Veteran Salute: WWII Vet’s life was saved by the bazooka he was carrying

Veteran Salute

ABILENE, Kan. (KSNW) – An Abilene veteran was drafted at the age of 20 and says he didn’t hesitate to go, because he already had some dear friends away at war.

The soldier also figured WWII would end soon, but John Iseli figured out quickly the war was far from over and says he had some really close calls along the way.

“That one up there has two battle stars on it, that was two of the campaigns I was in over there,” John Iseli said. 

John Iseli says it was a real honor when an Abilene high school journalism class wanted to share his war story.

“That tells what took place at that time,” WWII Veteran John Iseli said. 

Iseli lived history.

“You never know what was going to happen, whether you were going to make it back or not,” Iseli said. 

He remembers well when they invaded Okinawa.

“That’s a sea wall going into Okinawa, there was seawall there, so we had to climb over that,” Iseli said. 

He says the first few days they didn’t meet much resistance…

“Then on the fourth, that’s when we hit the one big line and all heck tore lose then,” Iseli said.

He says another soldier could no longer carry his bazooka, so he offered to do so.

“I had that under my arm, and I was holding it down, so I could run. One went through my shoulder, three bullets hit that bazooka, and the other hit my finger and broke my finger,” Iseli said.

The rocket launcher saved his life.

“I was the only one who survived, the others, they all just went like mowing hay down,” Iseli said.

He says enemy fire was so heavy it was nearly impossible to get out.

“That’s how I got out, was a tank took me back out of there,” Iseli said.

You could say the four leaf clover hanging from his dog tags did its job.

“My aunt gave me that before I left and went through all of it,” Iseli said.

That includes a very close call during his stay on a hospital ship.

“A Japanese suicide plane took the hospital ship right beside the one I was in, and it went through the deck,” Iseli said.

Iseli would eventually return to the battlefield, where he figured he would know many of the other soldiers.

“I didn’t know hardly anybody, because we landed with 213 in our company and when we pulled back off the line, there were 46 left,” Iseli said.

The trip he survived, half way around the world, was the very first time he’d ever been away from home.

“That was enough, I was lucky to have made it back out of that,” Iseli said.

He also figured out, no matter how far you get from home.

“I seen Abilene, Kansas on it and I looked up at the guy’s face and it was Bob Mcqune. He lives up here in the Buckeye community, just a little ways from where I went to school with him,” Iseli said.

He says he also saw a young soldier on a train on the way home, who went to the war on the same day he did, and that return trip was one he never thought he would make.

What a story this member of the Greatest Generation had to share with journalism students and one he says is far from over.

“I’m only 95, so I’ve got quite a while to go yet,” Iseli said.

Once Abilene High School students compiled the stories of 17 veterans they printed 500 copies.

At a book signing at the Eisenhower Presidential Library those books all went in no time.

Then, they printed 250 more and those went quickly, as well.

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