Monthly Archives: August 2011
MORGANTON When wind stirs the American flag on the Mount Suribachi replica in Clyde Baird’s yard, something inside him snaps to attention.
A young face comes into focus – the brother he lost at Iwo Jima.
Sixty-six years ago this month, Marines stormed the Japanese-held island 750 miles south of Tokyo, beginning a 31-day battle.
Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal took the famous picture of U.S. servicemen raising an American flag on Mount Suribachi – an image that came to symbolize courage and sacrifice.
Baird, who was 10 at the time, idolized his older brother. Rondall Baird had briefly attended UNC Chapel Hill, married and joined the Marines. He’d left for the Pacific without seeing his infant son.
His wife sent him a knit baby shoe as a momento, but it came back undelivered. A few weeks ago, family members found the tiny shoe while looking through unopened letters.
Four years ago, with tons of dirt and rock, he built a 20-by-30 foot Mount Suribachi. It stands 7feet tall, with an American flag on top, along with a replica of the flag-raising.
The lighted monument draws visitors, who pull into Baird’s long, circular drive to look.
He welcomes the attention.
“This is not just in memory of my brother,” said Baird, 75, a retired computer operator with General Electric. “Every time somebody drives by it reminds me of all those people who gave their lives.”
On Iwo Jima, nearly 7,000 Americans died and fewer than 1,000 of the 22,000 Japanese soldiers there survived during the battle that began on Feb. 19, 1945.
Baird still cries when he talks about his brother. A corner of his home is dedicated in Rondall’s memory – photo albums, letters, a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol.
Friends like the Rev. Don Blankenship don’t think Clyde Baird has gone overboard.
The loss of a family member in war can be just as painful now as it was decades ago.
“You build the monuments you need in your life so you don’t forget,” said Blankenship, pastor of Morganton First Church of God. “The memorials may be painful, but they also celebrate lives – and help you remember all the wonderful things about a person.”
Clyde Baird lives in same house where he grew up, the youngest of four brothers. The oldest was his hero.
“Rondall had curly brown hair and brown eyes like mom,” Baird said. “He was so handsome. I was so proud.”
At Drexel High, Rondall played basketball and baseball. He drove a school bus and worked at his dad’s grocery. He raised strawberries and goats and developed photos at home.
On Jan 2, 1944 he married a childhood sweetheart, Irene Buff, and joined the Marine Corps that June.
Six months later, Baird shipped out and was among the first Marines to land on Iwo. He died March 4, 1945 – just shy of his 19th birthday – and was buried on the island. In 1948, he was re-interred in Drexel Cemetery, about three miles from his childhood home.
Rondall’s widow remarried and moved to South Carolina. She died in 2007.
Recently, Lloyd Baird, 81, of Rockingham County, was sorting letters he’d gotten from his parents’ home in 1994. The items had been sent to Rondall and returned unopened to family members.
One letter, written by Baird’s wife, was thicker than the others. Inside was a baby bootie she described as the first their son had outgrown.
Lloyd Baird sent the shoe to Rondall’s son, Terry Good, in North Augusta, S.C.
“It was a very special moment to receive such an unexpected gift,” Good said. “I now had the original letter from my mother, who had very little information about my father’s status on Iwo Jima. In addition to my own joy in receiving the gift, my three children have also been able to enjoy a piece of their heritage.”
‘There’s a beauty to it’
As the 66th anniversary of Iwo Jima approaches, Clyde Baird isn’t doing anything different. He continues to pamper the monument, pulling weeds, mowing grass, planting boxwoods.
And taking time to reflect. Not just about his family’s loss, but good moments they all shared.
“There’s a beauty to the monument,” Baird said. “It speaks to my heart.”
To view 19 more photos of this story, go to: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/02/03/2034437/clyde-baird-honors-his-lost-brother.html
“Doc” Brown was nearly 40 in 1942 when he endured the Bataan Death March, a harrowing 65-mile trek in which 78,000 prisoners of war were forced to walk from Bataan province near Manila to a Japanese POW camp. As many as 11,000 died along the way. Many were denied food, water and medical care, and those who stumbled or fell during the scorching journey through Philippine jungles were stabbed, shot or beheaded.
But Brown survived and secretly documented it all, using a nub of a pencil to scrawl details into a tiny tablet he concealed in the lining of his canvas bag. He often wondered why captives so much younger and stronger perished, while he went on.
By the time he died Sunday at a nursing home in southern Illinois’ Nashville, Brown’s story was well-chronicled, by one author’s account offering an encouraging road map for veterans recovering from their own wounds in many wars.
“Doc’s story had as much relevance for today’s wounded warriors as it did for the veterans of his own era,” said Kevin Moore, co-author of the recently released “Forsaken Heroes of the Pacific War: One Man’s True Story,” which details Brown’s experience.
“The underlying message for today’s returning veterans is that there’s hope, not to give in no matter how bleak the moment may seem,” added Moore, whose nephew just returned from military duty in Afghanistan. “You will persevere and can find the promise of a new tomorrow, much like Doc had found.”
Brown, recognized in 2007 at an annual convention of Bataan survivors as the oldest one still living, couldn’t muster the strength to talk about his experiences until about 15 or so years ago, said his granddaughter, Susan Engelhardt of Pinckneyville, Ill.
“I’m not a big military buff at all. But just reading the story about the death march and the situation in the Philippines, it’s an incredible story. And incredibly sad,” Engelhardt said. “He’s an incredible man, and he had an incredible legacy. He came through horrible times and came out on top, rebuilding his life. But so many of those men and women triumphed.”
Brown’s account described the torment that came about every mile as the marchers passed wells U.S. troops dug for natives but weren’t allowed to drink from once they became prisoners. Filipinos who tried to throw fruit to the marchers frequently were killed.
Brown remained in a POW camp from early 1942 until mid-September 1945, living solely on rice. The once-athletic man — he lettered in baseball, football, basketball and track in high school — saw his weight whither by some 80 pounds to less than 100 by the time he was freed. Lice and disease were rampant.
Despite the hardships, Brown focused on bright spots, including a prisoner called on to fix Japanese soldiers’ radios. The prisoner managed to steal radio parts, scraping together enough components to build a functioning unit of his own. Brown helped craft a listening tube for the device, which brought the captives news from San Francisco that the U.S. actually had won a battle the Japanese soldiers were celebrating as a naval victory.
“He had this incredible spirit to live and overcome,” Moore said. “Positive thinking or whatever you call it, he survived.”
Born in 1905 in North Platte, Neb., Brown was the godson of Wild West folk hero “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who often let the boy sit on his lap and tug his beard. Brown moved with his family to Council Bluffs, Iowa, after his father — a railroad engineer — died when a locomotive engine exploded.
He studied dentistry at Creighton University in the 1920s and was called to active duty in 1937, leaving behind a wife, children and a decade-old dental practice his war injuries prevented him from resuming.
By the time the war ended in 1945, the 40-year-old Brown was nearly blind, had weathered a broken back and neck and suffered through more than a dozen diseases including malaria, dysentery and dengue fever.
He took two years to mend, and a doctor told him to enjoy the next few years because he had been so decimated he would be dead by 50. But Brown soldiered on, moving to California, attending college again and renting out properties to the era’s biggest Hollywood stars, including Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland. He became friends with John Wayne and Roy Rogers, doing some screen tests along the way.
“I think he had seen so much horror that after the war, he was determined to enjoy his life,” Moore said.
Original story found at: http://news.yahoo.com/oldest-survivor-bataan-death-march-dies-105-211535697.html