POHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawaii, Oct. 25, 2017 —
Veterans of the 5th Marine Division visited here Oct. 20 as part of the 68th annual reunion of the 5th Marine Division Association.
During their stay they viewed displays of the current weapons and equipment used by Marines with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.
“It was really nice to meet the Iwo Jima veterans as everyone in the Marine Corps knows Iwo Jima was a huge part of our history and background,” said Marine Corps Pfc. Nick Bensette, a machine gunner with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines. “I never got to meet my grandfather who served during World War II and passed away when I was still young, so meeting all of these veterans is a good way for me to get new knowledge and pass it on to the next generation.”
Bensette said he was proud to demonstrate and explain how the modern equipment belonging to the current generation of Marines works.
“It’s nice to give back to the people who have served us before,” he said. “I’m kind of following in their footsteps, which is a big accomplishment for me to do what they did as Marines.”
Ralph Simoneau said he was immediately reminded of his time on Iwo Jima with the 5th Marines when he arrived at PTA.
“I worked with the 60-millimeter mortars, and when they opened the door of the bus at the training camp [today] I could instantly smell it,” he said. “I went straight to the mortar like a bird dog, and knew exactly where it was going to be.”
Simoneau said he was amazed how the equipment he saw compared to what they had during his time in the Marines.
“I was telling one young Marine the difference between his equipment and mine was that we had bows and arrows, and they had guns that could shoot,” he said. “The only real superior weapon we had was the Browning automatic rifle. You could bury that in the sand, take it back out, and it would never misfire.”
Louie Lepore said he trained at nearby Camp Tarawa before he deployed to Iwo Jima with the 5th Marine Division.
“We had regimental practice landings for the invasion of Japan, but they dropped the atom bombs,” he said. “We went aboard ship right away down at Hilo, and went to participate in the occupation of Japan.”
Lepore said he was relieved that Marines never had to invade Japan after witnessing what he saw during the occupation.
“We went through Nagasaki and I saw the devastation of the A-Bomb there,” he said. “On the island of Kyushu, where we were supposed to land for the invasion, we saw a kamikaze base and caves with planes in them. I wouldn’t be here today after seeing the way they were prepared for us.”
Lepore said he’s extremely grateful and glad that history unfolded as it did.
“I’m very lucky to be here and I know it,” he said. “I’m 94 years old; I went through World War II and the Korean War. I retired in 1971 with almost 29 years in service. They wanted me to go to Vietnam because of my knowledge of French, and I said: ‘Forget it. Once was enough.’”