Saucerman served in the Pacific during World War II.
MONROVIA, Ind. -
There's a growing push to honor World War II veterans and thank them for their service.
According to the U.S. Veterans Administration, we are quickly losing those heroes, now in their 80s and 90s, at a rate of approximately 550 per day.
This weekend, 70 Hoosier veterans will visit the World War II memorial, made in their honor, in Washington, D.C. It's made possible by volunteers through Indy Honor Flight.
One Marine, who's very humble about his service, says he is thrilled to see the memorial for the very first time.
Some memories fade over time, but others are just too powerful to forget.
That's the case for Marine Corporal Marion "Wayne" Saucerman of Monrovia. His experience during World War II left a lasting impression.
"We left almost 6,000 dead Marines on that island," Saucerman said. "But we took that island and we saved more men."
It's been nearly 70 years since Saucerman landed on Iwo Jima. The Hoosier enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps just days out of high school. In February 1945, his platoon came ashore on the island under immediate and heavy fire.
"Yes, everything there had a rifle. It was everywhere. All over that beach," Saucerman recalled.
Iwo Jima is known as the "other" D-Day. It was one of the fiercest, bloodiest battles of World War II. The Marines' mission was secure the island, but it wasn't easy and there were losses. Five of Wayne's platoon of 35 were killed in just one day.
"We lost thousands in that war. Thousands of young men. Never had a chance to have a home," Saucerman said, "just like the five out of the 35 that one day."
But these brave men did win the battle. It's immortalized in the photo of the U.S. flag being raised at Mount Suribachi.
Wayne fought on Iwo Jima for 26 days. On his last day of the war, he was wounded - shot three times by machine gun fire. One of the bullets is still in his leg today and that casualty earned him a Purple Heart.
But like many WWII vets, Wayne Saucerman doesn't boast about his service. He keeps his dog tags and commendations in a Tupperware container. His son had to dig the Purple Heart out of a drawer in his father's bedroom.
For Wayne, it was simple. He was asked to protect and serve. It was his duty.
"I was proud that I did go to the service. I would do it again," Saucerman said.
Decades later, Wayne is being recognized again. He and dozens of other veterans are visiting the World War II memorial made in their honor.
"I'll be one of the younger ones, because I went in at 17 years old," Saucerman said. "There's someone coming who's 95."
The volunteer organization Indy Honor Flight is making the trip possible for humble heroes who saved the world.
Chairman Grant Thompson told Saucerman it's time they were recognized in a big way.
"We're gonna show you the memorials in Washington D.C. We're gonna treat you like a hero, because we believe you are and you're not going to argue with me, okay?," he asked Saucerman. "What you guys did was very special. This is our way of thanking you for your service."
For Wayne, this trip is about honoring those who didn't make it back. He also says he's thrilled to finally making it to a memorial he and so many others earned so long ago.
"I'm going to enjoy it," Saucerman said. "I'm really looking forward to it."
The veterans will leave for Washington, D.C. and return home all on Saturday.
You can welcome them home at Indianapolis International Airport Saturday night. The homecoming event is between 8:00 and 9:00 in the food court at the airport.
To learn more about Indy Honor Flight, including how to donate or volunteer, visit their website, IndyHonorFlight.org.