The Day – ‘More than just the story’: Air Corpsman who survived Iwo Jima thanks Marines who sacrificed their lives

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New Britain – Among those who gathered Wednesday morning at the National Iwo Jima Memorial Park to commemorate the raising of the American flag on the Japanese island was Harry Danos, the 97-year-old Niantic man considered the oldest survivor of the Battle of the State and its aftermath.

Immortalized first on photographic film and then in bronze, the flag hoisted by six men atop Mount Suribachi became a symbol of perseverance amid one of the bloodiest battles in US Marine Corps history. . The image was taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal on February 23, 1945.

Nearly 7,000 U.S. Marines died and 20,000 were injured in the five-week Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II, the Associated Press reported. Of 18,000 Japanese soldiers, almost all were killed. The island was declared secure on March 16, 1945, but skirmishes continued.

About 100 of the dead were from Connecticut, according to the Iwo Jima Memorial Historical Foundation.

Danos said he arrived on the island in April as a 19-year-old Air Force serviceman to find so many spent shells he couldn’t see the ground. He recalled Seabees with the U.S. Navy Construction Battalion moving dirt and body parts at the same time as they bulldozed trenches to help build airfields, which would serve as a landing site for emergency for huge B-29 bombers.

“I have gone through all the graves of fallen Marines,” he said.

This is why he became involved in the creation of the National Iwo Jima Memorial Park in New Britain. An architect by trade, he provided the first design for what would become the memorial statue which features boulders from Mount Suribachi and black sand from the beach incorporated into the stone base.

“These guys were worth more than a story,” Danos said.

The park was built by the Iwo Jima Survivors Association under the direction of the late Dr. George Gentile and is now maintained by the Iwo Jima Memorial Historical Foundation. Like the famous Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, it is based on the iconic photograph.

During a ceremony commemorating the 77th anniversary of the battle, US Marine Corps veterans of the Marine Corps League Northwestern Detachment presented Danos with a USMC KA-BAR combat knife engraved like those affixed to the belts of Marines looming on the horizon. bronze on the ceremony.

It’s unclear exactly how many survivors remain, according to the memorial park foundation. But there were three of them at the ceremony, Danos being the eldest.

Greg Timms and Nick Gandolfo thanked Danos for his service by presenting him with the knife and calling him a hero.

“I don’t have to be your hero,” Danos replied. “You are my heroes. I have seen the Marines in action and there is no equal.”

According to The Day records, Danos was a young first lieutenant when he was posted to Iwo Jima in 1945, tasked with tracking thousands of American B-29s leaving the Marianas to bomb Japan. If any of them were shot or forced down, they were supposed to send a rescue team.

Danos, who grew up in Springfield, Mass., enlisted in the military and was chosen to attend a commissioning program. He had arrived on the island in April 1945, at a time when Japanese soldiers were still holed up in caves and sometimes rushed in to kill an American.

After the ceremony, Danos described arriving to find the dark and eerie island of sand and ash guarded by barbed wire and US Marines. There were B-29 bombers overhead; below were land crabs that ran around the sides and sometimes disappeared into the pants of the soldiers’ uniforms.

He said the Marines were the defense against an enemy determined not to give up his land.

“I know what they did,” he said. “For these people to lay down their lives and go through the shit they’ve done is a tribute to the American spirit.”

Danos said he was writing a book called “After the Flag” about his arrival on Iwo Jima and what he found there.

East Lyme veterans’ representative Brian R. Burridge, who picked up Danos from Niantic and drove him to the event, described the Iwo Jima veteran as “living history.”

“He’s ready to share and let the next generation know what he did, why he did it, and what life lessons they can learn from someone who’s been there.” said Burridge.

Danos at 97 is survived by his wife, Kitty, and their son, Michael. His legacy as an architect includes many buildings at Niantic and across the state, including East Lyme Town Hall and his own home. He is a watercolor artist who has taught at the Mystic Art Center, Naples Art League in Florida, Guilford Handcraft Center and Veterans of Foreign Wars Kari Hill Post 5849.

“It’s a privilege to be alive, and I owe my life to the Marines and what they did,” he said.

e.regan@theday.com

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