Monday, July 4, 2022

Local Korean War Veteran Works Toward Building Iwo Jima Memorial Park

An Iwo Jima Memorial Park for Williamsburg is nearing completion. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Bonnie McElhinny)

WILLIAMSBURG –When you’re driving past the fork for Neck-O-Land and Jamestown roads and see a hill covered with white crosses, flags and a silhouette of military men, you’ve come across Cliff Guertin’s hill — and he would love for you to stop, say hello, and ask him about it. 

Since buying the property located 1620 Jamestown Rd over 20 years ago, Guertin has been maintaining the hill and using it to honor and remember the members of the Armed Forces who protected the country in the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. 

Guertin is a combat veteran who served in Korea in 1952 and 1953.  

“I wanted to do something for the veterans that really gave so much of themselves,” he said. “We lost over 7,000 marines over there. There’s so much history. People forget. They don’t remember what all these people did.”

When Guertin first bought the property, he had no intention of turning it into a memorial park. The grass on the hill was tall and unmaintained, causing many accidents at its corner. 

While Guertin bought the property to beautify it and prevent more accidents from occurring, he eventually decided he wanted to turn it into a place of remembrance. 

Last year, he put together a board of directors that includes John Karafa, Lawrence Waltrip, Alan Shoemaker, Antoinette LeCompte and Glenn and Deborah Halseth to establish in Williamsburg-James City County its very own public Iwo Jima Memorial Park.  

Once a month, the board of directors meet at Carrot Tree Kitchens, 1303 Jamestown Rd., which Guertin calls a “historic place” for all of the planning that has happened there. 

The idea is to recreate Arlington’s Iwo Jima memorial, hut on a smaller scale. The new park is envisioned to include a trail system connecting throughout 1620 Jamestown Road.

The park will also honor all branches of armed forces, Guertin said. 

The original Iwo Jima Memorial, or the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, is located outside of Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington Ridge Park. 

The new memorial park will have a 30-foot-tall, nine-foot-wide bronze statue that is a replica of the Arlington Iwo Jima memorial.

Placed underneath the statue will be four feet of black marble with names of servicemembers from the City of Williamsburg , Toano, James City and York counties, and the surrounding areas that did not make it back from World War II.

The 30-foot tall, nine-foot wide bronze statue currently being built is a replica of the original Iwo Jima memorial. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Bonnie McElhinny)

Guertin and the board are also currently searching for local names connected to Iwo Jima. 

They have raised about 25% of the money that they need for the memorial. While attempts at fundraising slowed down last year due to the pandemic, they see a light at the end of the tunnel.

The board is currently collecting donations on their website, GoFundMe and at Carrot Tree Kitchens. 

“I’d like to get everybody involved,” Guertin said. “It’s going to help everybody. The hotels, the restaurants. I expect a lot of people to come and see this.” 

Guertin is a James City County resident who has been in the area since 1951 when he trained at Fort Eustis. Originally from Oxford, Mass., Guertin comes from a family of veterans. His father fought in World War I, and Guertin and his seven brothers all served in the military.

A widower after his wife, Nancy, died of cancer about five years ago, Guertin spends every day maintaining the hill and answering people’s questions when they stop by to check out the memorial site. 

He says that his proudest moment during his time of service was being asked by his general to fire the 500,000th round of the Korean War. He still gets teary-eyed thinking about it. 

Describing himself as “just a plain old country boy,” Guertin refuses to call himself a hero, rather wanting to draw attention to those who did not make it back. 

His main goal is to have the memorial ready by September 4, which is his birthday. 

“I want to get it up before I die,” Guertin said. “I want to get this done, so people can come from all over the world to see this.”

Much progress has already been made on the statue, which is being built in Pennsylvania. Guertin says that the board is still waiting on the black marble.  

Much of the project has relied on volunteers, including local Boy Scout troops that have built benches for the park. They also receive volunteer help from local Marines, as well as phone calls from people who have heard about the project and just want to help out. 

“It’s been such a nice project,” Guertin said. “I’ve been so happy to see the progress.” 

Guertin hopes that veterans and their families can come and enjoy the park. He also wants to educate the younger generations and ensure that no one forgets history. 

“War is hell. It is.” he said. “I want this to educate the people, help make the people remember and make sure those heroes aren’t forgotten.” 

For more information about the park or to donate, visit the Iwo Jima Williamsburg website. You can also donate by visiting the Iwo Jima Memorial’s GoFundMe page or make a direct donation at Carrot Tree.

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