(Host) Nearly 400 people, many of them World War II veterans, gathered at Castleton State College yesterday for the first of two special screenings of the film “Flags of Our Fathers.”
The movie is based on a book co-written by Castleton author Ron Powers. It tells the story of six soldiers who raised an American flag during the battle of Iwo Jima and the famous photograph that captured that moment. As VPR’s Nina Keck reports, there were several veterans who watched the film who saw the flag go up for real.
(Keck) Before the lights dimmed, Castleton College President David Wolk took a few minutes to thank the world war two veterans in the audience. Then he paid special tribute to a smaller group of men who fought in the battle of Iwo Jima.
(Wolk) “Eric Wiltz United States Navy – Brandon. . . .”
(Keck) Eric Wiltz enlisted in the navy on his 18th birthday. He joked that less than a month later he was in boot camp. He fought the battle of Iwo Jima from the deck of a destroyer and he says his memories are still vivid. Yesterday afternoon he relieved them for two hours in a darkened theater.
(Wiltz) “I went to hell at the end – very emotional.”
(Keck) In the movie, “Flags of Our Fathers”, graphic battle scenes highlight the tragic losses suffered at Iwo Jima. Nearly 7,000 Americans died and 26,000 were wounded. But in the midst of all the chaos, soldiers managed to raise an American flag. The Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of that flag brought hope to millions of Americans who saw it in magazines and newspapers. But David Reed of Craftsbury, saw the flag go up in person. He was part of an artillery unit at the base of Mount Suribachi.
(Reed) “When we looked up and saw they got the flag up – that was the biggest morale booster I’d ever seen in my life. See, we was supposed to take the hill in twelve hours and it took us four days. We were getting slapped around pretty good and to put the flag up there. It was an unbelievable morale booster.”
(Keck) Ted Ketcham was a 19-year-old from Sudbury when he joined the marines.
(Ketcham) “It made just about tears come to everybody’s eyes to see the flag there. And that’s why it ticks so many of us off when people spit on it and burn it and things like that.”
(Keck) Ketcham and four other Iwo Jima veterans interviewed felt the movie did a good job recreating the chaos and horror of the battle. The Sudbury resident survived 17 days on the island before being hit by shrapnel.
(Ketcham) “I was a platoon sergeant and had probably forty men under me. I got replacements two or three times because so many of them were killed and wounded. I lost a lot of close friends, very close.”
(Keck) For years, Ketcham says he never spoke of the war. It’s only been more recently that he’s been able to talk about it with his family. Rutland resident, Ed Coles, fought in Europe during World War II. He says he never wanted to talk about it either. But that’s changed as he’s gotten older.
(Coles) “I just finished writing my memoirs and I sent a copy to my each one of my grandsons. I never talked about my experiences in World War II, but I thought it was about time I did.”
(Keck) One veteran half joked that he couldn’t remember what he ate for dinner two nights ago, but he remembered every minute of Iwo Jima. Movies like “Flags of Our Fathers” can be difficult to watch he says and the memories may be hard to relive. But he says it’s important not to forget.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck.