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thedrifter
02-25-07, 06:12 AM
WWII veterans receive honors
Sunday, February 25, 2007
By BEA O'QUINN DEWBERRY
bdewberry@repub.com

WEST SPRINGFIELD - Four men who served during the battle for Iwo Jima were recognized on Friday for leading the fight for freedom more than six decades ago.

"Some of you might have seen the movie 'Flags of Our Fathers,' but we have the true living Marines here and the chaplain who buried over 1,600 people in Iwo Jima," James G. Berrelli Jr., a Vietnam War veteran and director of Veterans' Services, said. "If not for these men and men like them, we might be speaking German on this coast and Japanese on the other coast."

Recognized were Marine Corps veterans Donald F. Withee, James Boudreau and Henry E. Sullivan, all of West Springfield, and the Rev. E. Gage Hotaling, of Agawam, who was a chaplain on Mount Suribachi.

The ceremony at City Hall was sponsored by the city's Department of Veterans' Services and Veterans' Council.

The invasion of the 8-square-mile area of Japanese beach began on Feb. 19, 1945, and continued for 36 days. The battle cost 6,821 American lives. More than 18,000 Japanese were also killed. The invasion was considered the bloodiest battle in the Pacific during World War II.

The men honored recalled the iconic flag-raising by six young men as a symbol of America's victory. The image was captured by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal on Feb. 23, 1945.

"I remember that day because the men were all around cheering and one of the men had field glasses so we could all see. It was a great thrill," Hotaling, a 4th Division member, said.

Hotaling landed on the black sandy beach on Feb. 21, 1945, after having been assigned to the Graves Registration Section to oversee the burial of more than 1,600 Marines. Hotaling's responsibility was to say the committal prayers for each soldier.

Withee, who came ashore on Iwo Jima as part of the 5th Division, was with the 27th Marine Regiment. "The first in and the first out. That was me," Withee said, recalling he saw the flag raised from 200 yards off shore.

Sullivan, also of the 4th Division, said, "The real heroes never came back home."

"Seeing the cemetery when I was leaving the island was the thing that stuck with me the longest. To see how many (men were) left on that island was unbelievable," Sullivan said.

Other speakers were U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Daniel N. Sprenkle, who served in Iraq and remains on active duty as site commander at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee; two veterans: John W. Ramsey, who served in Korea; and Thomas Pirnie, who served in Vietnam; and Justin Gulgut, 18, a Young Marine who plans to enlist in June.

Ellie