Once a Marine... (Nov. 11, 2009)
Columnist and veteran Pete Mecca attended the funeral of World War II veteran Gerald Hipps and wrote some thoughts about the service and the man he interviewed in-depth previously.
On Aug. 21, Iwo Jima veteran Gerald "Bud" Hipps passed gently into the good night.
His funeral paid tribute to the passing of a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. The preacher mentioned ‘tough but tender' a dozen times in the eulogy; the Masons paid homage to their fraternity brother; members of a Marine Corps League were present as was a three-member team of an active Marine Color Guard that folded the flag, then presented the colors to Mrs. June Hipps. A perfect ‘Taps' resonated in the background.
Along with Mrs. Hipps, the three sons were in attendance - Gary, Terry and Mike, boys the preacher portrayed as ‘tough but tender,' just like their father. Hipps' sister Mary Edwards, traveled from Florida to see and touch her brother one last time. Family traits were apparent in his sister's gracious and heart-warming personality.
The two Marines folding the flag wore immaculate dress blues, maneuvered with precision, spoke with self-confidence and dignity. I guessed their age in the early 20s. Gerald Hipps was already a combat-hardened veteran of the hell called Iwo Jima before his 20th birthday. With his mother's written permission, Hipps joined the Marines at the age of 16 and hit the black sands of Iwo in his 17th year.
The poor boy from Miami was now a boy-soldier, facing an entrenched enemy on a God-forsaken sulfur landmass in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He landed on the beach with 240 Marines of Easy Company and after more than a month of ferocious fighting was one of the 27 Marines from Easy that walked off the island alive.
Hipps earned the Purple Heart. He was hit by shrapnel almost immediately as he stepped off the Higgins Boat onto Sulfur Island. The Navy corpsman who patched his wounds was John Bradley, one of the famous flag-raisers on Mount Suribachi and father of future award-winning author James Bradley, who wrote Flags of our Fathers, later made into the movie directed by Clint Eastwood.
Hipps guarded both flag-raising events atop Mount Suribachi, later stepped on a land mine that didn't detonate, fought hand-to-hand in foxholes, saw buddies die and heard wounded Marines cry for their mothers. He knew his luck was running out; the odds were stacked against him, so he prayed for God to spare his life. In less than an hour, what was left of Easy Company was relieved by the U.S. Army.
God answered his prayers. Once home, Hipps kept the graphic memories of Iwo Jima bottled up inside to spare his family the horrors of what he experienced. His nights consisted of nightmares and cold sweats, but he remained God-fearing and friendly to a fault, but above all else, principled. Only in recent years did Hipps talk of Iwo Jima and rejoin his Band of Brothers for brunches and special events. He was finally at peace with his war, and now may this ‘tough but tender' Marine rest in peace.
He loved his family. He loved people. He loved life. America lost a hero; we all lost a friend.
Semper Fi, Marine.