Digging his elbows into the sand and lava rock beach of Iwo Jima, 18-year-old Pvt. Willy Bryan moved methodically, slowly.
He stayed low while just inches above his head, shell casings exploded in the air.
Bryan felt a tug on the heel of his boot. He craned his neck and saw that a fellow Marine crawling behind him had been hit.
Bryan stayed with the injured Marine while he called for a corpsman.
“He was there in five minutes, treating him on the beach,” Bryan said. “I thought, ‘he’s got to be one of the bravest in the Marine Corps.’ They treated the wounded and it didn’t matter what was going on.”
Bryan pushed forward and found a crater in the beach left by an exploded mortar. He paused to catch his breath, and his nerve.
“I could feel the back of my pants flutter from the whizzing shells,” he said.
But he never retreated.
“That’s what I was trained for,” said Bryan, now 90 years old. “I knew that’s where I was going.”
Bryan, a proud “grunt,″ served as a rifleman in the 5th Marine Division’s E Co., 2nd Battalion, 27th Regiment in the battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. He was among a group of Marines that successfully captured Mount Suribachi.
Bryan, who was shot in the back of the leg on his ninth day of battle on the island, will be among 160 recipients of the Purple Heart attending the Sandhills Purple Heart Dinner in Fayetteville this weekend. He’ll be joined by his wife and several family members, including great grandson Brandon, who has already pledged his desire to become a Marine.
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