BANGOR – When six American Marines raised the U.S. flag at the top of Mount Suribachi — an iconic image that signaling the capture of Iwo Jima — one local veteran was there.
The 91-year-old World War II veteran spoke about his wartime experiences, as the state and nation prepare for Memorial Day.
“Twenty thousand on that frigging pile of sand wounded and dead,” said Richard Lowell, a Mattawamkeag native who now lives at the Maine Veterans Home in Bangor.
Lowell remembers the bloody battle of Iwo Jima when he and others in the 5th Marine Amphibious Corps joined with other Marine units to take the Japanese island 72 years ago. He was just eighteen.
“We walked over the dead, some stacked three high,” he recalled.
He also remembers the Japanese had created a strong-hold inside the island’s highest peak.
“That was another tale – going in through those caves and taking over the Japanese village inside Suribachi,” Lowell said. “It’s was one of those deals where you had to be there to understand it. They had a factory inside there making guns and different armored things that were big.”
Unbeknownst to the Marines, there were women working inside the factory.
“We had to do some shooting in there,” Lowell said, pausing as he remembered back seven decades. “Eighteen years old. I didn’t know any different. I didn’t know any better.”
After the battle was won, he was sent up the mountain.
“We were sent up there for guard duty on the flag raising,” the veteran said.
Lowell witnessed the raising of the U.S. Flag at the summit, a famous image that was caught on film by an AP photographer and came to symbolize America’s enduring strength.
The Bangor man also has connections to another American icon — Shirley Temple.
He met and danced with the Hollywood actress at a send-off party for his unit in California.
“I missed out on the full moon on that deal because I had to get back to base,” Lowell said.
The two also corresponded by letter during the war but eventually lost touch.
After his service, Lowell returned to Maine and married and had five children. He also spent time playing a bit of minor league baseball before becoming a coach, umpire and local sports team organizer, setting up baseball and softball teams all over the Katahdin region.
He said he never wanted to return to the Pacific, even though he was invited several times.
“It still bothers me once in a while, if I let it,” Lowell said.