George Briede, a scout-sniper attached to Company A, 1st Battalion, 9th Regiment, 4th Marine Division, was fighting his way up Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in the Pacific in World War II when his luck ran out.
“A Japanese mortar round landed next to me, spun me around and I hit the ground. I lost my eyesight and ended up with meat in both hands that had been my face,” the soon-to-be 100-year-old “Leatherneck” recently recalled.
George vaguely remembers the Navy Corpsman who patched him up on the battlefield more than 70 years ago. After the medic stopped the bleeding and wrapped his head in gauze, he escaped the fighting on a stretcher carried down the 550-foot hill by two Marine Corps volunteers.
He reached the relative safety of a landing craft, its bow up on the black volcanic sand beach at Iwo. From there he was taken to a hospital ship anchored close to shore. A Navy doctor operated on what was left of his face and saved George’s life.
Unlike Guam, where he had also fought against Japanese forces, Iwo Jima was a different and much more difficult battle for the Marines of the 4th Division. The enemy worked for years building underground concrete tunnels and pill boxes that were mostly interconnected and hard to capture.
His job was to pick off as many of the enemy as possible with his 1903, 30-06 caliber, bolt-action Springfield rifle equipped with a high powered scope. He was good at his job.
George said he remembers the first American flag raised atop Suribachi. It took place at 10:15 a.m. on Feb. 23, 1945.
“When it went up the ships off shore tooted their horns and blew their whistles,” he said.
Some Marines thought the flag raising and all the commotion aboard the ships just off shore signified that they had captured the island and World War II was over. What the “Leathernecks” didn’t know was this was only day four of a 36-day battle that would claim the lives of 6,800 Americans trying to capture the eight-square-mile island. In addition, another 19,000 Americans were wounded in the attack. The Japanese lost more than 20,000 defenders.
World War II still had a ways to go. The Battle for Okinawa, the largest military engagement in the Pacific during the war, was yet to be fought. Also, the U.S. had not dropped two atomic bombs on Japan until six months later, in August ’45, officially ending the war.
By then George was in a Navy hospital in the San Francisco. He was transported by hospital ship from Iwo Jima to a field hospital in Guam and then on to a Navy hospital in Honolulu. From there it was back to the States for him. After San Francisco he was relocated to the Navy Hospital in Philadelphia.
“The Philadelphia Naval Hospital is where the plastic surgeons worked on me. That’s where they put my face back on,” he said.
In-between operations George also attended the New York Institute for the Blind. He learned to read Braille.
“It was hard. You worked with your fingers. The Braille alphabet is comprised of six dots. The whole alphabet is made from those six dots,” he explained.
After more than 1 1/2 years in various Naval hospitals undergoing five major operation, he was discharged from the Marine Corps in 1946. He went back to his folks’ home in St. Louis, Mo. where he tried to reconnect with the firm he worked for before the war. George was learning to be a men’s clothing designer when he signed up for the Marine Corps in the middle of World War II.
When he returned four years later as a discharged blind Marine, the chances of getting his old job back were just about zero.
“I couldn’t see, I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t go anywhere. How in the hell could you expect to get your old job back?” he asked.
To add to his woes his first wife divorced him when he returned home from war blind. It wouldn’t be his last divorce.
By the time he was released from the Philadelphia Naval Hospital in 1946 he had married his second wife.
“I was living in St. Louis with my second wife when we won an all-expenses paid week-long vacation to Daytona Beach,” he said. “This was in the ’50s when we first vacationed in Daytona. We really liked it and decided to come back to Florida as soon as possible.
He did several years later. By then his second wife had called their marriage quits. George returned to Florida with three children from his first two marriages.
He became involved with his third wife, a reporter for the Lehigh Acres News Weekly a paper serving the 60,000 acre development of the same name near Fort Myers. Eventually she became the paper’s editor and George was hired as advertising manage.
Fay Richmond, George’s friend for more than 50 years, said, “He got a driver to take him around to newspaper advertisers. He handled prospective advertisers from Naples north to Punta Gorda. He’d drive him to Fort Myers and George would get out of the car and walk around the business district selling advertising to local businesses. Then the driver would pick him up and take him back the paper.”
Like his first two marriages, his third attempt at matrimony only last a few years. Again George struck out a third time with a wife.
It didn’t take him long to find a fourth wife. She was also a newspaper person who worked in the advertising department of a competing weekly in a nearby town. The couple married and lived in La Belle until her death a dozen or so years ago.
It wasn’t long after she died that he moved into The Palms of Fort Myers, a retirement home where he lives today.
During the 50-plus years George lived and worked in Southwest Florida he was involved in community affairs and was active in local organizations.
“He was the president of the Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce, he was also in the Rotary, Moose, Kiwanis and his Golf Association. He was a member of the American Legion and he Veterans of Foreign Wars for over 60 years,” Fay Richmond added.
George’s two living children: James and Joann live out of state. His oldest daughter, Georgia Lee, died some years ago. On July 10, 2017, George will celebrate his 100th birthday. The Palms of Fort Myers, where he lives, is planning a big celebration in his honor.
Name: George James Breide
D.O.B.: 10 July 1917 –
D.O.D.: 3 August 2017
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Currently: Fort Myers, FL
Entered Service: 29 May 1942
Discharged: 24 July 1946
Rank: Corporal – Scout-Sniper
Unit: Company A, 1st Battalion, 9th Regiment, 4th Marine Division
Commendations: Purple Heart, WWII Victory Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Iwo Jima, Guam
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, May 29, 2017, exactly 75 years to the day from when he enlisted, and is republished with permission.
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