SCITUATE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The Battle of Iwo Jima happened 75 years ago, but local World War II veteran Dennis McAuliffe remembers it like it was yesterday.
He was 20 years old when he was forced to jump from a bomber plane with his crew to avoid being shot down.
“We landed on the island,” McAuliffe, now 95, recalled. “I landed right in the shell crater – Iwo Jima’s volcano.”
He said he remembers not being able to breathe, and when he was rescued by a U.S. Army sergeant.
“Next thing I knew, they had me laying on the stretcher and the priest was giving me the last rights…but I survived,” McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe served in the U.S. Air Force for two-and-a-half years and completed 30 missions. His heroic journey is the reason he earned a Purple Heart.
McAuliffe even flew over the U.S.S. Missouri off the coast of Japan when the instrument of surrender was signed in September 1945, ending World War II.
“We were free to go home,” he recalled. “I remember hearing President [Harry] Truman talking to the nation.”
The importance of stories like McAuliffe’s aren’t lost on Eyewitness News Military Analyst Lt. General Reginald Centracchio.
“Each year that goes by, it becomes seemingly less and less told, and I think that it’s our responsibility to make sure that it continues to be told,” Centracchio said.
On the battle’s 75th anniversary, McAuliffe looks back on his service with pride.
After returning home, McAuliffe utilized benefits from the G.I. Bill to attend college and receive his masters in education. Prior to retirement, McAuliffe worked as a school principal, ending his career at Norwood Elementary School in Warwick.