Today, Dillis Burgess “Dick” Ward III is an 88-year-old resident of East Wenatchee, but during WWII he was a Navy man serving under conditions of combat as intense as any that a Navy man was likely to see. He brought home difficult memories, but also one souvenir that he can cherish.
Ward served aboard the USS Shamrock Bay (CVE-84), an aircraft carrier escort. Ward’s ship first crossed the Atlantic carrying aircraft to the French, but had to deploy depth charges against two German U-boats en route. Then the Shamrock sailed through the Panama Canal across the Pacific to Iwo Jima.
Ward was one of two air controllers on board. From a tower on the edge of the flight deck, he directed take-offs and landings of fighter airplanes. He worked from dawn to dark, then retreated to private quarters to schedule the next day’s flights. His ship was a regular target for kamikazes but was never hit. Several times, the nearest neighbor in their fleet was struck instead.
Aboard the Shamrock, Ward met Joe Rosenthal, the Associated Press photographer who was following the Marines in the Pacific. The photographer’s darkroom was next to the air controllers’ quarters. Rosenthal followed the Marines onto Iwo Jima. Hearing that the men were going to raise the American flag on Mt. Suribachi, Rosenthal followed them to the top and shot pictures. When he saw the men working to replace a small flag with a larger one, he had them pose.
Back on the Shamrock, Ward learned that Rosenthal was printing his photograph of the flag-raising. “Can I have the first one?” Ward asked. Rosenthal answered him, “No, but you can have the second.” And he gave Ward the small print. “I was just a dumb sailor. I didn’t ask him to sign it,” Ward says. The photograph became probably the most iconic image of WWII ever photographed and Ward still has the second print that Rosenthal made.
Ward recently shared his story on video at the Apple Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross offices in Wenatchee. The American Red Cross is collecting stories of service from American military veterans from any war. Interviews are collected for the U.S. Library of Congress. Veterans who are willing to share their memories can schedule an interview by contacting Kari Strain at email@example.com or by calling 663-3907.
Susan Sampson writes about the joys of being a newcomer in North Central Washington. She can be reached at alien firstname.lastname@example.org.