MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - A 92-year-old Minnesota Marine got a special tribute this weekend as the Vikings honored him at Sunday's game in recognition of Veterans Day. Like every veteran, he has a story to tell -- a story that will soon fade with time.
When you hear the term United States Marine, an image instantly comes to mind. Someone chiseled from stone, smart, and tough. If we were to call central casting, they'd likely send us a man named Wes McCoy.
Today, generations of American’s owe their freedom to McCoy and the thousands of his fellow Marines who didn't come home from one of the most defining battles in world history.
After the most tremendous air and naval pounding of the Pacific War, American troops landed in Okinawa. It was Easter Sunday, 1945 -- "I don't think history could tell you how bad it was,” McCoy said.
It was the beginning of the most violent battle in modern history. Among the Marines who landed on that rock of an island was a rock of man.
"And I had written off my own life. I was ready to go,” McCoy said.
McCoy was still a teenager when he enlisted. He joined in the navy to avoid the infantry. But at his induction, a recruiter had marching orders of his own.
"And he took two out of the front row and then I heard him say, 'You, back there in the blue coat. You step out there, you'll make a good Marine.' I looked this way and I looked that way and he said, 'I mean you, sonny!'" McCoy said.
He still has vivid memories of how the Marines trained him to fire without fear, and how no training prepared for the real fear when the enemy fired back.
"I had mortar shells, I had them come right to the side of my fox hole and just splatter me with a burst of their soil,” he said. “Just cover you up with dust and mud."
What the Okinawa newsreels captured on film, McCoy documented in words.
"I'm writing to you now from my fox hole,” McCoy read his letter to Fox 9. "You don't have to worry about me getting shot.”
He described how no enemy had been born. It took the Marines five months to capture Okinawa, and it came with a heavy price. The 6th Marine Division suffered 8,227 battle casualties on Okinawa Jima.
McCoy nearly paid the price, too -- "Well I had a group of 60 guys that I went in with and when I got through there were six of us left, I'm one of the six."
Like many veterans, he locked away the memories along with the pictures. Only recently has he been talking to school children about the war, a way to honor the Marines he lost and the world they changed.
These days, McCoy battles the march of time. At 92, he steadies himself with a cane of wisdom, and shuffles with steps of confidence -- but still stands with a chest of Marine pride.
"I'm very proud of serving with them. They're a good outfit. Tougher than Hell. But, so it war."
McCoy came home from the war, settled in the Twin Cities, and worked for Dow Chemical for more than 30 years. His son and daughter said he was always a happy and generous man, nothing fazed him -- McCoy says it's because he learned from the Marines that as bad as things could get in life, it would never be worse than what he went through in combat.
He was honored by the Vikings for his service in tribute to all veterans who've served this country.