GALVESTON, Texas (AP) — Although stationed on a beach a mere five miles apart in 1945, Ramond Warren, of Galveston, and Ivan Hammond, of Santa Fe, didn’t know each other at the time.
Not until recently, when the unfading memories of 36 days of fighting drew both to volunteer with the Galveston County Marine Corps League, did the two finally meet and bond as members of a quickly fading fraternity — veterans of the Battle of Iwo Jima.
“I spent 50 years trying to bury the war and just couldn’t do it,” Hammond, 94, said, surrounded by Iwo Jima books and memorabilia at his Santa Fe home. “I finally decided I’d join and start going to the reunions. Then, I could finally tolerate it.”
Warren and Hammond were members of the Fifth Marine Division when they stormed the beach at Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945. Warren, 93, was a rifleman in the 28th Regiment, one of the first waves on the beach, he said. Hammond was an air liaison, who helped direct aircraft to targets on the island.
The Battle of Iwo Jima raged for more than a month, according to historical sources. About 70,000 members of the U.S. Armed Forces took part in the operation and almost 7,000, mostly Marines, were killed during the battle, the Galveston County Daily News reported.
The battle left both men with deeply etched memories of close scrapes with death, they agreed.
Even as Marines advanced up toward Mount Suribachi, the high point on the island and site where Joe Rosenthal would eventually take the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Marines hoisting a flag in the volcanic rock, they couldn’t eliminate the enemy from all the various caves, Warren said.
“There were so many caves, and the Japanese would come boiling out of them at night,” Warren said. “We lost so many men.”
So, Marines would have to keep their eyes behind them, as well as in front of them, at all times, he said.
Warren himself suffered about five flesh wounds during the course of the battle, he said.
Hammond remembers one night, on his way back to camp, he walked up an incline and found several of his subordinates cooking with an open flame, which silhouetted Hammond, just before he heard bullets whiz past him, one burning the hair off the back of his neck, he said.
After the war, Hammond eventually moved to Galveston County and took a job at Union Carbide in Texas City, he said. He moved to Santa Fe later.
Warren is the more recent arrival to Galveston County, arriving on the island shortly before his wife’s death in 2002, he said.
The two men met, became friends and bonded about three years ago through volunteering with the Galveston County Marine Corps League, Warren said.
The Marine Corps League is a congressional chartered veteran organization with chapters and more than 60,000 members across the country, according to the group’s website. Members of the group work to raise money for scholarships and other causes.
In Galveston County, that means veterans like Warren and Hammond have become permanent fixtures at annual events such as Mardi Gras and Lone Star Rally, selling beer and swapping stories.
“At my age, you want to try to stay active,” Warren said. “I think older people tend to draw back, but I still don’t mind getting up in the mornings and staying involved.”