RICHLAND, Miss. (WLBT) - He doesn’t look it, but William “Billy” Byrd of Richland is 94. It has been 75 years since he joined the Marines and first heard of a tiny island off the coast of Japan.
“There was a model in the middle of the room of an island that looked like a porkchop," he recalls of the meeting where he learned about his first deployment. “They said, ‘This is Iwo Jima. This is where you boys are going.'”
Iwo Jima was needed at the time so allied bombers could have a landing strip away from the Japanese mainland as the war with Japan escalated.
Byrd and his fellow Marines got there in February of 1945. They were unaware that scores of Japanese were hidden underground in an elaborate network of tunnels.
"They waited until we got all ashore -- two divisions -- before they let us have it with everything they had at about 9 or 10 o’clock that morning,” he recalls.
The men eventually got control of the island, a feat memorialized in one of the most famous photographs in all of World War II. That picture was also the basis for the Iwo Jima memorial at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C.
The battle took over a month and cost some 6,800 Americans their lives. It was a much longer and deadlier battle than planned.
Byrd recalls that when it was over, “The only thing we thought about was going home. And after I got back home a couple of years, I regretted that I didn’t get their addresses and phone numbers.”
“I was young back then," said Byrd.
Byrd says all his military experience made him a better person, but Iwo Jima is something he’d never want to go through again.
“During Veterans Day, I always get patriotic," he says. “But after that’s over, I get back to being a civilian, and my politics and sports.”
During a ceremony on Friday, Byrd was formally added to the Wall of Honor at the G. V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson.