Nov. 11, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
Michael Kenny’s grandfather never said much to him about serving in World War II, or even about being injured at Iwo Jima.
The Georgia Tech swimmer has a good idea, however, about what Ralph Meier endured some 67 years ago and how important the service of all members of the military have been.
As Veterans Day is observed across the United States, Kenny is one of thousands of people who have had family members serve. Many, of course, are serving presently.
“I’m very aware of what he did. It comes up every once in a while,” said Kenny, a freshman from Johns Creek. “He was a corporal in the Marines, and he fought from foxholes. His group was one of the first to hit the beaches.”
Kenny, 19, was young when his mother’s father passed away in 2002 at age 82. His first-hand memories have more to do with Grandpa having worked on the railroad, near his Toledo, Ohio, home, as a conductor.
“He’d come down for Christmas to Atlanta, and was always curious about how me and my brother were doing,” Kenny said. “He really didn’t like to talk much about the war. He was brief about it. He just told my mom little things.”
The elder Kenny wasn’t in the service when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. He enlisted soon after that.
He spent the bulk of his service time in the Pacific theater, and became a corporal in the Marines.
The Battle of Iwo Jima, early in 1945, was important because U.S. Forces were eventually – after several weeks of intense fighting – able to capture the Pacific Island from Japan. That island had three air fields, and there is an uber-famous photo of American soldiers raising the U.S. flag after winning.
There is an epic statue of that scene in Washington, D.C.
Ralph Meier wasn’t present when the flag went up. He had been injured earlier, taking shrapnel in his right wrist, Kenny said.
“He had surgeries to save it, eventually took a bone from the right side of his torso to save his hand,” Kenny said. “He was awarded a Purple Heart [given to those wounded or killed while serving].”
The surgeries worked well enough that Meier went on to live a productive life. His family is proud.
“He worked on the railroad a lot,” Kenny said. “My mom told me he worked all the time.”
Neither of my grandfathers, who both served in World War II, talked much – at least around me – about their service.
Herb Rorex was a captain in the Army, but never left the United States. Herb Winkeljohn was a master sergeant in the Army. He spent 20 months in the Pacific, where he was in an engineering battalion attached to the 5th Air Force. A printer by trade, his company was responsible for printing aerial maps for the 5th.
I’ve learned a little about him. Herb Winkeljohn was drafted in June of 1941, and was away in Louisiana when my father was born in July of 1942. He was never in combat, per se, but while in the Philippines the Japanese dropped paratroopers on his base at night. They were, according to my father, all killed as they were badly out-numbered.
My father still has some of his father’s old insignia, and other trinkets from the war.
It seems impossible to have anything but the greatest respect for our service men now and then.
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