Freedom Fighters: Joe Lanthier - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Freedom Fighters: Joe Lanthier

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By Joan Hallmark - bio | email

FLINT, TX (KLTV) - Joe Lanthier grew up fast in World War II. In two short years from age 17 to 19, Lanthier was to see combat in both Iwo Jima and Okinowa.

"This is my room where I keep all my memorabilia and that wall up there is my war wall," said Joe Lanthier. 

Lanthier's "war wall" as he calls it, tells the story of his 20 years in the service of our country, first in the Coast Guard and later in the Army.

"That's 17-year-old Joe, that's 19-year-old Joe."

Lanthier joined the Coast Guard in 1943 at the age of 17. Before the age of 20 he had already seen battle in two of the bloodiest conflicts of World War II.

"The last two major battles of World War II were Iwo Jima and Okinowa and I was at both of them," said Lanthier.

For Lanthier, war meant growing up fast...very fast.

"It was about three miles long and maybe a mile at the widest and the invasion force was primarily the U.S. Marine Corps, although there were some army soldiers there too."

The U.S. invaded the Japanese held island of Iwo Jima in February of 1945. In a month of fighting nearly 7,000 American soldiers died.

"I know in one instance I personally saw, a small bulldozer digging a trench which was to be the graves of lot of men," he said.

Lanthier was aboard a LST, landing ship tank.

"It's longer than a football field and we carried a lot of ammunition and a hundred millimeter marine artillery battery," said Lanthier.

Loaded with tons of artillery shells, Lanthier's LST was an explosion waiting to happen. The shells, weighing 90 pounds each, had to be unloaded on Iwo as fast as possible.

"We formed two lines facing each other and just passed the shells from one man to the next and that went on for 48 hours."

48 hours unloading shells, while constantly under fire.

"The island was one big shooting match you might say."

But amid that shooting match there was one sight Lanthier saw clearly from his vantage point on Red Beach One.

"We were at an angle where you couldn't see the men but you saw the flag go up."

Lanthier knew that flag on Mount Sarabouchi meant victory, but for him there was still Okinowa.

"That was a much larger island than Iwo Jima. As I recall, Okinowa was something like 63 miles long."

For Lanthier, unloading his LST full of marines was easier than on Iwo, but by that time Japanese suicide planes had become rampant.

"We had some close calls with some of the Kamakazi's."

After World War II ended, Lanthier returned home only to join the army and spend the next 20 years in army intelligence. Joseph Lanthier is proud of his service to his country and yet is quick to condemn the horrors of war.

"I think war is probably man's lowest common denominator and it's very horrible, it's bestial and it should be avoided at all costs."

A cause to which Joseph Lanthier has devoted his life.

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