A Weekend with the Marines: The Fifth Marine Division Reunion Recap

Just a few months late... but here is a recap from last October when San Antonio was honored to play host to the Fifth Marine Division's annual reunion. In 2015, Jubilee and I had attended the reunion held in Virginia Beach, and it was just one of our favorite experiences ever. So when they announced that 2016's reunion location was to be San Antonio, we couldn't have been more pleased. 


Through different Iwo Jima reunions, we happily knew almost everyone in attendance, and those we didn't know we quickly became good friends with. That is the reality of going to these events: whatever expectations you arrive with, you leave with a brand new extended family. So when October finally came around, we were quite ecstatic. Marines of the 5th Marine Division came from all around the country - including Hawaii - and descended upon San Antonio, and for a whole weekend, it was just one grand party.

The first evening was what we would call "catch up time" as we reconnected with old friends. Faith had been invited to sing, so for quite a while she serenaded the folks with a variety of songs from Glenn Miller's Sentimental Journey to Andy Williams' Moon River and the Righteous Brothers' Unchained Melody. Every so often, a harmonica or two would chime in, adding wonderfully to the atmosphere of the singing. (Note about the harmonicas. There was a great surplus of these fabulous instruments all week. It seemed as if there was always at least one going, and almost as often a duet. Of course the theme song for the week was the Marine Corps Hymn, but it was closely followed by Swanee River and Oh Susanna!)

At the other side of the room, a couple of Marines and one Navy man were have a rousing debate that boiled down to two things: Who caused the most trouble to their superiors, and who had the best looking photo from their time in the service? Boy, it was hilarious. The discussion concluded with some more harmonica music. Naturally. 

Day 2 of the reunion was spent at one of my favorite museums in America: the National Museum of the Pacific, in Fredericksburg. If you ever get to Texas, no matter where you are, it is worth the drive to visit. A couple of years ago, they renovated the entire museum, and now it is so packed full of information, artifacts, history, military equipment, and everything WWII in the Pacific Theatre related that it will literally take you all day to go through (and that is if you start at opening hours and go to closing). But that is only one part. They have a fabulous Pacific Combat zone where they do remarkable demonstrations and have lots more military equipment, PT boats, and Living History demonstrations, so that will take you another day. Last year, I managed to talk the family into going to the museum about 5 times in 6 months. So we kinda like it (now I'll get off the soapbox and get back to the reunion).

It is pretty much the best experience in the world to walk through a museum on WWII with the veterans who were there.

A special memorial program had been planned for the Iwo Jima veterans in the courtyard of the Museum. When the bus of veterans arrived, they were greeted by an Honor Guard and various dignitaries from the Pacific War Museum. Despite a light rain, the ceremony was beautiful as they remembered the brave Marines who fought for the 5th Division. Instead of a great long description of everything, I'll let the next few pictures tell a little of the story. 

There are few things more stirring to the heart than to watch an old soldier stand at attention for the flag he fought hard to defend. Make that the last remaining veterans of a division who made a name for their entire Corps when the American flag was proudly raised on Iwo Jima, and it nearly brings on the waterworks. God bless these dear men.

Faith was asked to sing the National Anthem, and the all around favorite: I'll Be Seeing You. If the waterworks weren't on yet, the last song certainly brought them on for several of the vets. 

Two of our very hearty and happy Marines. Mr. Hammond (left) and Mr. Bell (right) are two of the driving forces in the Iwo Jima reunions. They also have million dollar smiles. 

I'm here with my good friend in front of a plaque for the ship the USS DeHaven. This ship was named after one of his relatives (and Arctic explorer) Edwin Jesse De Haven. Unfortunately the ship was sunk off of Guadalcanal only 133 days after it was commissioned. The second USS DeHaven did a little better for herself serving all the way through Vietnam. 

One of the most remarkable characters from the reunion, this guy personifies the Marine Corps: Tough, indefatigable, a bit curmudgeonly, but with a heart of gold.

