MIDVALE — When Homer Chandler came home from World War II 69 years ago, he had a souvenir with him, a bayonet he picked up when it was no longer attached to the rifle or the Japanese soldier to whom it once belonged.
That bayonet would fetch quite a price these days on eBay. The problem is, Homer no longer has it. His wife, Helen, threw it out with the trash when their children were getting old enough they could put an eye out with it.
“That was a long time ago,” shrugs Homer, 89, as he reclines on the couch in the comfortable home he shares with Helen. “A lot of life’s happened since then.”
He misses that bayonet about as much as he misses the war it came from.
Homer isn’t cynical. Far from it. But if you’re expecting him to glorify the war he fought in and call himself a hero, you’ve come to the wrong vet.
“Life has too many experiences to dwell on what happened 69 years ago,” he says. “To constantly dwell on Iwo Jima is not part of my life.”
That’s right, Iwo Jima. Of all the brutal battles in World War II, Homer fought in maybe the most brutal of them all: 70,000 invading U.S. troops against 22,000 death-over-surrender Japanese soldiers burrowed in like tentacles on a 5-mile-by-1-mile speck of an island 760 miles south of Tokyo.
How tough was it? Tough enough that the Marines, who accounted for 60,000 of those U.S. troops, called for help. That tough.
Homer was among those who came to the rescue. An infantryman in the U.S. Army, he sailed on a ship from the Pacific island of New Caledonia to Iwo Jima almost exactly 69 years ago today, rushing ashore to relieve a division of exhausted Marines.
Homer could go on about that, and about seeing The Flag That Would Become Famous flying from the top of Mount Suribachi when his ship landed, and about serving as rifleman on a three-man team that also included a flame-thrower and machine-gunner to rout the Japanese out of the island’s many caves, and about sleeping half-standing for three straight weeks in a bomb crater that served as his foxhole.
But he doesn’t.
It isn’t that he downplays the importance of winning the battle of Iwo Jima, a triumph that, among other things, created an airstrip where the American planes that delivered the atomic bombs to Japan later that summer could refuel.
It’s just that he came home and moved on.
If the fight was to preserve freedom, why let the war hold you captive?
Six months after Iwo Jima he was on the campus of the University of Utah, getting started on a college career that would eventually result in a master’s degree in public administration. He interrupted his schooling in 1947 to serve an LDS mission in France.
When he returned home to resume his studies, he met Helen at the university, they dated, married and have been inseparable for going on seven decades, raising their family while Homer worked as a city planner all over the West, the last 20 years of his career in Provo.
They’ve built a mountain of memories. On the walls of their home are pictures of their six children, 27 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, mementoes from the places they’ve lived and the senior LDS missions Homer and Helen served in the Ivory Coast and England. But nothing from World War II. Not a single reminder or souvenir.
“I have no bad memories or ill feelings,” Homer says of the war years. “I’ve been able to talk about it my whole life. You don’t forget but neither do you have to live with it. It’s not a driving force in my life. I consider myself as an American who was called to serve, did my job, and came home.”1 comment on this story
It goes without saying that he’s declined to return to Iwo Jima for the periodic ceremonies and reunions that are held. He didn’t go for the 40th, 50th and 60th anniversaries, and it’s a safe bet he won’t be there next year for the 70th, either.
“I’m sorry,” Homer says as we stand on his porch after our interview. “I’m afraid I didn’t give you what you came for. If you don’t want to write about this in the paper, that’s fine.”
Not a chance Homer, not a chance.
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays.