A soldier honored 61 years later|[5/29/06]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A pact between war buddies and an undying memory of one soldier has led to a service and dedication that at least four people feel is long overdue.

A foot marker dedication service for Vicksburg native Cpl. Robert Paul Platzer, who was shot down Feb. 27, 1945, in the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II’s Pacific Theater will be at 10 a.m. today at Cedar Hill Cemetery.

Platzer died before his son, 3 at the time, had even learned to tie his shoes.

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That son, now 67 and living in Lafayette, La., is a Vicksburg native. He can remember the sound of &#8220Taps” on a bugle and the shots of rifles at his father’s military funeral in 1945. But he doesn’t remember much about the man, dubbed &#8220popular” by The Vicksburg Evening Post in his obituary.

Jack Platzer lived in Vicksburg with his mother until he was 9, and over the years heard stories about his hero dad from his family and locals, but it wasn’t until recently that he heard the kinds of stories he’s been longing to hear.

A newfound distant cousin believes Cpl. Platzer was ready to be found exactly when she found him.

&#8220When a person is ready to be found, it’s like the floodwalls open,” said Vicksburg genealogist Bobbie Ferguson. &#8220Now, his son is old enough to understand, and he’s ready for him to know some things.”

Ferguson was contacted several months ago by a friend of the late soldier, 84-year-old Belleville, Texas, resident Bob Evans, who was desperate to pay homage to his bootcamp bunkmate and fellow Iwo Jima Marine.

He &#8220said he had come to the graveyard and saw the typical government headstone and didn’t like it,” Jack Platzer said. &#8220He wanted something more about him – to tell who he was and when he was killed.”

Evans made it clear to Ferguson and Platzer that he would like to have a marker at the foot of the soldier’s grave so everyone could know he was a war hero.

&#8220It had been on his mind for years,” Ferguson said. &#8220It had become almost an obsession by the time I got involved.”

Evans found Ferguson by calling the Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library and asking for help with his journey. Because of Ferguson’s 22-year history with genealogy, the library called on her to step in. Once the two discovered the whereabouts of the soldier’s only son, everything seemed to snowball.

&#8220The more research I did, the more caught up in it I became,” she said.

So caught up, in fact, that she discovered she and Jack Platzer are distant cousins through shared relatives buried down the hill from Cpl. Platzer.

Within several months, Jack Platzer started getting to know his father, who joined the 5th Division, 27th Marines when he was 20. He died three years later when he and another Marine were putting up a radio antenna. They were shot down by the Japanese on Feb. 27, 1945, less than a month before Platzer’s 23rd birthday. It wasn’t long after the soldiers had arrived and only four days after he saw – what is now captured in a famous photograph and statue – the American flag being raised by American Marines at Mount Suribachi. It symbolized the United States gaining control of the island of Iwo Jima and the airfields. The image is often associated with Memorial Day celebrations throughout the country.

In 36 days of fighting, 25,851 American soldiers died at Iwo Jima.

In order for his friend’s legacy to live on, Evans contacted Platzer through phone calls and letters to tell him about his heroic father and to get permission to have the marker added to his gravesite.

Another friend, Willis Pehl, also fought with Platzer.

He recently told his friend’s son how he has kept his memory alive – through a pact he made with his fellow Marine while in battle.

&#8220They made a pact, if one or the other lived and survived the war, they would name their son after the other one,” Jack Platzer said. &#8220Mr. Pehl named his son Robert Paul Pehl and his son named his son, Robert Paul Pehl Jr.”

Willis Pehl also has some tangible memories of the soldier.

&#8220He got my dad’s backpack, which had a lot of shrapnel in it – and a picture of me that he kept,” Platzer said. &#8220He said he looks at it every day.”

For a son who knew little about his own father, today’s service is not only to honor Cpl. Robert Paul Platzer’s military service, but a way for Jack Platzer to learn more about the man he’s known only through photos and a grave marker.

One thing he knows for sure.

&#8220My dad loved the service,” Platzer said. &#8220All he wanted to be was a military man.”

It’s a legacy known in the Platzer family. Jack Platzer, who moved back to Vicksburg when he was 30, served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and later joined the National Guard.