Clayton Narveson was on Iwo Jima during the World War II battle that left thousands dead. He was there when servicemen raised a U.S. flag high above the fray on the fifth day of fighting in what became an iconic image for the United States Marine Corp.
It was what happened afterward that stands out in his mind.
The Maryville resident said that on Feb. 19, 1945, he was a gunner on an 81 mm mortar when someone with him noticed the flag was being hoisted on Mount Suribachi high above the fighting. “Our flag was up, and I saw the red part of the flag,” Narveson said. “He grabbed me by the shoulders and had tears in his eyes and so did I.”
Narveson said the officers on board the destroyers in the bay must have had their binoculars trained on the top of the mountain. “They blew their whistles for 10 minutes. That was great in the midst of battle to hear those whistles going off,” he said.
Narveson was the keynote speaker during the 2011 Memorial Day ceremony at the Blount County Courthouse. Narveson said he volunteered for the U.S. Marine Corps right after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Narveson said 15 million served during World War II and 300,000 were women. “We often forget the women. When the men were in the service, who was left behind to take the place of the men in the factories?” he said. “They turned out guns, tanks, airplanes, and they don’t get the credit they are due.”
About 7,000 Marines died at Iwo Jima and 27 Congressional Medals of Honor were bestowed on Marines who fought in the battle. “World War II was the only war that involved the entire world. While we were gone, there were a lot of restraints placed on the people, but you never heard anyone complain,” he said.
Narveson said the average age of a World War II veteran is 89, and they are dying at a rate of about 850 a day nationwide. The speaker said that nations throughout history have fought for land or riches, but since the days of Washington and the founding fathers of the country, the United States has consistently fought for and defended freedom.
Narveson said people should remember the sacrifice that members of the military have made throughout the years to ensure people have the freedom to pursue the American dream.
“It hurts us all when I see someone burning our flag. If they don’t like our country, why don’t they leave,” he said. “Today is a day we set aside to thank the men and women for being willing to lay down their lives for us.”
The names of the 260 veterans who have died since Memorial Day 2010 were read during the ceremony.
Veterans Service Officer Nathan Weinbaum, who was chosen by the Veterans Affairs Committee to replace Charles Staley who retired in March, said he was honored to celebrate his first Memorial Day with the veterans in Blount County.
Weinbaum said the program is to honor those who died fighting for freedom. “I’m very excited to be a part of this program, and it is great to see a large crowd,” he said.
About 300 people turned out for the Memorial Day service on the lawn at the Blount County Courthouse. For James R. Tipton, it reminded him of a Memorial Day more than 40 years ago.
Tipton, a U.S. Navy veteran whose destroyer escort U.S.S. Fechteler was sunk by U-Boat 967 in the Mediterranean Sea during World War II, designed the World War II memorial situated on the front lawn of the Blount County Courthouse.
“This means a whole lot,” he said of the service. “When we dedicated this monument in 1965, we had 1,000 people here, and it was the first Memorial Day parade in Blount County,” Tipton said. “This is the largest crowd we’ve had since then.”
District 9-B Blount County Commissioner Monika Murrell was at the event with her family to honor her late father Benny Rosalez Jr., who died recently. Two shadow boxes displaying his awards and commendations from serving in the Army, Navy and Air Force were on the courthouse steps.
“He passed away two weeks ago, and we wanted to honor him,” Murrell said.
Jim Warner of Alcoa was on hand to remember those who died serving in the military. Warner was a C-130 pilot in the Air Force for 20 years and flew in Southeast Asia in 1972 and 1973. He was impressed the turnout at the annual Memorial Day ceremony. “It’s the biggest crowd I’ve seen,” Warner said. “I wouldn’t want to be any place else.”
The Blount Memorial Hospital Auxiliary sponsored the breakfast reception. Blount Memorial Hospital board chair Dr. Bob Redwine noted that the hospital was established in 1947 in memory of those who died in the line of duty and in honor of all who have served and continue to serve the country. The hospital auxiliary has been involved with the program since 1997 when the hospital was celebrating its 50 the anniversary. “I believe Joe Dawson started this,” he said.
District 6-A Blount County Commissioner Holden Lail was thankful to those who served the country in years past and now. “This is an opportunity to pay tribute to those who have served this country so well,” he said.
Commission Chairman Kenneth Melton, a Marine Corps veteran, said he was in the Air Wing and the World War II veterans were always his inspiration, and he said the veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq deserve attention, too. “I do hope this generation takes care of them,” he said.
District 4-A Commissioner Gary Farmer said his father, Henry Farmer, fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II and returned home to Blount County to raise a family. “He returned, but the war never left him,” Farmer said. “He never forgot.”
District 5-B Commissioner Rick Carver said he was honored to see so many veterans, several of whom he cares for as a respiratory therapist at East Tennessee Medical Center. “I was humbled,” he said.
District 7-A Commissioner Jim Folts said he is student of history and respects the sacrifice so many have made to keep the country free. “That’s why I find this inspiring,” he said of the annual Memorial Day service.