CARMEL, Ind. – For the U.S. Marines, it was the most epic battle of World War II. Tragically, it was also one of the bloodiest. The Battle of Iwo Jima also produced one of the most iconic images in American history. The raising of the flag atop Mount Suribachi came to symbolize the dedication and sacrifice of the war. But for a Hoosier who was there that day, it was much more personal.
"I looked up there and about six guys standing in a row and they had a flag, an American flag and I thought, ‘my God, maybe this thing isn't going to last too much longer,’ you know?"
Jim Baize served in the U.S. Navy during the war. He piloted landing crafts during the invasions of Guam, Tinian, Saipan and finally Iwo Jima. He was fighting a war thousands of miles from his Indianapolis home and he was still a teenager.
“By the time I got onto Iwo, I was 17. I landed on Iwo when I was 17,” laughed Baize
Baize’s first brush with death happened on Iwo Jima. A Japanese motor round hit his landing craft, killing everyone on board except Baize. He was rescued, pulled ashore and despite his wounds, spent the next 10 days fighting some of the fiercest combat of the war.
"You know, I wasn't scared. I don't know how to explain it, but I wasn't scared. “
Jim was wounded again, this time bad enough to end up in an Army hospital where he studied and got his GED. But the war had already taught him his greatest lesson.
"It taught me that there's always a way to succeed if you're willing to keep your eyes open and keep on fighting."
The dozens of pictures in his Carmel home tell the rest of his story. Jim returned home, got an engineering degree at Northwestern University, a nuclear engineering degree at Purdue and eventually became an executive at Allison Transmission, a lobbyist in Washington and a card carrying member of the Greatest Generation.
"I always just figured, hell if you give me $10, I can find myself all around the world, so I've always been really confident, but not to display it,” said Baize.
Jim founded his own engineering firm in Indianapolis, building things like hospitals and apartment complexes all across the country. But he’s always found time to share his story of survival and achievement.
"Boy, it’s a beautiful old country we live in, we're safe and I tell you what, I'd still give my life for that flag."