'Look forward to every day:' Iwo Jima combat veteran turns 100

Charles Berton “Bert” Mulligan, a U.S. Marine veteran who fought in the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima, celebrates his 100th birthday on Thursday.

CUMBERLAND — Charles Berton “Bert” Mulligan, a U.S. Marines veteran who fought in the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima, celebrates his 100th birthday Thursday.

Mulligan was part of the U.S. Marine Corps Third Division that took part in the 36-day battle to take the island of Iwo Jima from the Imperial Japanese Army in 1945.

A resident of Ridgeley, West Virginia, Mulligan spoke to the Times-News on Tuesday.

“I don’t feel like I’m 100 years old in my mind, but my body tells me otherwise,” Mulligan joked.

As for his secret to a long life, Mulligan said he used to say it was eating ramps and drinking ginger brandy.

“Now, I say it’s just living a good life,” he said. “I guess you could say my family keeps me going. I look forward to every day.”

Debbie Palmore, Mulligan’s daughter, said her father is doing well and would be seeing family and friends this week to celebrate his birthday.

“I’m so blessed to have this man as my dad,” Palmore said. “There are no words to describe my love for him and how I feel about him turning 100. It’s such an honor to still have him with us. Not only as my dad but as a Marine veteran who survived the horrors of Iwo Jima. There are not many of these men left who are most definitely the greatest generation.”

Mulligan spent 29 days fighting on the island. After a massive U.S. aerial bombardment, Marines were sent ashore to secure the island only to find Japanese soldiers were hidden underground in an elaborate system of bunkers, caves and tunnels.

Mulligan was asked what he remembered most about the battle.

“Getting off of the landing craft onto the beach wondering how far I was going to get on that island,” he said. “It was very slow-moving crawling up the black sandy beach listening to the mortar shells hitting the low land right where we were headed. It was always on my mind that I might not make it off the island alive.”

Mulligan was featured on an episode of the “Mike Huckabee Show” in November 2018. He appeared as part of a special Veterans Day program that was aired on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

During the 36-day battle on Iwo Jima, 6,821 Marines were killed and 19,217 wounded. Of all the casualties in the Pacific Theatre during the war, one-third took place there. A photo taken while six Marines raised the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi has become one of the most iconic images of World War II. 

“We had to do it,” said Mulligan. “We needed the island bad. We needed it because we couldn’t make it to Japan without it.”

A private, Mulligan served with the 2nd Battalion, Bravo Co., 21st Regiment, part of the 3rd Marine Division from June 27, 1944, through December 15, 1945. He also participated in the battle for Guam. He is a member of the Gold Star Post 6452, Veterans of Foreign Wars in Ridgeley.

“We are so proud of him,” said Palmore. “That he is here today, it truly is a blessing.”

Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.

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