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U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. David A. Ottignon, the commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force, meets with 98-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran Charles “Chester” Clapper during a celebration in Clapper’s honor at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., June 12, 2024. Clapper, whose life goal was to enjoy a beer with a U.S. Marine Corps General, was drafted into military service in 1943 and served as a flame thrower during the Battle of Iwo Jima, being one of seven surviving members of his company following the battle. One of Clapper’s life goals was to enjoy a beer with a U.S. Marine Corps General. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Noah Seal)

Photo by Cpl. Noah Seal

A Hero's Welcome: Iwo Jima Veteran, 98, Honored by Camp Lejeune Marines

26 Jun 2024 | Story by Cpl. Noah Seal II Marine Expeditionary Force

Approximately 63,000 men left Iwo Jima carrying with them the stories of every man that gave their lives for the flag that hung over Mount Suribachi. Almost 80 years after the battle, those numbers have dwindled significantly. Recent statistics state that 131 World War II veterans pass away each day, taking with them events they endured and the stories they carried.

However, one such survivor still stands today, passing on to the younger generations the experiences he had in the Pacific Theater, and II Marine Expeditionary Force sought to celebrate him for his service to his country.

Charles “Chester” Clapper, of Supply, North Carolina, was drafted into the Marine Corps in 1943 at the age of 18. After months of physical training and preparations to fight the Axis forces in the Pacific, Clapper was designated as a flame thrower for his unit. a role that was associated with its 92% casualty rate. This rate did not discourage him from his duties to his unit, his Corps, and his nation. After two years of island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific, Clapper beat the odds and found himself planting his boots firmly on the black sands of Iwo Jima alongside the other 200 men in his company. Carrying a highly volatile target filled with nitrogen and gasoline upon his back, he fought alongside his brothers in arms and breathed fire against the volcanic landscape. For those five harrowing weeks until the island was declared under Allied control, Clapper’s company suffered catastrophic losses. Of those 200 men that made that initial charge from the beach into the island’s center, only seven remained. After his time in the Corps, he transferred to the Army and served for three decades before retiring as a Sergeant Major. Despite his transfer, he continued to carry a souvenir of the Battle of Iwo Jima with him every day.

“He was shot right below the knee,” Clapper’s daughter said. “At the time, the doctors couldn’t safely get it out. He’s kept that bullet with him every day of his life since Iwo Jima.”

As he took those careful steps up to the “Follow Me” Bar at Paradise Point’s officer’s club at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, the bullet didn’t hinder his enthusiasm to meet the current generation of United States Marines. As he approached his table, Sgt. Maj. David A. Wilson, the sergeant major of II Marine Expeditionary Force, rushed to his side to shake his hand and help Clapper into his chair. The veteran’s eyes lit up with admiration and a smile drew across his lips as he sat alongside Sgt. Maj. Wilson and Command Master Chief John Beck. Within the first few minutes, a line of awe-struck Marines lined up behind Chester simply to thank him for his service.

Clapper sat and shared stories of his service with the Marines present. Everyone that sat with him listened to his stories with nothing but rapt attention. His visitors almost didn’t notice when Lt. Gen. David A. Ottignon, the commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force, came to pay his respects. As Lt. Gen. Ottignon told the Marines around him to relax, a rising excitement exuded from Chester Clapper’s eyes. While sitting in a Marine Corps bar at the age of 98, he realized that one of his life’s wishes was about to be granted; he would be able to have a beer with a Marine Corps general.

As the evening progressed, Clapper shook hands, shared stories, and spent the evening in the company of fellow Marines. At the event’s conclusion, the bar had cleared out apart from a handful of Marines who had stayed to hear Clapper’s final words of wisdom and eventually parted ways with a heartfelt farewell to the Eastern Carolina veteran. Thanks to the support of II Marine Expeditionary Force for recognizing his selfless service during the Battle of Iwo Jima, Chester Clapper was able to accomplish one of his life’s goals: to enjoy a beer with a United States Marine Corps general.