Service, Sacrifice, and Salvation
Don Graves was born on May 3, 1925, in Detroit, Michigan. Don grew up during the Great Depression, and the family was barely scraping by after his father was laid off from the Ford Motor Co. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Don decided he was going to join the U.S. Marine Corps.
He skipped school and ran down to the recruiting station and found out that he couldn’t join until he turned 17. Even then, he had to have his parents sign off their permission for him to go. When he turned 17, his parents signed the papers, and on August 17, 1942, Don went to San Diego for boot camp.
After graduating boot camp, Don was sent to New Zealand with the 2nd Anti-Tank Battalion. As the war progressed, Don was shipped back to the States and put with the newly formed 5th Marine Division. He and his new unit then dispatched to Hawaii for additional training, and in January, they left aboard troopships headed for Iwo Jima. Don was part of an assault squad in Company D, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division. At Saipan, Don’s company left the troop transport and went aboard an LST Landing Ship Tank. On the morning of February 19, 1945, Don headed inshore on a Landing Vehicle, Tracked, often called a gator.
Don landed in the third wave on Green Beach, right below Mt. Suribachi. Don’s job was to use a flamethrower to burn out bunkers and pillboxes. Fellow marines laid down fire to stifle enemy fire while Don crawled close enough to shoot flames into the fortification. Don remembered how some of the Japanese soldiers emerged engulfed in flames, and other marines would take them out.
On the morning of February 23, Don found himself on Mt. Soribachi. A small American flag had been raised, but a larger one was raised in its place. When the second flag went up, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal took the iconic picture of the six marines raising the flag. Don was just a few yards away when that happened, and he also knew most of the Marines who were in the picture. After five more weeks of combat, the 5th Division finally left the island. Out of Don’s entire outfit, only 18 were able to walk through the division’s cemetery, where over 5000 men of the 5th Division were buried.
As they got to the gate to go in, Don noticed a sign on the column that said, “Fellas, when you get back home, tell the folks that we did our best to make sure they had many more tomorrows.” While Don was on the beach, he prayed to God to get him off of the island and promised to serve him for the rest of his life.
Nine years later, Don said he had long since forgotten that promise, but God had not. Don had married not long after getting out of the Marine Corps, but in 1954, it didn’t look like his marriage was going to last much longer. An older couple who lived close by asked for a ride to a Billy Graham revival. Don and his wife gave them a ride, and by the end of the night, Don was saved. He eventually became a pastor for 32 years and remained married for 73 years until his wife passed. Don has lived in five states but says Texas is the most patriotic state he has lived in, and he will live the rest of his life here. Don will celebrate his 98th birthday in Ireland and speaks at various groups
on a regular basis.