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December 21, 2014

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Genealogy:

World War II vet last of his generation

Stefani Evans

Stefani Evans

Another World War II veteran died Oct. 22.

Ernie was my uncle, my father's younger brother. He was the youngest, tallest, and funniest of six siblings born between 1909 and 1924, and he was the only one to get a tattoo — the USMC eagle, globe and anchor on his left forearm. Ernie was the last surviving Broudy sibling; if he had lived three days longer he would have celebrated his 84th birthday.

Ernie was born in Highland Park, Mich., in 1924 and graduated in 1942 from Detroit's Central High School. In June 1943 he enlisted in the Marines and entered boot camp in San Diego. In August 1944, he and his platoon were sent to Hawaii, where they remained until late December. Ernie and his unit didn't learn until they arrived at Hawaii's Camp Tarawa that they were there to prepare to invade Iwo Jima. Six months later Ernie and his fellow Marines of the Fifth Pioneer Battalion, Company B, First Platoon were part of the well-known Fifth Marine Division, which invaded and captured Iwo Jima from Feb. 19, 1945, to March 26, 1945. Ernie became one of 23,203 Marine casualties in 36 days of battle on Iwo; of those, 5,875 Marines were killed and 46 were missing in action in "the bloodiest battle in the history of the United States Marine Corps" (Robert E. Allen, Robert E. Allen, Jr., and Zell Miller, First Battalion of the 28th Marines on Iwo Jima, 2004, p. 226).

Because the Japanese army was well entrenched at Iwo Jima, the American Army Air Force shelled and bombed the island daily for several weeks before the Marines invaded. However, many of the shells sunk, live and undetonated, into the soft, deep volcanic ash that covered the island's steep beaches. When the Marines landed, they had to avoid the undetonated shells as they tried to advance on the island. Ernie and his fellow Fifth Division Marines could gain only a few feet per hour up the soft, deep, shifting ash because of the steep grade, live shells, flying shrapnel and enemy fire.

On his second day at Iwo, Feb. 20, Ernie was crawling up and sinking down the soft, ashy grade while avoiding buried shells, enemy fire and flying shrapnel. When the shrapnel came too close, Ernie followed his training and buried his head deep into the ash. But then, "the part of me that stuck out the most got hit." A fist-sized chunk of red-hot shrapnel gouged deep into his rear. He was evacuated to a hospital ship in the bay, where the shrapnel was removed; he recuperated five days before he rejoined his platoon on the island.

Hospital ship corpsmen gave Ernie crutches to enable him to walk; when he hobbled out on deck Feb. 23, a few days after he was injured, he saw the U.S. flag flying atop Iwo Jima's Mt. Suribachi. The injured 20-year-old cried as he stood free of his crutches and saluted his flag unfurling over Iwo Jima in 1945; the Purple Heart veteran wept again in 2001 when he spoke of saluting Old Glory from his hospital ship deck. On March 30, more than one month after Ernie was injured and four days after the battle for Iwo Jima ended, Ernie's parents were informed that he had been wounded.

Like many of his generation, Ernie wasn't much of a talker, but he was willing to share his Iwo Jima experience after he read James Bradley's "Flags of Our Fathers" (2000).

Ernie's two older brothers also served in World War II's Pacific theater: Clare served with the Army artillery in the Philippines, and Charles (my daddy, "Chuck") flew fighters from Omura and Nagasaki with Marine fighter squadron 323 and Marine fighter squadron (night) 543.

Ernie and Chuck reunited in Sasebo after the Aug. 15, 1945, armistice. Ernie was stationed at Sasebo, and Chuck flew over from Nagasaki. The last time the brothers had seen each other was about one year before, probably in August 1944, shortly before Ernie shipped out to Hawaii; they splurged and took their dates to Slapsie Maxie's Comedy Dance Club in Los Angeles.

Ernie, his brothers, and his sisters are now gone; two sisters-in-law remain. I, my siblings, and my cousins are gradually being promoted to our family's oldest generation. I'm not ready. I don't know enough.

Semper Fi, Uncle Ernie.

Stefani Evans is a board-certified genealogist and a volunteer at the Regional Family History Center. She can be reached c/o the Home News, 2360 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074, or [email protected].

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