- Associated Press - Sunday, February 28, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Basketball united four Barbour County high school boys during the Great Depression when life on the farm was filled with chores. That was before they all volunteered to fight in World War II and two lost their lives at the Battle of Iwo Jima.

With the death of his third friend, Gene Pugh in October of last year, retired Lt. Col. Al Carroll, who lives in Montgomery, is the last of his buddies who served in the war and he makes it his mission to share the tales of his friends.

“There were four of us in high school, two lost their lives in the battle and Pugh, the sailor and I survived,” Carroll said. “Three of us were on the same basketball team together and Pugh and I remained close friends before and after.”

All four all graduated from Baker Hill High School and immediately joined the service. Three went into the Marines and Pugh joined the Navy. Even though their paths never crossed during the war, Carroll and Pugh found out all four had been at Iwo Jima.

When the iconic photo was shot of Iwo Jima as five U.S. Marines and one sailor raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945, Carroll was only a mile away. It was actually the second flag to be raised that day. The first flag was lowered and saved.

Carroll was a 20-year-old Marine in the Marine 4th Division at that time. As the nation remembers the anniversary of Iwo Jima 71 years ago, Tuesday, Carroll was celebrating his 91st birthday.

He still recalls the horrors of that battle, but remembers and honors his two high school friends who fought alongside him and never returned home.

Pugh, who later retired as a Baptist minister, enlisted in the navy in 1943 and served in the Pacific on the Flying Wave as a signalman. During the Battle of Iwo Jima, Pugh helped bring Marines land on the island and retrieved the wounded.

He died in October and up until death, Pugh and Carrol communicated often.

“He couldn’t have been a better friend,” Carrol said. “… We went to Iwo Jima reunions together. The first one he went to, he really enjoyed it. I had been trying to get him to go for some time.”

His other school mates that lost their lives were two fellow Marines, Marine Cpl. Earnest A. Lunsford Jr. and Marine Henry B. Bynum. Carroll finds it hard to believe they were all at the same battle.

“There were only 200 students all together at our school and four of them were in that one battle,” Carroll said.

Lunsford joined the service in May 1943 and was assigned to the Company 1, 24th Regiment, 4th Marine Division. He fought in Saipan, Tinian, Iwo Jima and Roi-Namur and was killed in action on Feb. 21, 1945.

Bynum joined the service in 1944 and received his training at Parris Island before being assigned to the 4th Marine Division. He was killed during the Battle of Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945. He was buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.

After the battle, Carroll got as much information together as he could from his unit about Lunsford and Bynum.

“I furnished a uniform to each family based on all their ribbons and stripes. … I didn’t know what else to do,” Carroll said. I served as Lunsford’s pallbearer, but Bynum they never brought home. He’s buried in Hawaii.”

The goal of the Iwo Jima invasion by American forces was to capture the island’s three airfields to provide a staging area for attacks on the Japanese main islands. The Japanese soldiers had become desperate and were ordered to kill at least 10 Americans before they themselves were killed.

From that battle, there were 26,000 casualties and 68,000 American soldiers were killed, including Carroll’s friends.

“I want them to be remembered for the sacrifice they made, not only the supreme sacrifice, but for the sacrifices they made for the interruption of their lives and the years that they were in service,” Carroll said. “I will always remember the good things about the guys that I knew.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide