DAYTON — World War II veteran Owen Agenbroad, 90, served in the Battle of Iwo Jima and is returning there Wednesday for the Reunion of Honor.
“It’s a joint effort between the U.S. and Japan to pay tribute to those who died there,” Agenbroad said.
He has several goals for the trip. He wants to view the place he landed so many years ago; see the changes since 1945; and return to a Japanese soldier’s son some personal items he found on the battlefield.
Originally from Nampa, Idaho, Agenbroad moved to Dayton in 1958. A graduate of the University of Idaho, he worked for 30 years as an agricultural researcher for Green Giant.
During World War II he served in the Marine Corps, Fox Company, Second Battalion, 27th Regiment, Fifth Division. He was at Iwo Jima from the first troop combat — the beach landing on Feb. 19, 1945 — until the island was secured on March 26, 1945.
“On the 19th of this month with my son, we are going to the honor reunion,” Agenbroad said. That’s 69 years and one month since the day he first stepped onto the beach.
During a battle about two weeks after landing, while walking past a destroyed gun emplacement he found a straight razor with a sharpening hone, as well as a tea cup and sea shell, lying on a wall.
Searching for the relatives of the soldier who had owned the items led to quite a bit of information. Agenbroad thinks the soldier had already been killed.
“We found that out from his son. I think it was being carried by one of his buddies,” he said.
Inscriptions on the box and the razor helped track down the soldier’s surviving family.
“My former Boy Scout, Roy Davis, is a razor collector,” Agenbroad said. “He’s a part of a worldwide organization of razor collectors.”
They were able to connect with a collector in Japan who could read the inscription, providing the name of the soldier, his commanding officer and company.
Two chaperones from a Yamate Gakuin exchange group that visited Dayton High School also translated the inscription. They came up with the same information, word for word. They took photographs of the artifacts and sent them to the school’s vice principal, Ichiro Osawa, also a former Dayton exchange student. He contacted the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The staff there was able to track down the surviving family of the soldier. After two months they were able to locate the soldier’s son, Yoshikazu Higuichi, a retired schoolteacher and principal.
“The son is going to meet me on Iwo and I’ll return it to him,” Agenbroad said. Osawa will be there to interpret.
“He speaks no English and I speak very little Japanese,” Agenbroad said of the soldier’s son.
He said the Reunion of Honor will give the fallen soldier’s family some closure and help establish friendship between those who fought on opposing sides of the war.
At Iwo Jima, Agenbroad was a combat message runner who delivered coded messages when the radio and phones were down. He credits three things for his survival: “My God, my brain and my rifle. Aboard ship I got associated with two guys. I was the only one of the three that came back.”
He related several incidents that took place on the island.
At Iwo Jima, there were no front lines, he said. The whole island was the battleground. American forces were going up against fortifications that had existed for years.
“The beach we landed on, the west side, was sandy terraces 6 to 10 feet tall. We carried scaling ladders, in sand up to your ankles,” he said. All that with packs on their backs while being fired upon.
Once, looking through binoculars he noticed some Japanese soldiers come out of camouflaged caves with an artillery piece. He called for artillery and spotter planes and the enemy soldiers were destroyed.
Another day he carried a message up to the line sergeant and then used binoculars to look toward Mount Suribachi.
“I was the first one to see the flag on Mount Suribachi. Then we had a big hullabaloo.”
But the overall demeanor of the U.S. troops at Iwo Jima was silent and somber, Agenbroad said.
“They knew they had a job to do and that some of them were not coming back,” he said.
The heroes are the fallen, he said, those who would die for a cause, valor or extreme accomplishment. The ones who stepped forward and did what was necessary.
“John 15:13 says, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,’” he said.
Agenbroad doesn’t consider himself a hero.
“They call us the Greatest Generation but every war has its greatest generation,” he said.
Karlene Ponti is the U-B specialty publications writer. She can be reached at 509-526-8324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.