Originally created 04/11/98

Wartime buddies reunite 50 years after Iwo Jima



MARIETTA, Ga. -- For more than 50 years, A.J. Richards believed his World War II Marine buddy, William C. Newton, had been killed during the battle of Iwo Jima.

Mr. Newton also believed Mr. Richards was dead.

Then Mr. Richards received an Iwo Jima survivors list and learned his wartime friend was alive and living in Marietta.

"I just couldn't believe it," said Mr. Richards, 75, a retired police detective from Endicott, N.Y. "After tracking down his address, I wrote him a letter, and then soon after he gave me a call. It was amazing to hear his voice."

Mr. Newton, also 75, said the call evoked strong emotions.

"When I heard him pick up the phone and say hello, I had a hard time speaking," the retired steel furnace operator said. "It kind of took my breath away."

The two got together last year in North Carolina and recently spent a week together at Mr. Newton's home.

"The two of us -- it's that way with all Marines, really -- shared an incredible bond," Mr. Richards said. "To go through that war together and know that you relied on each other to survive -- we're closer than brothers."

The two became friends in September 1944 on the island of Maui while preparing for the Iwo Jima invasion with their machine-gun platoon, a part of the 4th Marine Division.

After their division arrived on Iwo Jima five months later, each was injured and evacuated.

A mortar blast in their foxhole knocked Mr. Richards out and gave him a concussion. He was rushed to a hospital ship.

"I was blind for three days," he said. "Then one day the doctor came in and held up three fingers. He asked me how many he was holding up. When I answered correctly, they sent me back to Iwo Jima."

Mr. Newton crawled out of the foxhole after the blast and was shot in the knee. While he was being evacuated, another mortar round exploded.

"From that point on, I don't remember what happened," he said. "A few weeks later, I woke up in a hotel in Guam."

Eventually, Navy surgeons in Charleston, S.C., removed the bullet from his knee.

"I just assumed A.J. had died, due to the intensity of the battle and the fact that it appeared most of the men in our eight-man squad had died," Mr. Newton said.

Mr. Richards, meanwhile, returned to Maui. While sending home the personal belongings of Marines, he came across his friend's duffel bag, and a captain told him Mr. Newton had died.

They both joined veterans groups. Two years ago, the 4th Marine Division Association accidentally sent Mr. Richards a list of members of a group called Survivors of Iwo Jima. Mr. Newton's name was on the list.

"What a lucky mistake," Mr. Richards said. "We weren't looking for each other, but we found each other."