Now I have to introduce you to one of my favorite ladies from the reunion. Her name is Jimmie. At 83 she is one of the most adventurous women I know. For years and years she has traveled all over the globe, and just a few months ago she was in India visiting friends. Whenever I see her, we have the most delightful chats, made even more so by her charming Louisiana accent. 

In the beginning of 1945, Ms. Jimmie was a 12 year old girl who was very proud of her big brother, Harrydale "Harry" Hyde, a United States Marine. He had lied about his age in 1943 and joined at the age of 16. Now, all she knew was that he was off fighting in some corner of the Pacific. That corner happened to be Iwo Jima, where the bitterest fighting in Marine Corps history was happening. 

Ms. Jimmie and the handsome Iwo Jima veteran Sam Prestigiacomo

One day in late April, Ms. Jimmie was alone at the house when the doorbell rang. She ran to the door and found a young Western Union boy waiting. He was there to deliver a telegram. At first he wouldn't give it to her on account of her age, but as there was no other adults and he had a pile of telegrams to deliver, he finally handed it over. When her mother arrived home, she refused to open it, knowing all to well what she would find. Harry was dead. On February 28, he had been killed on the infamous Hill 362, fighting gallantly and earning the Silver Star, the third highest decoration awarded by the United States. It was a bitter blow to the young girl. But that is not the end. Six years later, nearly to the day, on the evening of February 27, 1951, Jimmie Hyde (now Watson) gave birth to a darling little girl. Before the girl was born, Jimmie had already decided what the name was to be, regardless of the gender. The little girl was named Harry.

Faith and Mr. Coltrane

One of the highlights of the weekend was the closing banquet. The line running around was, "you sure clean up well." And they certainly did. It's a mighty fine sight to see an old Marine dressed up in the brilliant blues of the Corps. 

One of the "smashingest" looking of the group was our friend Mr. Coltrane (pictured left). We call him our "Marine Corps Teddy Bear" because he really is just one lovable teddy bear with the sweetest North Carolina accent. A few months ago when we called him on his birthday he said, "I'm 94 today, so it must mean I'm finally an old man!" Then he laughed real hard.  

Mr. Coltrane returned to Iwo Jima last year for the first time since WWII. It was a trip which he had put off for many years, but finally decided when the opportunity came that it was time. He had suffered from terrible nightmares from the battle, and he hoped this trip would bring closure. It was a great blessing to talk with him at each step of the return journey, learning about his war experiences. 


Another fabulous sight to see that evening was the Marines of 70 years ago talking to the Marines of today. Comparing notes and stories. It is a tradition that goes back as long as there have been fighters. In the grand old story of Beowulf, you see the battle scarred old men recount the tales of their warrior days to the youths that gathered around. 

And it wasn't just the younger Marines that wanted to hear their stories, but a whole basketball team who also happened to be stopping by the hotel for the weekend. I couldn't help smiling a mile wide to see these big, tough players listening eagerly to the P51 pilot, Jerry Yellin, as he told them his remarkable story of how he went from great bitterness and hatred of all Japanese to love and brotherhood. It is one of my favorite forgiveness stories, and I could hear him retell it over and over again. The long story short, after the war he was very angry at the Japanese. He had lost a great number of friends and didn't think he could ever get over it. Then one day his son came home and announced that he was marrying a Japanese woman. Jerry realized then and there that he had no alternative but to move on with his life and let go of his bitterness. He did and now his life is dedicated to being a goodwill ambassador of forgiveness. This last March he returned to Iwo Jima with his granddaughter who is half American and half Japanese. No doubt it was very touching for all to see. 

Jerry Yellin, P51 pilot, telling stories to a few fellows from the basketball team that was staying at our hotel. 

I could go on and on about the weekend. There are few things like military reunions. It's a gathering of men who all fought together. Maybe not in the exact same platoon or company, but they all fought together on the same small patch of land, experiencing the same things and creating a bond that you can't really find anywhere else. 

With our lovely Reunion Hosts from last year, Leilani and Monroe. They have to be one of the loveliest couples we know. They've been married for over 65 years, but they still go hand-in-hand everywhere.