Four local World War II veterans were recently honored by the North Iowa Detachment No. 859 Marine Corps League for their service. Here are their stories.
John Eason, Ankeny, formerly Clear Lake
John Eason recalls April 1, 1945, as if it were yesterday.
As “Easter Parade” played on that Easter Sunday, Eason, an 18-year-old bugler from Sanborn, was stepping off an amphibious vehicle on to Okinawa, Japan.
He was supposed to be in the third wave, but was among the first to land on the beach. The first and second waves had stopped, waiting on naval bombardment.
Faced with a smokescreen, Eason said the beams his division had only shone a few hundred yards.
“We were looking at a good thousand yards of terrain,” said Eason, 90. “All I could think of, the dang rifle won’t shoot that far.
“We fanned out like we were supposed to, then came the first wave out of the smokescreen. I have never been so happy in my life to see the amphibs hit the beach.”
During the Battle of Okinawa, Eason’s division took the northern end of the island, later moving south to break the main defensive line. He was a company runner during combat and was responsible for relaying messages.
From that point on, Eason said, he was involved in “real heavy combat.”
“I can still remember at Sugar Loaf Hill, there were so many dead Japs and American boys on the ground, you couldn’t touch the ground,” he said. “You were crawling over bodies.”
Taking that 50-foot tall, 300-yard-long mound resulted in the death of 1,656 Marines and another 7,429 being wounded, according to the Marine Corps Association. It was among a triangle of strong points to delay Americans.
The nearly three-month fight – regarded as the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War – resulted in more than 82,000 U.S. casualties.
“If I wasn’t scared, I should have been,” Eason said.
In August, he was loaded on to a ship to invade Japan. Dressed in full combat gear, his outfit landed at the naval base near the south end of the Tokyo Bay.
“Here we came ashore loaded with hot ammunition, not knowing what to expect, and I was dumbfounded,” he said. “The whole town was in their best clothes and the fire trucks were there.
“They were not ready for combat, period.”
With a million or more casualties estimated if the U.S. invaded Japan, Eason said he’s glad the Japanese surrendered.
He returned home on Memorial Day weekend after two years in the Marines. Eason later taught at the high school and collegiate level, teaching geography, history and ecology at North Iowa Area Community College for 18 years.
Although his time in the Marines was short, Eason said he’s still part of a strong brotherhood.
“When I went into the service, I was told, ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine,’” he said. “I thought that was a bunch of crock, but when I came out, I knew they had told me the truth.
“It changed my life.”
Larry Cronin, Clear Lake
Larry Cronin, 93, saw fellow Marines and Navy corpsmen raise the American flag on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi.
“I was standing right there when they raised the flag,” Cronin told the Globe Gazette in June. “It was wonderful to see it go up.”
Cronin, a Des Moines native, had joined the Marine Corps at age 18 for four years. He was initially in infantry but later switched by being a bugler, even appearing in a movie, “Salute to the Marines,” a World War II film that premiered in 1943.
After boot camp, he was transferred to Hawaii. He says his company was selected for Iwo Jima because it was a “good outfit.”
When his company landed, he said, he was the first one off the boat. It was a struggle to make it up the beach because, he said, the sand was so powdery and Japanese were “mowing us down as fast as they could.”
“They had that island all these years and had weeds growing around machine guns so we couldn’t see them,” he said. “They were killing us right and left.”
Out of his 200-unit company, six men returned.
“All my buddies got killed,” Cronin said.
More than 110,000 Marines, sailors, Air Force and other military personnel participated in the 36-day battle that killed 6,821 and wounded 19,217. Cronin was shot in the back.
Following Iwo Jima, he trained to go to Japan but the war soon ended. He was still sent to the country to “take care of the men.”
He returned to Meredith Publishing, working there for 42 years.
Ernie Hudson, Mason City
Ernie Hudson was also sent to Iwo Jima, but as a non-combative.
Hudson, 92, was part of a signal battalion from 1943 to 1946 that would set up telephone operators. He was a truck driver responsible for transporting linemen or helping with wiring.
At Iwo Jima, his battalion waited until the shore was secure and the flag raised, later spending at least a month there.
“There was some firing around but no problems,” he said.
Hudson, who said he chose the branch because of a movie he watched, said he’s glad to have served.
“I’m proud I was allowed to become a Marine,” he said.
He later worked for the Mason City Water Department for 39 years.
Gene Pfertzel, Rockford
After a farming-related deferment, Gene Pfertzel eventually was drafted in December 1943 and settled on the Marine Corps for four years.
“I just thought I’d like to join the Marines,” said Pfertzel, 91.
Pfertzel, a radar operator who also drove, brought fellow Marines like Eason into Okinawa on amphibious vehicles.
After Okinawa, he stayed in Guam another year where he was a truck dispatcher.
After returning home in February 1947, he farmed and hauled pigs for 35 years.