North Central Florida Honors Area Veterans
As we observe Veterans Day this Wednesday, we are reminded of the millions of people who have served this country. Whether it's the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps or Navy, military men and women put their lives on the line everyday to protect our freedoms.
TV20 reporter Robert Bradfield sat down with three different men who fought in three very different wars. Tonight, in the first of a three part series, he talks with a World War II veteran who takes us back more than 60 years as he reflects on his days on the Island of Iwo Jima.
"Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy."
Those famous words spoken almost 68 years ago by then president FDR seemed to bring a nation together after one of the most darkest days in our nation's history. Fast forward two years -- 1943. A young teenager enlisted in the Marine Corps after working as a welder in a defense plant in Savannah, Georgia.
That teenager is now 84 year-old Bob Gasche.
"We were at war and I had no qualms about going in and serving. I felt quite, if you will, patriotic and wanted to do my part," says Gasche.
Gasche and his 5th Marine Divison landed on the island of Iwo Jima in 1944 and he says nothing prepared him for the reality of war.
"We knew it was going to be hard to take that island. Yes, it was hard to look down and see dead men around you, body parts but it's amazing how flexible a teenager can be and while you don't get immune to it, you do get used to it because you have to."
Gasche says the battles were intense; the Japanese were hiding in mountains. In total more than 6,000 Americans died on Iwo Jima. During World War II more than 400,000 Americans lost their lives, including almost all of Gasche's division.
"I say 100% because we had a lot of reserves and replacements come in and they too became casualties. The old saying was that we were on Iwo Jima, they were in Iwo Jima.
The United States would take over the island after more than a month of fighting. Gasche, a witness to the flag raising at Iwo Jima was a symbol and monument that arguably changed the course of the war. Despite all the losses, Gasche says it was worth it. Afterall, he says he had a duty to carry out and if his fallen marines couldn't finish the fight, he would.
"You're a marine. You kill or you're going to be killed. There's a certain amount of indifference to casualties although I realize it's horrific. You can not dwell on that, you have objectives to obtain in combat and you carry out those objectives."
Gasche fought on Iwo Jima until he was wounded, shot in the belt buckle, shrapnel lodged in his stomach. He was taken to and treated in Pensacola, Florida.
"They checked me over. They said 'nope, we're not going to operate, you've been operated on already, leave it in'. They said 'don't worry, you'll be alright. It will travel around but you'll be okay.'"
Bob was okay. In fact, he says some pieces are still in him. He received a Purple Heart for his service in the Marine Corps. He says he still would suit up and serve, if the military let him. The country, he adds, helped heal his physical and emotional wounds.
"We were in a period of patriotic nationalism that probably never again will prevail in this country."
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