Clayton vet returns to Iwo Jima
Clayton resident Dewey Dobson, 88 with wife Sheila Driscoll, returned to Iwo Jima in March for the first time since fighting in the battle as a young 18-year-old Marine.
“My return to Iwo Jima with my wife, Sheila, was to renew old memories, and so it did. Now there is no need to return again to that island of sand and blood and bones.”
So begins Dewey Dobson’s personal memoir of his recent trip to Iwo Jima to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the great battle that was seen as a turning point in World War II, a battle that raged from Feb. 19 to March 26, 1945.
The Clayton resident was a mere 18-year-old Marine when his ship approached the island in the still-dark early morning hours of that day in March, 1945. “It was the biggest thrill of my life,” he says. “I’d never been away from home before.”
He was part of Company B, First Battalion, 27th regiment, 5th Division — one of the first to land on the island when the sun rose.
“It was an awesome sight — 800 ships. Then the fighting started, and there was tremendous noise. I thought it was the greatest show on Earth,” Dobson says.
But the thrill didn’t last long as he saw the death and destruction of the battle. He was one of the lucky ones, as he survived the initial onslaught. But he was wounded by shrapnel from mortar shells as his company approached the airfield the Marines were attempting to secure.
The U.S. ultimately won the battle, and the iconic image of the flag being hoisted on the island is forever etched in American lore.
Dobson always wanted to go back, he says, and he tried in 2011. He and wife Sheila Driscoll were en route and actually on Guam when the Japanese earthquake and tsunami hit, and their plans were derailed.
But encouraged by the Quantico, VA-based Marine Historical Society, Dobson and Driscoll went again this year. And they made it, part of a 400-person charter for military and civilian dignitaries in honor of the 70th anniversary.
“For me, the most striking part was flying over the island and seeing how lush and green it was,” Dobson says. “When I was there before, it had been bombed for weeks, and it looked desolate.”
He remembers he was sitting next to a Fox news reporter at the time, and as Mt. Suribachi came into view — where the American flag was raised — he said, “that is a giant gravestone for all the troops.”
Indeed, nearly 7,000 Americans died on Iwo Jima and nearly 20,000 were wounded. Many of Dobson’s friends were among the dead, he says stoically.
“But you don’t forget,” he says.
And neither do most Americans, as his send-off and return were any indication. When he and Driscoll arrived at San Francisco international Airport to embark on their trip, they were greeted by a mass of supporters, including reporters, Marine guards, members of the San Francisco USO and the Patriot Guard. They escorted him through the airport as onlookers cheered.
To their surprise, their return home was honored as well. Dobson was introduced by his United Airlines Pilot as “a very special passenger” and was allowed to exit the plane first. There, they were again greeted by police and military dignitaries and escorted through the airport, again to cheers from other passengers amid shouts of “Thank you for your service.”
“They wouldn’t even let us take a shuttle home,” Dobson says. They were given a ride in police van, with a complete police escort, all the way to Clayton. “An officer said, ‘We don’t let our guys go home in shuttles.’”
For Dobson, the fanfare just underscored the camaraderie he found as a Marine. “It’s a wonderful brotherhood. Aside from the military experience, being a Marine helped me develop character. My world opened up. Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
Driscoll, who has been married to Dobson for 35 years, says that her husband’s Iwo Jima experience was definitely the turning point in his life. She has lived with the Marine in him for the entirety of their marriage.
“I was a nurse before retiring,” Driscoll says. “Some days it was hard to get up for work, so Dewey would come into the bedroom and sing ‘The Marine’s Hymn’ to wake me up.”
Dobson himself stayed in the active Marines for two-and-a-half years in occupied Japan after he recovered from his injury at Iwo Jima. After that, he went on to a long career with Honeywell, from which he retired in 1984. The couple has lived in Clayton for 19 years, having moved up from Southern California.
Even at 88, Dobson likes to stay active, and he still keeps in touch with several friends from his military days.
“But sadly,” he says, “I lost some of my closest friends at Iwo Jima.”