Iwo Jima veterans recall harrowing battle

November 14, 2017 11:32 AM

Veterans Day allows us to pay our respects to members of the military who have served and who continue serve our country. For those who have known the horrors of combat, they acknowledge that sacrifice every day.

NewsChannel 13's Jim Kambrich had lunch this week with a small group of veterans who meet regularly to talk about their experiences. We talked about what Veterans Day means to them.

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"It's just another day really, but now when I get together with these guys, the heart pumps a little faster," admitted Tom Smith.

Once a month at the Homefront Café in Altamont, you'll find five guys wearing red hats and jackets, having lunch. Look closely at the insignias and you'll see these are Marines who served at Iwo Jima.

It was one of the major battles in the Pacific Theater in World War II. The Marines captured the island from the Imperial Japanese Army. The fighting was fierce. There were heavy losses on both sides.

"I lasted 29 days. Don't ask me how," noted Carlo Valenti. "I'm still suffering."

There is comfort in comradery. These Marines, like so many others, pushed their nightmares to the back burner and soldiered on -- not really thinking about it until they started getting together for lunch several years ago. They appreciate each other's company, but they also notice who is not at the table -- absent friends.

You know what it means? All the guys that didn't come home, they should be remembered," pointed out Sal Famularo.

They are remembered in a just released memoir Tom Smith wrote about his experiences, titled "Marine #419322". He didn't think about writing it until 1999. He wanted to share his memories now. They're memories that he couldn't share with his father after he came home from the war.

"When I get through here, it's over with. So that's been my attitude. The Lord has been good doing that to me. So I don't keep it and I don't think about it," admitted Tom Smith, who wrote about his experiences.

However, Famularo does think about it and how veterans struggle today with finances and health care.

"Every veteran from World War II should have free health insurance. I think we earned it," he asserted.

Dick Varone sees hope in programs like Albany's Veterans Miracle Center, which helps veterans with everything from food to kitchenware to toilet paper.

"When we went into service and got out, it was nothing. Now all of a sudden, they're paying all kinds of attention to the veterans. They're doing everything for them now and it amazes me," pointed out Varone.

The "Greatest Generation" also thinks it's important for the next generation to consider military service.

Veteran Tom Lemme, who was also at the lunch table, agreed with his comrades in saying they believe it's a positive influence for young people and keeps the ranks strong for our country.


WNYT Staff

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