WEST PALM BEACH, Fl. --
A man with silver hair tightly grips his rolling walker as he slowly makes his way through the halls of his retirement home. To many, he appears to be just another one of the retirement home’s members, but to another audience, he represents much more. Worried about his tardiness and saddened by the amount of time it took to mount his ribbons to his chest, he paces to the meeting room. Decades have passed since he served, his recollection of stories lingering yet still rich in his memory.
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Pfc. Robert “Bob” Riechman, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, served in the Marine Corps from 1943 to 1946. Riechman took part in the battles of Guadalcanal, Bougainville, and Iwo Jima during WWII, where he accrued stories he would never forget.
“I have a lot of experiences, but the one that I remember most, and the one a lot of people do remember, is the raising of the flag on the 23rd of February,” said Riechman. “I saw that first flag while wounded, being carried on a stretcher.” Watching the flag fly atop Mt. Suribachi filled him with pride and made him feel good knowing that they had taken over the island. Everybody and everything would be safe, and they would soon make their way home. However, as he left the hospital ship to return to his unit and looked up, the flag was gone. “I thought ‘Oh my God, the Japanese had taken over the island again.’ Fortunately, a few minutes later I noticed that the second flag was flying. So, at this age now, I can say that I’m one of the fortunate ones to still be alive who saw the first flag go up on Iwo, and the second flag go up on Iwo, and that I’m still alive to be able to tell that story.”
These are the types of stories shared at the table of the Iwo Jima Luncheon. Active Duty Marines with Recruiting Station Fort Lauderdale visited The Madyson at Palm Beach Gardens, a senior living community which provides assisted living, to honor those veterans who served in the nation’s conflicts. On the 78th Anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, they found themselves sitting among heroes who shared the same honors of earning the eagle, globe and anchor and bearing the title of U.S. Marine.
Among these veterans were U.S. Marine Corps veterans Tom Kane and Roy Kleiboeker, Marine pilots that flew together in operations during the Vietnam War; U.S. Marine Corps veteran Glenn Galtere, who served in the Korean War during The Battle of Chosin Reservoir; and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Barbara Pastoriza, who served as a clerk during the Vietnam War.
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Cpl. Joe Lisi, who served in the Marine Corps Reserves from 1969 to 1972, coordinated the luncheon together with Kane and the staff from The Madyson. Lisi explained that for 15 years in New York, he hosted a get-together called ROMEO Unit Number 1, ROMEO standing for Retired Old Marines Eating Out. After coming into contact with Kane and hearing about Iwo Jima Survivor Riechman, they decided to continue the tradition of honoring the heroes.
“I have been in a room with a lot of Iwo Jima survivors, and what happens when they are in the company of you young Marines, these gentlemen and ladies who are in their seventies and eighties, and even ninety, they become twenty years old again! They just come back to life; it is like they are back on active duty,” Lisi expressed. “They just love the camaraderie. That is something that is instilled in you; does not matter if you are an officer or an enlisted Marine. When you are a Marine, that feeling never leaves you. Seeing these older men and women come back to life, I find it to be so exciting, and any time I get to do that, I do it.”
The world moves on, and so do the times and the warriors that helped structure it. Honoring those who risked it all for the safekeeping of our nation and listening to their stories reinforce and expand upon the lessons learned from our past. We must take advantage of their wisdom and use their knowledge to help maintain the timeless traditions of our Corps. Soon, their breathing legacy will fade, becoming one with history.
“I enjoyed the luncheon, and I appreciate everyone that comes down and says 'hello' and gives us the well-wishes that they did,” said Riechman. “We are very fortunate to have these Marines come and shake hands with me. And I feel very proud to say that I have been, and I always will be, a Marine. Thank you.”