Guest speaker honored at Marine Corps’ birthday celebration

MIFFLINTOWN — Carl Dressler, 91, is a survivor.

He is also a Marine.

Thursday marked the 241st birthday of the United States Marine Corps. The Juniata Area Detachment 687 held its annual celebration inside the CJEMS community room in Mifflintown Thursday evening, where Dressler was speaking.

Dressler took to the podium following a video on the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II, the very place Dressler fought and was injured.

The battle took place Feb. 19, 1945 through March 26, 1945 on an island in the Pacific made of eight square miles of volcanic rock. Known also as Operation Detachment, the idea was to gain control of the island Japanese airfields.

Dressler was 19 when he reached the island. He chose to sign up with the Marines when World War II broke out because of the intense training a Marine received.

Paul Carden, commandant, introduced Dressler to those at the banquet noting Dressler was wounded seven times.

“He’s a survivor,” Carden said.

Dressler told the fellow marines and family members at the banquet that he does not have the memory he used to have. Glaucoma also makes it difficult for him to see.

His granddaughter, Alicia Rumberger, spoke on his behalf, reading his story as printed in a Lewistown Sentinel article on Feb. 18, 1995 – 50 years after the battle of Iwo Jima.

The article described Dressler’s detailed memories of the red beach and the “pork chop shaped island.”

Dressler witnessed the historic moment when fellow Marines raised the flag on the island, which was captured by an Associated Press photographer.

Rumberger read from the article, which said Dressler shed tears when that flag was raised. But it was only the beginning.

The flag raising occurred on Feb. 23, 1945.

The next day, Dressler received a shrapnel injury and was sent to a hospital on a ship.

Replacements for injured men were not brought in fast enough, Dressler recalled in the article, so wounded Marines, like Dressler, were sent back to battle. He was paralyzed in his right arm, the one he used to shoot. He was reminded he had another arm that still functioned, and he was told to go back to the island.

Days later Dressler was hurt again, this time blown out of a foxhole. He had suffered a concussion and lost some hearing.

This time, he could not return to battle.

His unit later earned a Bronze Star for its efforts, and Dressler also has earned a Purple Heart.

Dressler told the reporter in 1995 that he and his unit fought for the island, but they also fought for survival.

Thanking him for his service, Carden grasped Dressler with his left arm around the 91-year-old’s shoulders.

“You are our survivor,” he told him.

“I am a survivor,” Dressler said.

Dressler stayed at the front of the room to take part in the ceremonial cutting of the Marine Corps birthday cake.

The cake was cut by Carden with a Mameluke sword. The first piece went to Dressler as guest of honor. The tradition includes pieces of the cake given first to the eldest member, which was Charles Daughenbaugh, and then to the youngest member, which was Ricky Wert.

Rumberger said, after the cake cutting ceremony, that despite his war injuries, her grandfather has done well these 72 years since Iwo Jima.

His wife Virginia passed away in 1999. He has two daughters, one of whom has also passed away. Dressler lives with his surviving daughter, Jennifer Heikes in Osceola Mills. Up until two months ago he lived alone.