Lufkin veteran recalls time on Iwo Jima

Lufkin veteran recalls time on Iwo Jima
Source: KTRE staff
Source: KTRE staff
Source: KTRE staff
Source: KTRE staff
Source: KTRE staff
Source: KTRE staff

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - It's been over 70 years since U.S. forces landed on the beaches of Iwo Jima. Despite the passing of time, Lufkin veteran John Powers remembers his time in the Pacific as if it happened yesterday.

"Well I joined the Marines when I was 17," Powers said. You had to be 18, so I lied.  I was in Cherokee County. I went to the lady, I can't remember her name but she knew that my grandparents raised me and I didn't know this and I went up there and told her I wanted to get in that afternoon and she said I had to be 18. I was there the next day when she opened up the next morning sitting on the steps and she said, 'Why are you here?' I said, 'I'm 18 today.' She knew [I was lying], but she let me go anyway."

After serving as a scout sniper in Guam, Powers, serving under the 3rd Marine Division would be sent to Iwo Jima as part of Operation Detachment. The Island was considered very important for the U.S. in its war against the Japanese Imperial Army.

"If a person were to tell you they weren’t scared, then they were probably lying to you,” Powers said.”

Powers and his fellow servicemen set up on a hillside where during the first night, Powers saw the horrors of war first hand.

"I laid there that night and saw those boys getting killed beside me," Powers said. "I wasn't hit. I think the Lord was with me."

Powers said he found Jesus before signing up. As a young boy he was baptized in the Neches River with 18 other boys at a revival in Cherokee County. During his time on the volcanic island, Powers referred to his favorite childhood prayer.

Every night I would lay down and pray, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take,” Powers said. “I know it was just a kids prayer but it meant a great deal to me.”

The slender teenager from East Texas believed they would only be on Iwo Jima for a couple of days. He soon found out he was wrong, with the fighting lasting for over a month.

"When we got there the ships were going, 'bang,bang' and the island was almost a flame. I thought we would be gone in two or three days, but I was wrong," Powers said.

One of the most iconic images to come out of the Pacific theater was the raising of the flag on Mt. Suribachi. Powers still remembers seeing the five marines and one Navy corpsman raising an American flag.

“There were hundreds and hundreds of ships all around us and those ships were blowing their horns and shooting,” Powers said. “I looked around and I saw it. It didn’t affect me like it did a lot of people. My main concern was to stay as low to the ground [as I could]. It was very special, very special. Lots of our boys said once they saw that they knew we had it."

The American military forces would finally take control of the island on March 26,1945. Powers and his group would then be asked to go to Japan to prepare for the pending Japanese invasion.

"We were getting ready to go to kyushu Island," Powers said. "Our third battalion was going to be an assault wave on the island."

Those plans were stopped after the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“They said the war is over,” Powers said. “I didn’t drink much but I had this case of beer. I was in my bed. I got so darn drunk, I fell off on the ground and I stayed there [until] the next morning. We were happy people. How of us would have survived Kyushu Island?"

After the bombs dropped, Powers had enough points to return to the states were he moved back to East Texas.

Years later, he still holds onto the faith the helped him survive the war and to other veterans who he shares a bond with.

"You’d do anything for your buddy and I'm sure it's the same in the army, but I know it was in the Marines,” Powers said. “It is very special to have children come up to me and say, ‘thank you for what you did.’

Powers was recently honored by the Military Veterans Peer Network.

"He is a living history lesson, to have him and honor him is a great honor." Burke Veterans Coordinator Jeff Headrick said.

For more on the Military Veterans Peer Network, click here.

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