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Iwo Jima vet learned to not take freedom for granted

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima. (Joe Rosenthal/Released)

There’s been a lot written these past few days about the 75th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima, that unspeakable World War II bloodbath that claimed the lives of almost 6,000 American troops and 20,000 Japanese soldiers.

Iwo Jima still reverberates in our military history, thanks to a picture shot by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal showing six Marines struggling to raise Old Glory on a makeshift flagpole atop Mt. Suribachi.

Their names have been immortalized: Do yourself a favor and read “Flags of Our Fathers” by James Bradley, or find a recording of Johnny Cash’s “Ballad of Ira Hayes.”

But little has ever been recorded about a fellow leatherneck from Massachusetts named Chet Gould who left his fingerprints there, too.

As the old adage notes, what goes up must come down, and so it was with that flag that was hoisted 75 years ago yesterday. It was decided to bring it home for display in traveling war bond tours, and Gould, a native of Plymouth assigned to the Fifth Amphibious Corps, was ordered to retrieve it.

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“My platoon commander never told me why it was coming down,” he once recalled here. “He just told me to find someone to go up there with me. So up we went, following the same trail those other six had followed.

“It didn’t have metal grommets; it was tied to that pole with a rope that had been part of (medic) Doc Bradley’s equipment used to drag soldiers out of harm’s way.

“So I undid the rope, stuck the flag under my jacket and we descended as fast as we could because we were open targets for snipers. Then I turned it over to headquarters. To me, it was just an assignment. I never thought of it as anything bigger than that; I was just doing my duty, doing what I had to do.”

Gould, who died seven years ago at 95, eventually put Iwo Jima on a back burner, settling in San Antonio where he worked in medical photography.

“I can tell you this from talking with other wives,” his widow, Mary Ann, to whom he was wed for 70 years, said. “When these men came home they did not talk about it much. They didn’t want to relive it, I guess. But they had nightmares for years.”

Following the publication of Bradley’s book in 2000 an Iwo Jima re-enactment took place in a neighboring Texas town and Chet and Mary Ann were invited.

“It was extremely moving,” she recalled. “We were stopped so many times by people hungry for information from someone who had been there. I cried, but Chet never said a word.”

He did, however, share a thought:

“So many people take their days for granted. I don’t do that. They take their freedom for granted, too. I don’t do that either.”

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© 2020 the Boston Herald