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WWII veteran offers living-history experience at Oklahoma museum volunteers

Photographer Joe Rosenthal takes a picture of cheering Marines around the second American flag raised on Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi.

By ROBBY SHORT | The (Ardmore, Okla.) Daily Ardmoreite | Published: December 11, 2018

ARDMORE, Okla., (Tribune News Service) — On Friday, Americans from coast to coast and throughout the world took time out of their day to remember the world-changing attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Most memories today are based on images and recordings — first-hand experiences are becoming less and less common.

Ardmore resident and former Marine Cpl. Glenn Mitchell can remember the day he heard President Franklin Delano Roosevelt say the famous phrase “a date which will live in infamy.”

Mitchell, then 15 and a student at Claypool School, west of Ringling, was one of five boys in his class, “we had enough for a basketball team,” and 11 girls. Out of the five boys, Mitchell said that only two didn’t go off to the war, due to medical issues.

“I was in the school room and they brought this radio in for all of us to hear what the president had to say,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell, along with three of his classmates, two of his brothers and his sister would end up serving their country during World War II.

“It’s very important that we don’t forget our history, where we’ve been,” Mitchell said. “We will never know a war like I was in. Never. Everything is so automated, there won’t be any comparison of what I was in.”

Mitchell fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima, where, during the course of 38 days, American forces bombarded the heavily entrenched Japanese forces, fought from the moment their boots hit the sand and saw the iconic image of Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi.

“One thing they trained me for that really paid off was how to stay alive,” Mitchell said. “If you asked me what I knew about that battle when I was there, I didn’t know nothing. I was low on the totem pole. I just took orders, I did not know what was going on. I do know we killed a lot of people.”

Today, Mitchell can be found volunteering at the Greater Southwestern Historical Museum. He gives tours in the Military Wing, offering up his experience from the war.

“I was there from the first day to the last, from one end of the island to the other,” Mitchell said. “Running and crawling from one foxhole to the next. For myself, I was thinking of the snipers that would get you. The mortar fire, there wasn’t much you could do about it if they drop a mortar on you. But if you kept alert or someone would see something in the way of a sniper, he may have had to kill someone before you found him, but that’s what you really looked for.”

According to official reports, 6,822 Americans were listed as killed in action or missing and another 19,217 were wounded in the battle. Japanese loses were estimated to be between 17,845 and 18,375, with only 216 captured.

“If the ones like myself, who volunteered and did their duty, are not remembered, you will be in our place pretty soon,” Mitchell said.

According to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, total U.S. deaths during World War II are estimated at 450,000, while the worldwide death toll attributed to the war reaches 60 million, with another 25 million injured.

After leaving Iwo Jima, Mitchell’s company began to prepare to invade Japan. Before the mission took place, President Harry Truman ordered the deployment of two atomic bombs. After the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Mitchell and his company’s mission changed.

“It was the most hideous thing I have ever seen. There was nothing left standing. There wasn’t anything left to see. It was vaporized, or the ground itself was crystallized,” Mitchell said. “I was guarding the bomb blast area. Right where that was, there had been a factory there. There were steel girders that were melted into the ground, and there were only a few areas where you could tell what they were. There was nothing as far as you could see. Those people that were down there, they could recognize where that factory was, and know where maybe where their houses were. That’s the only logical reason for them to still be there.”

The atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki is believed to have killed 40,000 people instantly and to have destroyed a third of the city, and some estimates place the death toll from the attack at 75,000.

“Before those bombs dropped, we figured it (the invasion of Japan) would be the end of us,” Mitchell said. “We’d already seen them before on the other island we had already taken and we knew how hard they fought.”

Seventy-three years later, Mitchell can still remember the sites and scenes of the time in the service.

“The main thing that I thought was, ‘God, don’t let something like that happen to our country,’ ” Mitchell said. “Don’t let someone drop one of those on us. It’s not just the blast area that kills people. It’s the afterwards. We got there three, four months after the blast.”

The military wing of the Greater Southwestern Historical Museum focuses on Southern Oklahoma’s contribution to American military efforts. Displays include uniforms and memorabilia from wars predating statehood. Displays include information about Cecil “Bub” Harvey, Mitchell’s friend and fellow servicemember. Both are from southern Oklahoma and both fought in the war before becoming friends later in life.

Another display pays tribute to Seaman First Class Billy Turner, an Ardmore native stationed on the U.S.S Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Turner was listed as missing in action after the attack and his name is on the Tablet of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial in Hawaii.

The walls of the museum are covered in memories of others that have served and details their contributions to this country.

“We really need more people who have served in the military and have a story to tell to help bring history to life,” said David Engle, a Vietnam War veteran and museum volunteer. “We need to make more people aware that we have history being made every day.”

©2018 The Daily Ardmoreite, Okla.
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