Iwo Jima vet: “I saw bravery like I’ve never seen”

By on April 25, 2018
Corporal Mahlon Fink wore the uniform of the Marine Corps League, from which he recently retired from serving as chaplain. Aubree Fahringer
Corporal Mahlon Fink wore the uniform of the Marine Corps League, from which he recently retired from serving as chaplain. Aubree Fahringer

Corporal Mahlon Fink wore the uniform of the Marine Corps League, from which he recently retired from serving as chaplain. Aubree Fahringer

Tom Brokaw describes World War II vets as members of “the greatest generation”, in his book, The Greatest Generation. “They stayed true to their values of personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith,” he wrote, as a tribute to the men and women who endured the Great Depression and defended the United States during the Second World War.

Corporal Mahlon Fink is a member of this great generation and on April 16, the 92-year-old visited Peace United Church of Christ in Denver to share his experiences with an eager group of attendees. The event, coordinated by the Adamstown Area Library, began at 7 p.m. and allowed time for Fink, dressed in his Marine Corps League uniform, to share his story and answer questions at the end.

Fink was born on Dec. 1, 1925 and in 1944, he was drafted into the U.S. Marine Corps. He was assigned to the Echo Company 2nd Battalion 26th Regiment, 5th Marine Corps Infantry Division, as a rifleman.

On Feb. 19, 1945, Fink landed on Red Beach 1 on Iwo Jima, a Japanese island located in the Pacific Ocean.

“I remember digging a foxhole that night for shelter,” he recalled. “We were right on the beach. We were within fire, just a few hundred yards from Mount Suribachi.”

Fink spent 12 days on the island and he cheated death several times. He recounted how they could hear the gunfire and explosions surrounding them from their bunker at night.

On the fourth day, he witnessed the famous moment when the American flag was raised atop Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23.

“Ships fired their guns and blew their whistles,” Fink said. “Tough Marines had tears in their eyes as they saw Old Glory flying on that mountain.”

Fink remembers the incomparable courage he witnessed amongst his comrades during his 12 days on Iwo Jima. He recalled how a Japanese sniper shot five men from his squad, and how the rest prayed for deliverance.

“I saw a Navy corpsman run out and begin administering first aid right in the line of fire,” Fink said. “I never saw him again.” He told his listeners that there were countless instances of unparalleled virtue during the battle.

“‘Uncommon valor was a common virtue,’” Fink said, quoting Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz’s tribute to the men who fought on Iwo Jima. “I saw bravery on Iwo Jima like I’ve never seen.”

On his 12th day of combat, Fink was wounded by shrapnel from enemy mortar fire in his leg, from which he still bears “pieces” of to this day.

“I told a lieutenant that I was hit,” Fink said, with a laugh. “And he said, ‘So is everyone else.’”

Fink was taken to a large tent serving as the central hospital, and from there he was transported back to Saipan for treatment.

After he recovered, he rejoined the 5th Division in Hawaii to train for a Japanese invasion, but he was saved from having to invade Japan when President Harry Truman gave the order to drop the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Japan surrendered two months later.

In 1946, Fink was honorably discharged and later received the Purple Heart. He married his wife, June, with whom he shared 70 years of marriage. They had two children, Jeffrey and Kathleen. Fink shared the secret to a long and lasting marriage with his audience: “When you go to the altar to say “I do,” you say “I do” for two.”

Fink stays busy speaking at schools and community groups about his experiences in Iwo Jima.

“World War II vets are fading fast,” Fink told the young people in attendance. “We now turn the country over to you. Guard it well.”

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