The late Col. Raymond Scoufos was a keeper of things — not materialistic things but of memories, photos and friends.
He filled multiple albums with the photos he had taken throughout his life — photos of his family, his fellow Marines and veterans. He sneaked a 35 mm camera into his bag as he fought in World War II.
From that camera, dozens of little square black and white photos illustrate Scoufos’ experiences as his company moved through Guadalcanal, Guam and Iwo Jima.
“We have all these little snapshots somewhere in this house of pictures he took but wasn’t supposed to be taking,” said his son, Vince Scoufos.
Memories etched in time
Four generations of Scoufoses gathered in the Oklahoma City home Raymond and Billie Scoufos shared for half of their 66 years of marriage. The family recalled stories and thumbed through many, many photos, remembering the family’s patriarch, who died June 18.
This will be the family’s first Memorial Day without their military hero.
Scoufos enlisted in the Marines on Aug. 6, 1943, at age 18. He wanted it to be his choice. He didn’t want to wait to be drafted. After boot camp at Camp Pendleton in southern California, Scoufos was sent to fight.
Scoufos started all his war stories with a dateline: Iwo Jima, the morning of 24 Feb. ’45. His company had been on the island four days.
“There was no safe place on Iwo Jima,” Vince Scoufos said. “Everywhere you went, you were within mortar range or artillery range. Dad fortunately wasn’t fighting hand-to-hand and hole-to-hole to kill Japanese.”
Raymond Scoufos was standing on an airstrip with a superior, looking up as several other Marines raised a large American flag atop Mount Suribachi, the volcanic high-point of the island.
“There was Old Glory — waving in the breeze. I was so happy and excited that I started yelling and pointing and soon all my fellow 3rd Recon Marine buddies joined in because we knew what it had cost since D-Day, 19 Feb. ’45, to secure Suribachi, much less raise our American Flag on top,” Scoufos wrote in a 2006 letter to The Oklahoman.
It had been a bittersweet triumph after a bloody battle. That moment of joy was tempered by the sight of graves registration troops hauling bodies of dead Americans. The truck beds were covered in canvas, but boots of dead men stuck out the ends.
“There must have been 12 bodies in there. It wasn't just one (truck); it was several,” Scoufos said in a 2007 interview with The Oklahoman.
“They just kept coming, kept coming.”
Telling the stories
There was the time his platoon was trying to dig out foxholes, only to find they were digging into a Japanese ammunition dump filled with bombs.
Had he gone on one particular night attack with some comrades, he likely wouldn’t have made it back to tell his stories, he noted in the margins of “Iwo Jima: Legacy of Valor” by Bill D. Ross.
Most of those service members were brought back by the graves registration troops.
Scoufos often told the story of a morning mission on Iwo Jima when a Japanese attack came.
Platoon Sgt. Bill McCarthy hollered for Scoufos and another soldier to go get rations and water.
“We weren’t gone an hour. We came back, I kept looking up ahead. ‘Where the hell is everybody?’ ” he said in 2007.
“They were down in their holes. One kid was crying. He said, ‘They got McCarthy. A sniper got him in the back of the head.’”
Scoufos told and retold his stories to his family and the many people he befriended during his time, said Vince Scoufos and his sister, Ramona Harbour.
At times, the stories were repetitive, but the family knew that it was Raymond Scoufos’ way of dealing with the trauma of war while making sure the deaths of his comrades were not forgotten.
Vince Scoufos remembers the time his brother-in-law took his dad to see the movie “Letters from Iwo Jima.”
“Dad was narrating the whole thing. People in the theater, you’d think they would be irritated, but they were listening to Dad.”
Scoufos was active on military holidays, proudly flying his U.S. flag, in salute of his Marine buddies of WWII, the Army buddies he later served alongside in Korea and those he served with in the 45th Infantry Division Thunderbirds, he said.
He became a career officer in the Oklahoma Army National Guard.
A lifetime member of the Marine Corps Association and a graduate of Oklahoma Military Academy in Claremore, Scoufos was inducted into the Okemah Hall of Fame in 1990.
“I haven’t had any more honor than knowing my fellow soldiers and Marines,” he said.
As one of the first generation of his Greek family born in America, Col. Raymond Scoufos was an example of the many immigrant families whose allegiance to their new country led them to serve in the armed forces proudly during wartimes.
His family members, on this first Memorial Day without him, urge others to take time with the eldest members of their families to listen to their stories, write them down, save their photos and pass along their memories to future generations.