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World War II veterans honored at flag raising ceremony

By FRANK WILKES LESNEFSKY | The Times-Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: August 6, 2017

More than 72 years ago, a group of Marines valiantly raised an American flag over Iwo Jima, and on Saturday, a flag that once flew on the same mountaintop flew in Scranton, Pa.

The flag, which was donated to the Northeast Detachment Marine Corps League and Museum by Bob Bolus, flew on Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima to commemorate the historic moment's 70th anniversary before Bolus purchased it at auction. The event honored area veterans and Sgt. William H. Genaust, a combat photographer who filmed the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima and was killed less than two weeks later. A local organization, Teresa's Angels, worked with the detachment and Bolus to organize the event.

Watching the flag-raising was an especially emotional experience for Tony Julian, Ed O'Donnell, Ben Cicilioni and Dick Donald. All four men fought at Iwo Jima during World War II, and O'Donnell, Cicilioni and Donald all saw the original flag flying over Iwo Jima.

Julian, 95, was a Fleet Marine Force corpsman who was with the first wave of Marines to enter Iwo Jima.

"It brings back a lot of sad memories," he said. "It was a slaughter."

He was wounded on his second day while he was going to aid a fallen Marine, was taken off the island on a medical ship and did not see the flag.

O'Donnell, 93, a Marine veteran, said he was humbled by the event, and he emphasized the importance of corpsmen like Julian. When a Marine shouted "Corpsman," it meant someone had been hit or injured -- it was a call to action, O'Donnell said.

"The corpsman was the most reverent name a Marine could call out," he said.

He had another reason to be humbled: His brother also fought on Iwo Jima, but he never made it back, he said.

When he saw the flag, it was "still Old Glory -- nothing in the world like it," he said.

"It meant we won," O'Donnell added.

Donald, 92, who served in the Navy, was 19 years old when he fought in battles throughout the Pacific theater, and tears streamed down his face when he witnessed the flag on the mountaintop, he said.

"We were willing to die for that flag, and we were, and we did," Donald said.

He explained that many of those fighting were merely boys.

"We weren't men, we were kids," Donald said. "When we came back, we were men -- damaged men."

Cicilioni, 95, also a Marine, described the event as "amazing."

"It was an honor to be here," he said.

Bolus said he waited to hold the ceremony until every branch of the armed forces could be represented: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard.

The detachment's commandant, Joel Sofranko, did not expect four veterans who had fought on Iwo Jima to arrive for the ceremony. It was "awesome" being in their presence as a Marine, he said.

"I can't even imagine what they endured," he said. "It was truly an honor."

Mike McLane, the detachment's adjutant, said the four men's presence was the highlight of the ceremony for him.

"We appreciate all that Mr. Bolus did for us, but the day was about remembering the heroes who never left Iwo Jima," he said.

flesnefsky@timesshamrock.com

(c) 2017 The Times-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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