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Local WWII veteran shares his story after surviving the battle of Iwo Jima

He was one of the only ones from his military unit to survive Iwo Jima.
Published: Nov. 11, 2020 at 6:42 PM EST
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SALEM, Va. (WDBJ) - It’s Veterans Day. Like most days, you’ll find Robert Craighead sitting on his front porch with his daughter Anne. On this day in 2020, he’s looking at a photo album full of old black and white pictures.

Turn the page, and you’ll find 17-year-old Bob after volunteering for the United States Marine Corps in 1943. “I was very proud of the fact that I was in the Marine Corps during World War II,” Craighead says as he points to a military headshot of himself wearing his dress blues.

If you call him Robert, he’ll say, “Call me Bob.”

Bob is a 93-year-old World War II veteran. He has dementia, but there’s one story he’s never forgotten. “A company, 1st battalion, 4th Marine division. During the battle of Iwo Jima, there was a whole lot of us that were wounded. I was one of them. The Japs were firing everything at us that they possibly could. On the final day of battle of Iwo Jima, a Japanese mortar landed right on my right side, put shrapnel on the right side of my back, behind my right leg, and one piece in my knee cap. That was the end of me fighting for the Marine Corps.”

Bob left the Battle of Iwo Jima and eventually tried to volunteer for the Korean War. He was turned down because of his injuries.

These days you’ll find Bob on his front porch waiving at anyone who passes through. On this Veterans Day in 2020, the passerby is a neighbor from down the street, Nikki Grepiotis. She arrives with red, white, and blue gifts for Bob. “My parent raised me to have respect for all the veterans. He’s just a wonderful guy and I appreciate all that he’s done.”

Grepiotis has talked to Bob many times, but with his dementia, she’s a new visitor each time. Bob looks at his thank-you card, American flags, and patriotic cake with words written in icing Happy Veterans Day, Bob! His reaction is priceless. “Who did this for me? Did you pick this for me? Huh? I’m amazed!”

Bob is a purple heart recipient who nearly died fighting for our country. His days of war are over, but now he fights dementia.

It’s Veterans' Day. A day to thank and remember those who’ve served, even if they can’t remember us.

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