The Marines who stormed the beach at Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945 began one of the most famous and pivotal battles of World War II. Offshore, aboard a submarine that would sink more than a dozen ships, a Claremore High School graduate had no idea what was taking place at the surface.
John Cockrum enlisted in the Navy three days after graduating high school. He volunteered to serve aboard a submarine, and found himself on the USS Piranha in the pacific.
Cockrum survived depth charge attacks every patrol for a year, and assisted in historic battles like Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
When the battle to take Iwo Jima began, Cockrum and his shipmates thought they were simply on another patrol. They knew their task - keep merchant ships from resupplying the enemy.
Back on land, nearly 7,000 U.S. soldiers would die over the course of the five-week battle. Cockrum's mission, he learned after the war was over, was to prevent the enemy from allowing the battle to go on any longer.
"Those Marines that went in, they faced a horrible job," Cockrum said. "Those guys didn't bat an eye, they just moved in on the beach."
75 years later, Cockrum says the battle is still as significant as the day it ended.
"We need to remember those folks," Cockrum said. "It's our way of life in the United States. There's nothing like it anywhere else."
Cockrum says preserving the history veterans like him fought for is as important as ever, because one day it could be up to the next generation to fight for the same thing.
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