Dad’s war stories

November 10, 2013 01:18 pm

The Pilot / Jef Hatch Jerry Conger makes and sells  military-themed decorations to honor those who have served. The Pilot/Jef Hatch
The Pilot / Jef Hatch Jerry Conger makes and sells military-themed decorations to honor those who have served. The Pilot/Jef Hatch
Jerry Conger grew up not knowing that her father, Dale Goodman, had witnessed one of the most iconic events in World War II — Marines raising the flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945.

While Goodman wasn’t in the Joe Rosenthal photograph of the second flag-raising, he was among the 42 men who made it to the top of the mountain that dominates the 8-square-mile island 750 miles south of Tokyo. 

Conger grew up knowing that her father, who died in 1998 in Brookings, had fought on Iwo Jima, but it wasn’t until she was 18 that she knew he had been among those on Mount Suribachi.

“When I was 18 he showed me his Purple Heart and an old glossy photo of him on top of Mount Suribachi with the flag. He pointed out where he was and said, ‘I was there,’” Conger said.

Like many men who served during the war, he did not speak much about it, and Conger said this was the only time she heard him speak about his time in Pacific. 

Her uncle, Jack Boyd, was different. Conger remembers her Uncle Jack telling stories about his time during World War II, that brought him from Iceland to being one of Carlson’s Raiders in the jungles of the Solomon Islands, to training Marines back in the States and then being among the first ashore on Iwo Jima. 

He was wounded once in the Solomon Islands and then again on the second day of the Battle of Iwo Jima when he was shot in the leg, which took him out of the fight. 

From the stories she heard growing up, Conger knew how much the war affected everything and everyone at the time.

 “My grandma, my mother and her sister all carried on at home,” Conger said. “They sent packages of peanut butter and knives to Uncle Jack.”

Her Uncle Jack, who currently lives in a veteran’s home in Texas, trained her father and Conger says one of the few times she saw her father cry was when he talked about her Uncle Jack. 

“Every time he would talk about him, he would get tears in his eyes. He said Uncle Jack was the only man he was ever afraid, but that he loved that man. He said he saved his life,” Conger said. 

Goodman, who after the war owned a sporting goods store in Shady Cove, worked for over 50 years as a guide on the Rogue River. He moved to Harbor in 1978 and in his later years made wood carvings and decoys, some of which he sold at the Azalea Festival. 

Even though she heard her uncle’s stories when she was younger, it wasn’t until a few years ago that Conger became interested and started to research Iwo Jima, the flag raising on it and about World War II. 

“I knew Iwo Jima was a really important battle in the war. I knew the importance of the photo he showed me, and from there I found out little bits and pieces,” Conger said. 

She said finding out more about Iwo Jima and the flag raising and other things was like a mystery and she was a detective piecing together information. 

Through her research, she was able to contact another individual, Leo Champagne, in the photograph, who she reckons is probably among the last living of the 42 men who climbed Suribachi that day still left alive. Only 11 of those men made it off the island alive. 

She sent Champagne a rock she found on one of the beaches around Brookings that she had decorated with the eagle, globe and anchor — the symbol of the Marine Corps. Conger makes military themed decorations, some of which she displays at the Sporthaven Bar and Grill. 

Besides the photos and stories and the memory of her father, even her name carries the memory of someone who died in the war. 

“My mother said my dad was adamant that my name be Jerry, whether I was a boy or a girl,” Conger said. “Later I found out that he had lost his best friend in the war and his name was Jerry.”