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Old 10-15-2006, 12:34 PM
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Old Marines Rebind Their Bonds Of Battle
Capital Times :: Editorial :: 6A
Tuesday, July 30, 1991

There is a bonding in battle that never dims and 46 years later it brought laughter and camaraderie to a handful of Wisconsin World War II survivors of the famed 4th Marine Division gathered for a reunion in rural Dane County.

Not even Sunday's rain could dampen the warmth at a pot-luck picnic at the Scenic Ridge Trail hillside home of Bob and Magdalen Schafer located off of Dane County Highway K west of Middleton.These men had survived three of the bloodiest battles in World War II - Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.

The Hunters were guests at the annual reunion of the division's Badgerland Chapter No. 30 at the invitation of Walter Gojmerac, a UW-Madison professor ofentomology. Gojmerac earned a Ph.D. under the GI Bill after living through the battles of Saipan and Iwo Jima as a Marine.

While I did not know these former Marines then, I had shared 10 days with them on Iwo Jima. I was there as a SEABEE combat correspondent while they were fighting on that pipsqueak little volcanic island that was to cost so many American and Japanese casualties.

The big shots had promised that Iwo would be won in three days. Six weeks later men were still dying on both sides of the battlelines.

One of the veterans, Norman Overland, 5047 W. Clayton Rd., a retired Oscar Mayer worker, won Purple Hearts on both Saipan and Iwo Jima. Sunday he reminded me that I had covered a moving mass ceremony in Hawaii where Overlandand 300 members of the 4th Division were awarded Purple Hearts for wounds sustained on Iwo.

Overland was hit by shrapnel while watching the American flag being raised on Mount Suribachi, an event captured in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo by AP Photographer Joe Rosenthal. That picture came to symbolize U.S. battlefield heroism in World War II..

``I got hit watching the flag go up,'' Overland said. The Japanese defenders ``were pretty mad when the flag was raised.'' The embattled Japanese defenders opened up with a barrage of mortar fire.

``Most of the men you see here today all have Purple Hearts,'' Clayton Chipman, Brookfield, told a questioner. ``If you weren't wounded, you were dead.''

Florence Fons, the wife of veteran Robert Fons, drew smiles from fellow-picnickers. She wore a bright red T-shirt which bore the slogan: ``The only thing tougher than being a Marine is being married to one.''

Olga Nelson Koberstein was an 18-year-old senior at Madison's West High when she started writing letters to a teen-age east-sider - Joe Koberstein. Koberstein, a Company C machine gunner, had enlisted at 17.

Joe had never met Olga, but their correspondence sparked a romance. They were married in Madison at war's end. They have now retired to a farm near Grand Marsh.

``The women keep this association going,'' said one of the veterans.

``The battles made us a family,'' said Edward Krohn, Milwaukee. ``We never forget the men we left behind.''

But Sunday many of these aging veterans and their wives spent most of the afternoon bragging about grandchildren. The war that brought them together was rarely mentioned.

The 4th Division was disbanded in 1945 at the end of the war.

You would never have suspected it at Sunday's gathering at the Schafers. The ``Fighting Fourth'' is still very much alive.

``It is good to get back with the guys,'' Overland said as the party began to break up.
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