“He was my brother, he died in August, 12 years ago,” he said. “I'm going for me, but I'm especially going for Carl.”
Sadly, I'd missed an article written by my co-worker Michael McNutt in late March 1995. It was a story about a man who received a Purple Heart and other medals almost exactly 50 years after he was wounded for a second time during World War II. That man was Carl W. Keepers, a Marine paratrooper.
Carl suffered a leg wound at the island of Bougainville near the Solomon Islands. Having recovered, he was sent to the 27th Regiment of the 5th Marine Division as part of the ground force attacking Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945.
Carl was critically injured on March 11, 1945, during the battle for Iwo Jima. The machine-gunner corporal was hit in the head with shrapnel from an explosion. Doctors operated but left pieces of shrapnel close to his brain. Hospitalized for months, he received his honorable discharge in February 1946.
“They brought him back to the states at Camp Pendleton while I was in the boot camp in the Navy in San Diego,” Vernon told me. “I got to go see him.”
Vernon went from boot camp to engineering school and days after graduation, World War II ended. Still serving, he was on ships with assignments including picking up Army soldiers in the Philippines and bringing them back home to the U.S.
“After the war, Carl would never talk about it,” Vernon said, “and I didn't ask. Sometimes trying to relive those things is more difficult than experiencing them.”
Carl lost some mental faculties and, after going back to Enid in '46, was unable to keep a full-time job.
He never married.
In his apartment, he kept a little replica of the Iwo Jima Memorial and some pictures.
“That's where he almost lost his life, so it was very important to him,” Vernon said.
“That's why this trip is so important to me.”