A Marine who was present for the Battle of Iwo Jima's history-making flag-raising has died days before the battle's 76th anniversary.
Elwood "Woody" Hughes died Feb. 2 at age 95, the Daily Herald newspaper reported. Hughes, of Illinois, landed on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima on Feb. 22, 1945, the day before the flag-raising. He was a private first class at the time, who had joined the Corps in 1943 and had served under legendary Marine Corps Gen. H.M. "Howlin' Mad" Smith, known as the father of U.S. amphibious warfare.
In a 2020 interview with American Veterans Center, Hughes described being part of the 5th Amphibious Corps Signal Battalion attached to the 5th Marine Division. He worked with the famous Navajo Code Talkers, once delivering an urgent message for relay. He described his role on the island as that of a runner or "gofer," downplaying the danger of his work. But he admitted he could hear the close "rat-a-tat-tat of machine-gun fire" from the command center.
"We were very close to mortar fire ... we would get a siren ... they would tell you to take cover," he said.
Hughes, who was an active member of his Marine Corps League detachment in Arlington Heights, Illinois, called the Battle of Iwo Jima the "most historic event in the history of the United States," but said he spoke about it in tribute to those who gave their all in the battle.
Hughes, one of his state's last survivors of the battle, made a decision in 2019 to speak publicly about his story, adding his name to a flag touring the country with the names of the other Iwo Jima survivors on it.
"They kind of treat people like me as a celebrity and a hero, and I feel I'm not. I shouldn't be, because the heroes never walked off of Iwo Jima," he said in the 2020 interview. "I feel I'm doing it more for the honor of those who sacrificed their lives on Iwo Jima."
The Battle of Iwo Jima stretched from Feb. 19 to March 26, 1945, and involved some 70,000 U.S. Marines. It was a consequential, but costly, U.S. victory; with nearly 7,000 Marine casualties, it was the bloodiest battle of the Corps' history.
The Marines' raising of the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi became a symbol of the Corps' indomitable spirit.
Then-Navy Secretary James Forrestal reportedly said, "The flag-raising on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years."
Hughes was also known in his community as a longtime high school basketball coach and physical education teacher, according to news reports and his obituary.
"Due to his vivacious character and his unique outgoing style, Woody was instantly likable to all who met him. He was often remembered for his smile, a story, and a gleam in his eye," his obituary reads. " ... Woody will be greatly missed by all those who know him."
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.