Veterans who grew up in a hurry face emotional trip

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comApril 7, 2012 

Lloyd T. Harrell of Sun City Hilton Head has mixed emotions about visiting the National World War II Memorial on Wednesday.

"I wanted to go," he says of the Honor Flight of South Carolina trip sponsored by the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina.

But he's never been a joiner of veterans organizations or reunions.

"I did what I set out to do," he says. "Everybody said 'thank you' and that was it. There's nothing heroic about it."

He was a joiner in the summer of 1943 because a war was raging across the globe and everyone he knew was pitching in to win it. He was only 16 when he lied his way into the service.

"We went to war floating down the Mississippi," he said. He was aboard the USS LST-588 tank landing ship when it was launched from the Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Co. in Evansville, Ind.

Soon enough, he was on the shores of Iwo Jima.

From Feb. 19-23, 1945, his ship delivered troops and equipment in the 5th Marine Division onto Iwo's black sand soaked with blood.

A year earlier, Harrell was a 10th grader struggling with Latin in Daytona Beach, Fla.

"I tell you one thing, you grow up in a hurry when you go over there," he said.

His job was to man a starboard 40mm anti-aircraft gun.

It was from that position that he saw Marines floating face down in the water.

"They had probably never set foot on the sand," he said. "I was told that most of the men we had brought were killed going in. It was a very sad place to be."

After the war, Harrell went right back into his junior year in high school.

"It was a shock to the system," he said.

He met a nurse, fell in love and enjoyed 53 years of marriage. He and Eleanor Harrell had five girls and a boy. Two of the girls saved his "miracle son's" life from leukemia, by donating their bone marrow. He had a successful career in commercial financing, then moved south to get out of the cold not long after Eleanor died in 2001. His six children, 18 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren keep an eye on him.

Harrell regrets that America has lost its esprit de corps. The sense of teamwork, pride and purpose he knew as a boy has disintegrated into negativism and carping.

"Today's climate is so far from that," he said.

Honor Flight chapters around the nation -- including one serving the Lowcountry and Savannah -- are reaching out to veterans by taking them to the memorial while they still can go.

At 85, Harrell will be the youngest of 100 to 120 veterans aboard the flight from Columbia this week. The daylong trip is sponsored by Palmetto Electric Cooperative and 18 others across the state.

"It's a sight to see, and the proper respect is there," Harrell said of the World War II Memorial. "That I'm looking forward to."

He's also anxious to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.

But he's not looking forward to the emotional part of the trip.

"It's been a long, long time -- 67 years," he said. "But you never forget what you saw, what you heard and what you smelled."

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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