our memories.