'I'm not a hero,' Iwo Jima veteran says 65 years later

Truett Wood spent about 31 days as a Navy hospital corpsman on Iwo Jima in early 1945, but he doesn't consider himself a hero.

"Nobody that got off of that island is a hero," he said. "The heroes are still over there."

Wood, who was attached to the Fifth Amphibious Force of the Marine Corps, a medical battalion, participated in the battles of Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.

"With all that combat, I don't know how I escaped. I guess God was looking out for me," Wood says.

Last month, 65 years after he first set foot on Iwo Jima, the 85-year-old veteran took a journey back to visit the battlefields. Wood's trip included a stay on Guam, where he toured the island, attended a historical symposium on the Battle of Iwo Jima, and paid visits to both Saipan and Iwo Jima.

Tony Riley, a friend of Wood's from North Augusta, accompanied the veteran on his trip. Riley says that only about 20 other American veterans made the trip with Wood.

"While Mr. Wood was there during the whole five-day trip, he signed close to 150 to 200 autographs. He was like a celebrity," Riley said.

During the trip, Wood had the chance to tour the island of Saipan and was able to see Tinian from a distance. He says the islands have changed a great deal. When he first saw them, they were bombed out. Now, he says, they're beautiful.

Wood also spent a full day visiting Iwo Jima. While he was there, he joined other Iwo Jima survivors for an American-Japanese memorial service on the island. Military personnel and civilian officials from the United States and Japan participated.

Wood said he also visited the top of Mount Suribachi, where Marines were captured in an iconic photograph raising the American flag. For Wood, getting to go to the top of the mountain brought back a flood of memories.

"I saw the first flag raised. It turned out the colonel or whoever decided that flag wasn't big enough. I didn't see the second one raised because I was busy at the time. I saw the first one, which was really the one that was most important to me," Wood said.

Wood and Riley are members of the Riverfront Marines Detachment 1132 in North Augusta. Wood says that he was invited to join the group after some members saw him in Sam's Club wearing his Iwo Jima Survivor baseball cap.

Riley says he and the other members of the Riverfront Marines think very highly of Wood and that they all have a tremendous amount of respect for him because of his military service during World War II.

"Every man in the Riverfront Marines has treated me great. They made my life worth living after my wife died about four years ago," Wood said.

Wood says he has watched many movies based on the Battle of Iwo Jima, and while they might come close to re-creating the event, none can really capture what it was like. "They are not a hundred percent real, and they do a good job, but you had to be there to really know what it was like," Wood said.

Wood, a native of Hiawassee, Ga., says he joined up at 18 because he felt it was the patriotic thing to do, and he's proud that he had the chance to serve.

While Wood might not consider himself a hero, Riley does and says getting to attend the reunion and meet all of the World War II veterans was the chance of a lifetime.

"To be in that company of those children of the Depression, of those brave boys, was absolutely amazing," Riley said. "It was inspirational just to be in the presence of those guys. When you're in that company, it doesn't take long to figure out why they are the greatest generation."

The history

The Battle of Iwo Jima, fought Feb. 19-March 26, 1945, was one of the fiercest battles in the Pacific Campaign during World War II.

American casualties amounted to more than 6,800 killed and about 19,000 wounded.

Japanese casualties amounted to between about 17,800 and 18,300 killed. Only 216 Japanese soldiers were captured.

The battle gave rise to one of the most iconic photos of World War II.

On Feb. 23, 1945, five U.S. Marines and a Navy corpsman raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi, above Japanese soil.

Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal's shot of the flag-raising, which won the Pulitzer Prize, helped rally the nation behind the war effort and remains closely tied to the Marine tradition.

Rosenthal captured the second flag raised after the first one was deemed too small.

Songs and movies have added to the image created that day:

- The 1949 John Wayne film Sands of Iwo Jima dramatized the battle.

- The 2006 Clint Eastwood film Flags of Our Fathers told the stories of the soldiers and their return to the U.S.

- The Ballad of Ira Hayes, recorded by Johnny Cash and others, told the story of an American Indian who helped raise the flag, became a war hero and died in anonymity of alcoholism in 1955.

-- From staff and wire reports

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