SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Jim Baize was just 17 when the Navy landing craft he was steering toward Iwo Jima was struck by a mortar in 1945, killing 38 Marines and his three crewmembers — everyone on board but him.
"I was the only man that came out of that boat alive," the now 86-year-old World War II veteran recalled. "A Marine pulled me up on the beach. I was pretty beat up. Part of my life jacket was gone. Part of my helmet was gone. My back was banged up pretty bad and I had some guts down my back and neck. They got a corpsman over and they fixed me enough."
A Marine helped Baize gather a gun, a helmet, a canteen and some other material from some of the dead on the beach. And he joined the Marines in the fierce fighting against the Japanese in a battle for the island.
"I didn't have any other choice," he said.
Baize, who lied about his age when he enlisted at age 15, is among the more than 100 World War II veterans expected this weekend at an event honoring military veterans at the Indiana Military Museum in Vincennes, about 50 miles north of Evansville.
In the past five years, the largest number of World War II veterans who have attended was about 40, said Jim Osborne, the museum's founder and curator. But this year, he is expecting more than 100 after receiving numerous inquiries to an ad placed in an American Legion magazine by the Vincennes/Knox County Convention & Visitor's Bureau.
"We've gotten calls from all over the place," he said. "We don't know for sure how many veterans will show up, but we certainly know we're going to have a much larger number of World War II vets than we have before."
The event Saturday and Sunday will also include battle re-enactments, a parade of World War II vehicles and presentations of uniforms and other information related to the war. Osborne said the goal is to recognize the veterans and to make sure what they went through is remembered.
"We want to bring these people together and let the public have a chance these people and talk to them while they are still around," he said. "There are some great stories of survival and in many cases heroes. People need to hear about these things."
The Department of Veteran Affairs estimates there are 1.2 million World War II veterans still alive in the United States, including about 26,000 in Indiana.
Baize, who lives in the Indianapolis suburb of Carmel, said he is looking forward to telling his story on Sunday, including talking about seeing the first flag raising at Iwo Jima. A second flag-raising was captured in the iconic photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal of The Associated Press.
Baize, who is still a partner for a company that works on public-private partnerships, has spoken to more than 40 groups about his war experiences. He said he wants to let young people know about the sacrifices made by his generation.
"Without these brave young men that were heroes, you would not have a country that is as strong and as safe and as free as it is today," Baize said. "It's something they need to know.
"And if they've never learned it before, maybe they'll learn enough that they'll want to go learn a lot more, find some more history books and find out what you can."