In early 1945, when Sal Famularo was the age of most Union first-year students, he was a Marine fighting for his life in one of the deadliest battles of World War II.
“When someone talks about hell, I can say, ‘I’ve been there,’” he says of his time on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima, a battle that claimed 6,800 Americans and 21,000 Japanese.
Famularo, 88, of nearby Glenville, brought his experience to students in Prof. Stephen Berk’s class on the history of World War II. Berk heard of Famularo through a local veteran’s group and invited him to the class. It was the first time he had told his story to students.
“We can study history all we want, but nothing can rival the authenticity of someone who was actually there,” said Curt Myers ’15. “Mr. Famularo’s personal account of his time in the Pacific during World War II was as heart-rending as it was informative. I consider myself honored and lucky to have met this man and heard his story.”
Until the American capture of Iwo Jima, the island was a Japanese stronghold, fortified with bunkers, gun nests and a network of tunnels. It was to have been a key element in the planned invasion of Japan, an operation made unnecessary by the Japanese surrender after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The iconic tableau of Marines raising the flag over Iwo Jima’s Mount Sirabachi took place a short distance from Famularo. But dug into a hole in the island’s black volcanic ash, his only clue of the event was a fanfare of horns blowing on American ships.
Nine days into the month-long battle, Famularo was shot in the leg, evacuated by a tank crew and brought to a hospital ship. He spent two years recovering and re-learning to walk. He received the Purple Heart in the hospital.
Seven decades later, the tears still come easily to Famularo. “There’s not a day that the place doesn’t come to my mind for a few seconds,” he said.
But talking about it, especially to a new generation, has been therapeutic.
“The students were so intent on what I had to say, and when we finished they gave me the biggest hand of my life,” he said. “Every one of them thanked me. I had a lump in my throat.”
“With young people like that, I think this country is going to be OK.”