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Saturday, January 10, 2004
History Rewarded in the Present
By: Shanna Gunn January 09, 2004
This is a photo that Guy has carried in his wallet for over half a century, a snapshot of him just prior to heading into the battle zone
Most of us think of World War II as very important part of American history, but we don't think of it as affecting our current daily lives.
But for Guy Stratton, who fought with the Marine Corps at Iwo Jima, WWII is still very much an important part of his life in the present as he has just received his Purple Heart award for wounds received in 1945.
Guy Stratton has lived a life that sounds a lot like a movie script. He was involved in many bloody and violent battles, which he describes as, "battle is like rain; it gets pretty heavy and then it lets up."
He witnessed the flag raising on Iwo Jima that was captured by Joe Rosenthal on Feb. 23, 1945 in perhaps the most famous war photograph of all time.
"That was actually the second flag raising on Iwo Jima, Stratton said, "the first raising was done with a smaller flag. When a nearby naval ship offered the 28th Regiment a larger flag, Rosenthal was there to watch them raise the larger flag to replace the first."
Stratton was born Lincoln County, but raised from age six in Huntland, where he left in April 1943 to join the Marines.
In 1945, Stratton went to Iwo Jima with I Company, 3rd Battalion, 26th Regiment, 5th Marine Division.
While engaged in a firefight on Iwo Jima, Stratton was injured by a piece of shrapnel approximately 3 in long, 1 ½ in wide and ½ in thick. He had tried to make himself as small a target as possible, but says that his entire right side was exposed.
The shrapnel hit him flat on the side of the kneecap; Stratton said it felt as if his kneecap was knocked right off his leg. It wasn't though, because the shrapnel hit him flat, rather than slicing through.
While the injury was painful, Stratton knew it wasn't bad enough to get him sent out of battle, and he had seen too many men killed upon being sent back into battle after sustaining an injury and visiting the regimental first aid.
So, in order increase his luck, he just had the wound bandaged by the company corpsman and went on without visiting the regimental first aid station, so his wounds were never officially recorded.
If it hadn't been for another friend and soldier, Gayle Zeller, Stratton might not have lived through the war at all.
Stratton and Zeller were in a grenade battle with the enemy, and in a culvert together they took a grenade hit that would have surely killed Stratton, but Zeller's body protected him. Zeller was badly injured and Stratton was determined to get his buddy back to the regimental first aid.
There were stretcher bearers at that time whose job it was to pick up the injured off the battlefield and take them back for medical attention, but they were not allowed to go up to the line of fire. Stratton went to ask them to come get his friend Zeller, but they refused. So, Stratton asked two fellow marines to help him; they also refused-until they were asked at gunpoint.
The three of them then went and retrieved Zeller to took him back to safety. Stratton never knew how long Zeller lived after that, he only read that he died later of injuries.
Stratton was one of only 25 in the company that stayed through the entire 36-day campaign. All of the other 236 marines that started out with the company were either killed or evacuated due to major injuries.
About 10 years ago, Stratton decided to get in touch with Zeller's family, but he didn't remember where he was from. A call to a mutual friend, Jimmy Turner, was all it took to find out that Zeller was from Pine Island, Minnesota.
Turner remembered the name of the small town, because he knew he used to share homemade cookies that were sent to Zeller from Pine Island.
So Stratton called the only Zeller listed in Pine Island, and found it was Gayle's brother, Clayton. Clayton was astounded that someone called him after 50 years to tell him what happened to his brother; he said that they had received the official notice saying he died of wounds received in combat, but they never knew the story of how it happened, until Stratton called.
Stratton has stayed in touch with his buddy's brother for the past ten years now.
Stratton returned stateside in Feb. 1946, and was discharged in July 1948, and went to work at that time in Peoria, IL for Caterpillar.
On a visit back home to Tennessee in 1950, he decided to marry the girl next door, literally his neighbor growing up, Alice Bryant.
They set a wedding date for six months later and after the wedding Alice went back to Illinois with her new husband.
They moved back to Winchester in 1957, and Guy went to work at Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma in 1959, where he remained for 28 years before retiring in 1987.
Alice worked at the Winchester Hospital, now Southern Tennessee Medical Center, until 1980.
Guy is now 79 years old and still rides a motorcycle, like he has all his life, beginning as a child riding on the back of his brother's Harley.
Guy and Alice used to ride all over the country on his motorcycle, especially after his retirement. Guy says he has ridden his motorcycle to California twice in his life, further evidence that Guy Stratton is truly a survivor. He has survived many dangerous battles in WWII, and sadly, he has now had to survive the passing of his wife to Alzheimer's in 2001.
In order for Stratton to receive his Purple Heart now, he had to locate two witnesses that were with him at Iwo Jima to verify the wound that he received. Stratton had stayed in contact with some of the friends he'd made in the Marines all those years ago, so he was able to locate the witnesses he needed.
Stratton's son, Marine Lt. Col. Guy A. Stratton, who is stationed at the Pentagon, wants to see his father properly rewarded for his sacrifices to this country. His son has organized an award ceremony for his father to have his Purple Heart bestowed upon him by the Marine Corps Commandant at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. on Feb. 13, 2004.
Following the ceremony, Stratton and his son will be leaving to travel together to New Orleans for an Iwo Jima Reunion on Feb. 19th.
GUY STRATTON IN 1944-This is a photo that Guy has carried in his wallet for over half a century, a snapshot of him just prior to heading into the battle zone.
GUY STRATTON TODAY-Stratton is shown above with the certificate received with his Purple Heart award for wounds received in the battle of Iwo Jima, on February 28, 1945.
--H-C Photo by Shanna Gunn
©The Tullahoma News 2004
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By R.W. "Dick" Gaines
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