“What’s next for a 70th anniversary? Iwo Jima?”
I hadn’t thought much about it, but that was certainly a key battle, especially with the famous flag-raising on Mount Suribachi. The Marines landed on Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945, the flag-raising was the 23rd. If I were going to find a Lehigh Valley veteran of the fighting on the island, I didn’t have much time.
But I didn’t have a lead on any Marine survivors. A few weeks passed and I saw the window of opportunity closing. The interviews take time – at least two meetings of perhaps three hours each, then many hours of transcribing the digital recording, then shaping the narrative and finally a two- or three-hour photo session that includes shooting video of the veteran for online as well as a portrait, and copying the vet’s wartime images for the print product and an online gallery.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, I had a stash of papers in my desk that were stories and story ideas I’d collected over many years. Over Christmas and New Year’s, I pored over every paper to see what gems I might still have and to throw out others I would never use.
One scrap of paper jolted me. I had gotten a phone call from a Charles L. Gubish of Bethlehem, who told me that he had a Purple Heart but hadn’t had the certificate to go with it, and he’d finally received the certificate to prove he had earned the medal. Among other things, such documentation has the vet’s name, unit and the date and place where he was wounded in battle.
Gubish said he’d been a Marine and was hit on Iwo Jima. I had noted that, jotted down his phone number and scrawled the date of our conversation on the paper: 3/11/08. I remembered talking with him and thinking that someday I might interview him, but the information got lost in my pile and pushed back in my memory.
I’d spoken with Charlie Gubish almost seven years ago. Was he still living?
A Nexis public records search showed that he was. But the phone number I had for him was out of service. On the same Nexis page, I found a Gubish with the same first name who also lived in Bethlehem, and called the number listed. This Charles Gubish answered and told me that he was Charlie’s son and that his dad was alive and well at age 95 and living in a retirement community outside Bethlehem. I said I’d like to interview him for a story to mark the Iwo Jima anniversary. The son gave me his dad’s phone number. Immediately I called and Charlie picked up the phone. He hesitated for a moment, “Well, I don’t know … oh, OK.”
I interviewed Charlie on Jan. 23 and 29. Harry Fisher of The Morning Call shot photos and video Feb. 4, with me beside him, and I met again with Charlie on Feb. 18 to go over loose ends. The story ran on Page 1 Sunday, Feb. 22. By then, Charlie had turned 96. You can read his story here: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-iwo-jima-anniversary-gubish-20150221-story.html#page=1
Another World War II tale that came out of the stash in my drawer also made Page 1 of a Sunday paper, this one to mark the deadliest air bombardment in history, the March 9-10, 1945, firebombing of Tokyo.
The story-teller was Carl J. Manone. He had been a B-29 bombardier but was no longer living. He had sent his written account to The Morning Call in September 2011, was hospitalized for kidney failure several days later and then was in rehab. He died March 14, 2012 at age 88, before I could meet with him. But I held onto his very detailed story in the hope that I could get it into the paper someday.
That would be for the 70th anniversary of the Tokyo raid.
First, though, I wanted to get permission from his widow. Again, a Nexis search gave me the address and phone number in Palmer Township where Carl had lived. I called, but Carl’s widow, Dani, didn’t live there anymore. The woman who did live there knew Dani and gave me her email address. She said Dani lived in Florida and was now visiting relatives in Thailand. I sent Dani an email and she responded from Bangkok. She remembered that I had tried to contact her husband after he had mailed in a hard copy of his story. She was pleased that I planned to get it into the paper.
After Dani got back to Florida, she sent me 14 photos of Carl, most of them from wartime – all of which were posted in an online gallery when the story ran March 8. In many emails we exchanged over weeks, Dani patiently and thoroughly answered my questions. Her information filled in the background of the story, which you can read here: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/bethlehem/mc-tokyo-firebombing-anniversary-manone-20150307-story.html#page=1
If I hadn’t gone through a messy drawer, Charlie Gubish’s and Carl Manone’s precious stories might never have seen daylight.