WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – They were dubbed the greatest generation; however, World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 400 a day, and with their passing, the world is losing countless stories and historical accounts.
Two Iwo Jima Marines that call eastern North Carolina home are preparing for a trip across the world to pay their respects and remember the sacrifice of their fallen comrades.
A nonprofit organization, Forever Young Veterans, is working to raise the remaining funds to send 15 World War II vets, including Supply resident Charles Clapper and Louis Bourgault of Hampstead, to Pearl Harbor in December.
Usually the nonprofit plans these trips years in advance, but between COVID concerns and an invite for them to attend the ceremony on the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, this trip came together fast.
Charles ‘Chester’ Clapper was drafted into the Marines at 18 years old. He served on several Pacific islands, including Guam, and was a flame thrower sent in to relieve the fourth Marine division in the battle Iwo Jima.
Of the 200 people in his company, just seven survived.
Decades have passed, yet Clapper still remembers disembarking his warship for the black, volcanic sands of Iwo Jima.
“There weren’t any gangways, there were cargo nets down the side of the ship, you had your full combat regalia going on. I was carrying a flamethrower, it’s a lot of weight,” mussed Clapper. “Iwo Jima was — I know I’m going to heaven because I went through hell on Iwo Jima.”
Friends at the Supply VFW gave him a sendoff gift of a collapsible walking cane this week, and chatted excitedly with the 96-year-old veteran at the counter over a cold pint of beer.
”I get to see Honolulu finally! This will be my third trip — the first two trips I didn’t go to shore, I was on a Navy ship,” laughed Clapper. “I’ve done enough traveling, but I’ll go one more time. I’m looking forward to it.”
Louis Bourgault, another Iwo Jima Marine who lives in Hampstead, will also be on the trip.
He enlisted in 1942, and served in key battles including Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam and Iwo Jima.
“I lost a lot of friends there, a lot of companies took tremendous casualties,” said Bourgault. “But it was necessary. I’m glad to be a survivor/”
Bourgault still volunteers at the Battleship in Wilmington and says he appreciates the opportunity to educate future generations about history of World War II and share the legacy of the soldiers who never made it home.
“The chance to honor those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor and all the others that lost their lives in the Pacific campaigns — it was a dirty nasty little war and I’m privileged to be able to go to Pearl Harbor,” said Bourgault. “The important part to me is being there and representing the people who couldn’t be there.”
Organizers at the nonprofit say its rare they’re able to honor veterans of the Battle of Iwo Jima.
“To have those guys in your area, you have a treasure there,” said Diane Hight, founder of Forever Young Veterans. “Iwo Jima was one of the worst battles of the Marine Corp. What those men went through — there’s not a lot of them alive, I don’t believe — that’s why I was shocked and excited we had one, and now we have three going on the trip.”
A total of 15 World War II veterans from across the nation will be on the trip. Hight says it costs $2,900 per veteran to cover their transportation, lodging and meals. Anyone wishing to support the nonprofit can learn more on their website here.
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