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Old 10-15-2006, 01:00 PM
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The boy in the 1941 yearbook, and how he became a man
Posted: May 25, 2004
Crocker Stephenson

Russell Kohloff picked up his high school yearbook Tuesday, and it's about time: Kohloff, who is 82 years old, graduated from Wauwatosa High School in 1941.

Kohloff had been glad to get out of high school. He was ready to get on with the business of life. He was ready to see the world.

He hadn't been much of anywhere. Once, his family went to Wisconsin Dells. Once, when he was 16, he tried to sleep over at a friend's house, but he got so homesick that he called his mother in the middle of the night and asked her to come get him.

Kohloff had a next-door neighbor, Frankie, who wanted to join the Marines. Kohloff and some friends went over to the recruitment center. They were going to all sign up together. But the Marines wouldn't take Frankie. He was 5-foot-1 1/2. To be a Marine, you had to be at least 5-foot-2. Kohloff and his friends strapped Frankie between the bumpers of two cars, and tried to stretch him out. It didn't work, but the recruiter was so impressed, Frankie got in.

Kohloff landed on Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945. His landing craft tipped over on the way in, and Kohloff was dumped into the ocean strapped to more than 65 pounds of equipment. He dropped his rifle, his boots, his helmet, his backpack, his ammunition and swam to shore. He crawled onto the beach with nothing but what he was wearing - a shirt and a pair of pants.
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He harvested equipment from the dead men around him. A rifle from one guy. Boots from another. He tried to pull the helmet off one soldier.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" the soldier yelled.

"Sorry," Kohloff said. "I thought you were dead."

Kohloff fought on Iwo Jima for more than a month. He watched the flags raised on Mount Suribachi. There were weeks of combat still ahead. When Kohloff saw the flags go up, he was thinking the same thing he was thinking when his landing craft dumped him into the ocean: I've got to figure out a way to stay alive.

Some 7,000 Allied soldiers died on Iwo Jima. It is an appalling number, but consider: World War II veterans are now dying at a rate of more than 1,000 a day. Time accomplishes what not even the fiercest army can: complete annihilation.

Kohloff didn't revisit his high school much after the war. But three years ago, he began visiting his school - now it's Wauwatosa East - around Memorial Day. A plaque that hangs in a foyer is engraved with the names of the 56 men and one woman who once attended the school and died in combat. Kohloff comes and salutes the plaque. It's a brief ceremony. Then Kohloff is gone.

But after Tuesday's ceremony, Principal William Stroud asked Kohloff to hold on for a moment, then gave him a copy of the 1941 Cardinal Pennant. Afterward, Kohloff sat down at a table and thumbed through the book. He found his senior picture on page 55.

The boy that he was looked out from the yearbook at the man that he had become. The boy he was, young, thin, handsome. A couple years older than the child who called his mom because he was homesick. A few years younger than the man who, in the heat of combat, unlaced the boots of a dead comrade and made them his own.

Kohloff looked at the picture, then shut the book.

Last edited by cmyr; 12-25-2008 at 01:42 PM.
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