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Family of a local Marine honor his memory

POSTED: June 5, 2008 5:00 a.m.
For The Times/

The beach on Iwo Jima was littered with riffle shells left over from the World War II battle.

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Just more than 63 years after Aubrey Roberts landed with his fellow Marines at Iwo Jima, Japan, in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, his two sons and a grandson retraced his footsteps up Mount Suribachi.

For Lee Roberts, John Roberts and Sean Childers, learning more about the war record of Aubrey Roberts has been an adventure in detective work.

Aubrey Roberts, a two-time Purple Heart recipient from Flowery Branch, talked little about his Pacific service in the Marines. When he died in 1987, much of the history died with him.

His twin brother, Ennis Roberts, enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1935 and was the first Hall County resident to die in the war. He was aboard a Coast Guard cutter, the Alexander Hamilton, when it was struck by a torpedo fired from a German U-boat in the North Atlantic in early 1942.

On March 9, 1945, Aubrey Roberts suffered a glancing wound to his head. Four days later, he suffered gunshot wounds to the legs that left him with a limp for the rest of his life.

He came home and spent much of his career working as a civil servant for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He also served on the Hall County Board of Education.

It was not until recent years when a cousin showed Childers, Roberts’ grandson, a picture taken on Iwo Jima, that he realized his grandfather was a part of one of the most historic battles of the war.

On March 12 of this year, the Roberts brothers and Childers participated in a military history tour that took them to several historic places in the Pacific, including Tinian Island and Iwo Jima.

"For us, being World War II history buffs, to be at places like Tinian, where the Enola Gay took off with the atomic bombs, was surreal," Childers said

"There were nine Iwo Jima veterans on the trip," John Roberts said. "It was the first time I had talked with veterans, and they spoke with such emotion. One of them broke down and started crying when he talked about it."

But the sons and grandson came away from Iwo Jima and Mount Suribachi with a much greater appreciation of the wartime service of Aubrey Roberts.

They carried with them the memorial flag that draped Aubrey Roberts casket in 1987. First a group of current Marines held it unfurled at the monument atop Mount Suribachi. A group of Japanese military officers told them that they could not hang the flag on a flagpole atop the mountain.

However, with the urging of a group of retired Marines in their tour group, they eventually flew Aubrey Roberts’ memorial flag on the flagpole as a tribute to him.

"Looking back at Mount Suribachi, to think of that company of 40 men, going up that mountain with Japanese soldiers entrenched in those caves — it was an act of bravery," Childers said. They said that even with a road that has since been constructed, climbing the mountain today is no small feat.

The 1949 movie about the battle of Iwo Jima is called "Sands of Iwo Jima," but in reality there is no sand on the beaches of the island. The beaches are coated with a fine black ash.

On the beach there are still numerous rifle shells left from 63 years ago.

Iwo Jima, except for a landing strip and a hangar, is virtually unoccupied. The tour groups are allowed a single visit each year. The island is only about two miles wide and seven miles long.

"This is the holiest of ground for the Marine Corps," Childers said. "They treat this place as a shrine."

Many Marines leave their military dog-tags on the marble memorial as an act of tribute to those who served in the battle of Iwo Jima.

"The sad reality is most of these guys are gone, and it is up to us to continue to tell the story," Childers said.

Their only regret is that Aubrey Roberts could not be there with them.

"I would have loved for him to have gone on this trip," John Roberts said.

"Out of his company, E Company, 310 men went in, and 50 came away after 36 days. It was a living hell, and to keep it quiet for all these years is just amazing," Childers said.


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