There is a dwindling number of U.S. veterans who fought in World War II and a handful who survived the Battle of Iwo Jima will reunite in North Texas starting today.
"I meet these guys and I know what they did because of the conversations with my dad. And it's just a different breed, part of the greatest generation," said Tom Huffines, vice president of the 5th Marine Division Association.
Huffhines is organizing the 71st annual reunion of the 5th Division Marines who took part in the 36-day Battle of Iwo Jima in early 1945. His dad was one of them.
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John Huffhines was not injured and came back to Texas to run a business, marry and have a family. He died in 2016 at the age of 91 at his home in Weatherford.
Yet even with no physical injuries from the bloody battle, scars were there.
"We heard Tokyo Rose come on the radio on the ships going over, saying we'd probably take the island, but our shirts would be red before we got through, red with blood," Huffhines recalled in 2005 in an interview with The Dallas Morning News. "I was awful scared. But most everybody was that had any sense."
"My dad didn't talk about it much until after he started taking part in the reunions. The reunions were tremendous therapy for these Marines. They got together. They relived some of their training and the battle. They cried about the brothers they lost. So after a few years of going through these reunions, my dad started talking about it, war, to the family," Huffhines said.
"I was always proud of him but became even more proud of him. I guess the first thing I thought was, he turned 20 years old on the island. He trained when he was 19. I couldn't imagine myself at that age going through those things."
The 5th Marine Division Association will hold its reunion starting today in Arlington. The first reunion in 1949 had about 80 veterans. Huffhines says only five survivors are expected this year. The youngest of whom is 95.
"We're losing these guys every day. And, so, that's what the reunion is about. It's to commemorate their legacy, the ones we lost, and to communicate and have good times with the ones who are left," Huffhines said.