DENVER -- As the nation pauses this Memorial Day to honor those killed in the line of duty, FOX 31 Denver is traveling back to battlegrounds of World War II.
Our Jeremy Hubbard recently journeyed halfway around the globe with 17 veterans of that war, as part of a program from a Denver-based charity called The Greatest Generations Foundation. The survivors returned to the tiny Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific. The islands were the scene of some brutal battles near the end of the war.
Among the veterans making the trip, Ronald Scharfe of Missoula, Montana. A nearly 90 year old man, who still acts like a teenager.
Age tarnishes and fades. It rusts and withers. Age batters, leaves all things broken and brittle and falling apart.
Unless you're talking about Scharfe. He’s 87, going on 16. Showing no rust or tarnish at all. Don't waste time reminding rondo he's pushing 90. He's sliding into old age slowly. Maybe that's because he was still just a kid, when he plunged into adulthood.
“You grew up, you grew up fast. You went in there as a kid and you came out a man,” Scharfe told FOX 31 during a visit to the island of Guam.
“Rondo” hated high school back in Chicago. So at age 16, he saw opportunity and took it.
“Well my sister got married at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, and I speared about six or seven baptismal certificates off the altar. And you could make it any age you wanted,” Scharfe said.
Fake documents in hand, he told the Navy he was of age. And he was off to join World War II.
“Talked to mom and dad and told them I wouldn`t be going to sea until I was about 18. That was a crock, because I was on Iwo in about three and a half months,” Scharfe said.
Imagine him there, at Iwo Jima, a 16 year old - driving a Higgins boats - loaded with 36 men - about to engage in the deadliest battle in the history of the Marine Corp.
Rondo was hurt, and his men were dying, before they ever even made it to shore.
“You`d go into the beach, and try and drop off a load and go back, but we couldn`t make it, hit an obstruction when we went into Iwo in about 14 foot of water. You had a big steering wheel in front of you, and a throttle, i went over the top of the wheel and tore open my sternum and smashed my horn on the jarheads helmets in front of me and it was a real cluster,” Scharfe told us.
“A lot of the guys were over the side already, they were in the water and some of them were drowning because they had their packs on them, and they couldn`t get out. I remember looking over the side and I was telling myself ‘hell man I`m 16, I can`t be having a heart attack. I cannot be having a heart attack.”
When you're 16 - and witnessing hell on earth, it must feel like you're about to die.
“Every day you think about stuff like that, you know. Every couple two three weeks you have flashbacks, wake up sweating, and different things will set it off like diesel fuel, or loud noises, or certain things will set it off and it doesn`t go away. Memories don`t go away. There`s good memories and bad memories,” Scharfe said.
Scharfe is just one of the 17 World War II veterans along on our trip, their costs paid for by The Greatest Generations Foundation, a non-profit which returns World War II veterans to the battlefields where they served. Over the last decade, the foundation has returned hundreds of service members to places like Pearl Harbor, Normandy and Iwo Jima.
And we hope you'll join us for a FOX 31 Denver news special featuring their stories. It's called “The Forgotten Islands of World War II" and it airs Monday, Memorial Day, at 9:30 p.m. on FOX 31 Denver.AlertMe