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Reflections on Iwo Jima : Youth's Peace Plea Wins Essay Contest

January 04, 1987|DENISE-MARIE SANTIAGO | Times Staff Writer

ARCADIA — Michael Jacoby was 16 when he and his grandparents traveled to Iwo Jima, where his grandfather had served in the 5th Marine Division during World War II.

That day in February, 1985, Jacoby watched as American and Japanese veterans, gathered for the 40th anniversary of the war's second-bloodiest battle, "approached each other, at first shaking hands hesitantly, then embracing and crying."

Then he stood by as his grandfather, Earl H. Tharalson of Arcadia, talked to a Japanese war veteran.

"These two old men were standing on top of Mt. Suribachi hugging each other," Jacoby wrote in an essay about the experience.

'So Much Changed'

"Forty years ago they had been mortal enemies. Forty years ago they had tried to kill each other. Forty years ago, the very spot where they stood had been alive with bombs, guns, flame throwers and death and hatred. How could so much have changed in 40 years? How many times have enemies stood together as friends after murderous attacks on each other?"

Jacoby's recollections, which began as an assignment for a speech class, eventually became the theme for an essay that won him first-place honors in the Rotary International Letters for Peace Writing Contest, $10,000 to be used for his education and a trip for two to Epcot Center in Orlando, Fla.

In the essay, which was in the form of a letter to President Reagan, Jacoby wrote: "I was determined to remember the feelings I was having because I was the youngest on the island that day and I was going to be able to remember the longest."

Frank Fennell, chairman of the 13-member panel that chose the winner, said Jacoby's essay was an early favorite among the judges.

While many of the essays called for more student and cultural exchanges as a means of achieving world peace, Fennell said, Jacoby's essay "grew out of a deep personal experience. The letter has a kind of warmth. It's a very personal essay."

45,000 Entries

Fennell, dean of humanities and a professor of English at Loyola University in Chicago, said Jacoby's entry, one of 45,000 from 40 countries, also showed maturity in his ability to relate to an experience outside of his culture.

Jacoby "was able to look at that particular experience not as an American beating a drum for America, but as a citizen of the world," Fennell said. "He had a real sense of himself as a person who was there."

Jacoby said deciding what to write for the service club's contest was not difficult. He had only to retell his experience of meeting the veterans and watching their faces as they relived their part of the war, he said.

"I didn't experience the war, but I experienced the aftermath," said Jacoby, a lanky 18-year-old senior at Arcadia High School. He hopes to enter the University of California, Santa Barbara, in the fall.

Tharalson, Jacoby's grandfather, a former chief warrant officer in a demolition platoon, said the trip brought him closer to his grandson because the youth "understands now."

"He met other Marines . . . that would go to hell for each other. They still would," Tharalson, 72, said.

No War Stories

"When he writes in his letter that he will be able to remember the longest, that really hit him because it's true," Tharalson said. "Most of us will be gone in 10 years, but he'll be here for 20 or 30 years to remember."

Jacoby said his grandfather, who lives nearby in Arcadia, does not dwell on the war.

"He used to tell me when I asked him, but he never made it a point to tell me about all the fighting he did," Jacoby said. "I pretty much figured it all out when I got there. He never told me how he was in a pit shooting at people."

Since returning from the trip, Jacoby has a new kind of respect for his grandfather.

New Kind of Patriotism

"I admire him for being able to go on and continue his life and not let it affect him too tremendously," Jacoby said, adding that he admires the way his grandmother, Eleanor, handled the added family responsibilities while her husband was in battle.

Jacoby said he also has a new kind of patriotism that grew from visiting Iwo Jima.

"I'd much rather not fight in a war, but there's no way my mother or anyone could keep me from fighting for my country," he said.

"I see a lot of good in the country," Jacoby said. "I'd give my life to let someone enjoy what I've enjoyed so far, and I haven't even gotten out of high school yet."

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