Seaman 1st Class Raymond Pedigo, one of the the oldest native veterans in West Virginia, will serve Tuesday as the grand marshal of the annual Veterans Day Parade in Beckley.
Pedigo, who turns 88 next month, served in the United States Coast Guard in the Pacific campaign of World War II and was present for the initial raid against the Imperial Japanese Army on Japanese shores.
“I was on an LSP, and I run an LCVP — that’s the small 43-foot boat — and we landed troops on the beach at Iwo Jima,” he recalled Sunday. “We’d run the troops on the beach, go back to the ship, bring more troops in.”
Pedigo wasn’t quite 18 years old, he said, because he’d lied about his age as a teen when he’d entered the Guard on Aug. 25, 1943.
When he stepped onto the Iwo Jima beach, Pedigo recalled, the “Reds” were fighting terribly on the beach.
“They’d sunk several of our small boats as we were going in, but we finally captured Iwo Jima,” he said. “The fighting was still going on all over the island. We fought all the way up the island.
“They wouldn’t give up,” Pedigo recalled of the Japanese fighters. “They went in underground. They had a railroad track at Iwo Jima, and they ran trains under the island, and we finally blowed up all their equipment.”
Thousands of American lives and three times more Japanese lives would be lost during the battle of Iwo Jima.
American troops fought through Iwo Jima in a 35-day battle. On the fifth day, U.S. Marines and a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi in a moment that was made famous by photographer Joe Rosenthal.
Pedigo said U.S. troops secured the island of Okinawa and liberated the Philippines, successfully fought the second battle of Guam and secured the Japanese island of Saipan.
In early August 1945, Americans were moving toward the Japanese mainland in preparation for Operation Downfall, the largest operation of the Pacific campaign, when the United States government dropped the atomic bomb, “Little Boy,” on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and then detonated the atomic bomb “Fat Man” over Nagasaki, Japan, three days later.
“It was a terrible tragedy,” Pedigo described the dropping of the bombs, which killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens and remains the only use of nuclear weapons in warfare.
“I went in while they were picking up the dead that was killed,” Pedigo recalled. “I kind of hate to talk about that.”
He said he doesn't have advice for veterans who are returning from the Middle East.
“I can’t give them any advice,” he said. “There’s so many of them killed that it’s a tragic event.”
Pedigo will be in full uniform with his medals as he leads the Veterans Day parade Tuesday.
The parade will start at 11 a.m. at Park Middle School and will proceed through the streets of Uptown Beckley.
The theme this year is “Honoring Veterans Worldwide,” according to Ron Jennings of the American Legion Post 32.
Line-up is 10 a.m. at Park Middle.