Eyewitness to history: S.A. Veteran recalls Battle of Iwo Jima

Eyewitness to history: S.A. Veteran recalls Battle of Iwo Jima

Bill Gavin is seen here in this photo decked out in U.S. Navy uniform.

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by Jeff Anastasio / KENS 5

kens5.com

Posted on November 11, 2011 at 4:05 PM

Updated Saturday, Oct 26 at 8:24 PM

Most people might not enjoy spending this much time with a former boss, but to J.D. of San Antonio, Bill Galvin is much more than someone who used to bark out orders.

"We met in 1975 and we've been friends ever since. He's been my drinking buddy." J.D. turns to his pal Bill. "He's been my second dad."

A friendship forged over a few beers and few probing questions. 

Like so many other veterans who served in World War II, Bill wasn't too eager to talk about his days in the early 1940's, but over time the truth came out. And there was much to talk about.

"It was on a Sunday and me and my buddy were coming out of a movie theater."  Bill recalled. "We were walking down the street and a big paper with the headline 'Japan attacks Pearl Harbor.' And that's when we found out. I was only 16."

And what began there in Detroit as a fight to convince his dad to sign the enlistment papers would end half way around the world in one of the most epic battles of WWII.

"It was the morning of the ninteenth of February 1945, and you see the airplanes, the scraping and the islands."  Bill said. "Flames all over, dropping bombs all over the place."

Ahead, Navy planes swarmed Mount Suribachi as the first boots in took a devastating hit. Bill and his company anxiously awaited their turn at the beach and the enemy guns.

There would be no guarantees of taking the island of Iwo Jima. There would also be no turning back.

"We were the reserve company of the battalion so we went in second,"  Bill recalled. "The ones ahead of us were completely wiped out."

Unlike the boys out front, Bill and his buddies safely took the island and hunkered down for cover.

"We had to dig a fox hole and sleep in it," Bill said. "After that we got up and that's where I spotted this buddy of mine."

What happened next would earn Bill military medal and stay with him the rest of his life.  
 
"He was in harms way," Bill said about his pal. "He got hit and I went over to him." 

And just as Bill swooped in and picked up the wounded soldier, "There was machine gun fire," he said. "He got hit again and that's when I got hit in the leg."

At that point Bill's survival instincts kicked in.

"And I told him to get back in the hole and I went the other way," he said. 

Bill's act of valor earned a Purple Heart that day, but more importantly, saved his buddy's life. 

Now in his mid 80s, Bill doesn't spend his days thinking much about the war stories of his youth. 

Making his home in northeast San Antonio, he loves a good game of dominoes and taking a morning walk with his faithful four legged side kick, Zoe.

"She's going to add a few years to my life." Bill said with a chuckle. "Every person getting old should have a dog!"

As for J.D., there really is no other way to describe his former boss and friend than a true American hero.

"To me, he's just bigger than life."  J.D. said with a smile. "Bill has been a good friend to me all these years and an inspiration. He says he's not a war hero."

Bill interrupts with and laughs, "I'm not a war hero; I'm just another token!"

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