Now 84, Gates said the Japanese were deeply entrenched in the island with underground bunkers and artillery hidden in caves.
Gates worked as a medic for the 4th Marine Division during World War II, and he and his comrades had no idea how entrenched the Japanese were on Iwo Jima until the battle started.
"If we did, we probably wouldn't have gone," joked Gates, who lives on Pennsylvania Avenue in York City.
The battle became one of the fiercest fights of the Pacific Campaign in World War II, and Gates said his work as a medic kept him busy day and night during his unit's 30 days at Iwo Jima. He said the casualties in his unit were so heavy that he doesn't think the Marines were ever told how many were wounded or lost.
Sixty-two years later, Gates is one of 20 veterans in York County who are about to receive a commemorative Iwo Jima Combat Medal at the Memorial Day Service at Veterans Memorial Park in York City on Monday.
Several vets honored: The Memorial Day ceremony is being hosted by the York County Department of Veterans Affairs and the Joint Veterans Council of York County and will also honor eight local veterans of the Normandy Invasion, who will be presented the "Jubilee of Liberty" medal. Another 40 expeditionary medals will be presented to Merchant Marine veterans by U.S. Rep. Todd Platts, R-York County, and other dignitaries.
Among the other survivors of the battle at Iwo Jima who will be honored next Monday is Phil Gingerich, 81, of Phelham Drive, Springettsbury Township.
Gingerich was only 17 years old when he joined the Navy in 1942 and became an aviation boatswain's mate on the USS San Jacinto -- the same aircraft carrier that former President George H.W. Bush served on as a pilot.
In the days before the U.S. invasion of Iwo Jima, Gingerich said, the San Jacinto ran bombing missions over the Japanese-held island. The bombings continued after the invasion began, he said.
Soon to be 82 years old, Gingerich said it's been a long time since the battle, and fewer and fewer of his fellow veterans are still around. Gingerich joked that even he's been assigned a cane or "third leg" to help him walk.
"Right now, I'm starting to slow down," he said.
Clair Frey, 86, of the 4700 block of Bull Road in Dover Township, said he's also noticed fewer and fewer veteran crew members showing up for the reunions of his old Navy ship, the USS Cowpens.
Frey is also receiving a commemorative Iwo Jima Combat Medal for his service on the USS Cowpens. In order to protect the Marines who were invading Iwo Jima, the USS Cowpens, a small aircraft carrier, was attached to a task force that led attacks against the Japanese air force as the battle began.
But Frey said some of his most memorable moments on the USS Cowpens came in late 1944 when the aircraft carrier was caught in a giant typhoon near the Philippines. Frey said that because of the strong winds and waves, the Cowpens almost tipped over, and a number of men from other U.S. ships in the area drowned.
"You couldn't rescue anyone," Frey said. "It wasn't very nice, I can tell you."
About the service
The York County Department of Veteran Affairs is inviting all veterans and their families, as well as the public, to attend the Memorial Day Service at Veterans Memorial Park in York City next to York Catholic High School.
The service begins at 11:30 a.m. Monday. The keynote speaker will be retired U.S. Marine Col. Joseph Innerst. Veterans from the World War II Normandy invasion and the Battle of Iwo Jima will be among the medal recipients.
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