Iwo Jima veteran shares lessons learned in war
Friday, December 4th, 2009
“Living history” came to campus on Nov. 12, when Frank Walker, a veteran of the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II, traveled from his home in southern Indiana to meet with Lawrence Tech faculty and students. Walker addressed an audience of 75 at lunchtime.
In the afternoon he met with students in the honors sections of university seminar who are reading Herman Wouk’s two-volume novel of the Second World War. His last appointment was with students in the senior humanities seminar on World Wars I and II (SSC4743).
Walker witnessed history, and he made it, too. Most people are familiar with the iconic photo from Iwo Jima of the flag-raising atop Mount Suribachi. Once the flag was up, the photographer, Joe Rosenthal, snapped another shot of 20 or so Marines gathered around its base, waving their weapons and cheering. Walker appears prominently in that picture. At that instant, he had been in continuous combat for three days. He would be in continuous combat for thirty-three more.
When Japanese resistance ended after 36 days of fighting, Walker was one of only 91 survivors from an original marine battalion of 1,680.
Many – perhaps most – combat veterans find it impossible to talk in detail about their experiences. Walker had a sort of epiphany several years back. At a veterans’ reunion, he realized that he was going to take his experiences to his grave if he did not share them.
Consequently he talks today in graphic detail about crawling over the dead bodies of his friends, about wearing human gore on clothes that couldn’t be washed or changed for 36 days, about the horror of incinerating another human being with a flame-thrower. It’s not easy for him to talk about it, and it’s not easy to listen.
He’s a passionate opponent of war, but equally passionate in his patriotism. He yearns to know that the suffering he endured as a young man is appreciated by later generations. All too often, he finds it is not.
His encounter with Lawrence Tech students was a gratifying exception. Again and again, he commented on their concentration and their focus as they listened. He was struck by the respect they showed him. He was particularly moved by the young veterans who approached to introduce themselves. He has arranged to stay in touch with some. At the conclusion of his visit, he said that it had been a highlight of his life. Nothing sensational happened to make it so. It was instead the cumulative effect of one encounter after another with our earnest, hard-working and genuinely respectful students.
We treat leadership and character-development as institutional “initiatives.” Frank Walker puts great emphasis on education, but firmly believes that character is forged early in life, in the home. His recently published memoirs, “Preparing for the Rain on Iwo Jima,” is a case study in both character and leadership. The book can be ordered at www.authorhouse.com, and a copy is now available in the Lawrence Tech library. It’s compelling reading.
– Philip Vogt