On Feb. 1, 2021, Iwo Jima Marine veteran Elwood “Woody” Hughes died at the age of 95, just three weeks before the anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima. Hughes witnessed the historic American flag raising on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945, and planned to raise his own American flag on the 76th anniversary at a nearby school.
The retired schoolteacher who served in the US Marine Corps from 1943 to 1946 participated in the Battle of Saipan before Iwo Jima. He worked under Marine Corps Gen. H.M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith — often called the father of modern amphibious warfare — at the headquarters typing urgent messages and communications. When he landed at Iwo Jima with the second wave as a member of 5th Amphibious Corps Signal Battalion attached to the 5th Marine Division, he worked as what he called a “gofer,” or a runner.
“Our signal battalion, we supplied communications [to] personnel for units,” Hughes told the American Veterans Center in 2020. “On Iwo Jima, I was given the distinction of delivering an urgent message to one of the [Navajo] code talkers.”
After the war he obtained his teaching degree from Ball State University, moved to the Chicago area, and became a high school physical education teacher and varsity baseball coach. He didn’t speak about his military service publicly until near the end of his life, when he opened up about his experiences in World War II.
“They kind of treat people like me as a celebrity and a hero, and I feel I’m not,” he said in a 2020 interview. “I shouldn’t be, because the heroes never walked off of Iwo Jima. I feel I’m doing it more for the honor of those who sacrificed their lives on Iwo Jima.”
Before his death, according to his son Bill Hughes, he had only one date marked on his calendar: Feb. 23, 2021.
“He was going to go over to a local school that was closed because of COVID. And he was going to raise the flag at 10 o’clock on Tuesday, Feb. 23, […] to commemorate the Marines who died on Iwo Jima,” his son told ABC7 News. “He was hoping to start a movement.”