Howard Cleland was an elementary school principal in Missouri when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The attack prompted him to apply for officer training school and join the Navy. He was a lieutenant when he joined the crew of the U.S. S. Humbolt in the South Atlantic.
"We received emergency orders to report to a task group that had surrounded a German submarine. We sent a boarding party aboard the sub to secure it. The great thing about it: We captured their logs all of their grid maps. And in the next 10 months, the Allies practically wiped out the German navy because of that."
They towed the U-505 sub for a couple of days. Eventually it was brought back to the U.S. where it's now on display at the Museum of Industry and Science in Chicago. Following his success in the Atlantic, Cleland was sent to the Pacific, aboard the U.S. S. Stokes.
"We were involved in the first wave in the landing of Iwo Jima. We arrived there before dawn. I was preparing to go on watch. The island was absolutely being bombarded. It would just seem impossible that anyone could be alive on the island. We'd send the marines that were aboard to the island in the landings. It was a bloody, bloody battle."
Despite heavy casualties, the marines captured Mt. Serabachi in a matter of days. He still remembers the moment the American flag went up.
"I was on watch on the bridge when they went. A roar went up. You could hear it from the ship and the island itself. I think that event turned the tide, because it was so exciting to see."
From Iwo Jima, the Stokes went on to Okinowa and the crew was preparing for the Battle of Japan, when the atomic bomb dropped.
After the war ended, Cleland used the GI Bill to get his masters and doctorate. He became principal at two Jackson schools before settling in as president of Belhaven College, where he stayed 17 years until he retired. He is humble about his time in the service.
"I don't feel like a hero. I just was glad I had an opportunity to serve."
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