'Lucky' Iwo Jima survivors gather

September 27, 2006|by ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN - Three days into the 1945 invasion of Iwo Jima, shrapnel hit Vern Brintzenhofe in seven places.

"I'm one of the fortunate ones," Brintzenhofe said.

Two hundred Marines landed with him during the first wave of the invasion. Seven hours later, only 84 men were left.

About 10 of the men who took the beach 61 years ago joined Brintzenhofe in Hagerstown for a "mini reunion" of Iwo Jima survivors from the Fourth Marine Division Association.

"We're all brothers in arms. We all fought for the same things," Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said as he spoke about his own military experience in a welcome to the veterans.


The veterans teased Bruchey about serving in the Army.

"That's too bad," veteran Charlie Charles said. "You would have been a good Marine."

As the group gathered in the Days Inn lobby Tuesday morning, one veteran reminded Bruchey that, "there's no such thing as a beautiful battlefield," when the mayor listed Antietam National Battlefield as one of Washington County's "beautiful" sites.

On the day Marines landed on Iwo Jima, Brintzenhofe left his ship at 3 a.m. and landed at 9 a.m. in volcanic sand, he said.

"We were lucky to be in the first wave. The Japanese waited until the third wave landed, then threw everything they had at us," he said. "We lost a lot of buddies."

Wayne Freidline, who traveled to the reunion from Ligonier, Pa., was shot in the leg during the Iwo Jima invasion. His leg is now one inch shorter, he said.

During the Battle of Saipan in 1944, Freidline was shot in the chest.

The retired Marines will spend the week in Hagerstown.

Brintzenhofe also planned a trip to the World War II and Iwo Jima memorials in Washington, D.C., for Thursday and a memorial service for Friday.

This week marks the second reunion. Last year, the group also gathered in Hagerstown, and Brintzenhofe said his buddies enjoyed the visit and asked him to plan another one.

Brintzenhofe and his wife, Lu, lived in Hagers-town in the 1970s when he worked for the Army Corps of Engineers at Fort Ritchie. They moved back after he retired because their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren live in the area.

"We're all lucky guys to be here. Some went through four invasions and never got a scratch. Some got beat up pretty good, but we healed," Brintzenhofe said.

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