GETTYSBURG, Pennsylvania — Before his 25th birthday, Grover E. Thompson had already experienced an extraordinary life.
The Gettysburg man known as "Doddie" to friends and family, is a veteran of the 4th Marine Division of the U.S. Marine Corps. During World War II and over the course of about 13 months, the division made four amphibious landings on Pacific islands held by the Japanese: Roi-Namur, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima.
Doddie is one of the few who survived all four battles unscathed.
"The Lord spared me," he explains humbly.
In his home, on the campus of the Gettysburg Lutheran Retirement Village, hangs a print of a painting by John Shaw, "Iwo Jima: A Hard Won Haven." The print is one of 500 that were signed by Doddie and 11 other Iwo Jima veterans in November 2006 as part of the opening of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico. It depicts a damaged B-29 coming in for a landing. Doddie points to a ridge at the edge of the airstrip, and recalls watching the plane land from that position.
"He watched them put up the flag," says wife Dottie.
The flag to which she refers is the one depicted in the iconic photo in which Marines raised the American flag atop Mount Suribachi on during the fighting. The Battle of Iwo Jima lasted from Feb. 19 to March 26, 1945.
Doddie recalls making the decision to join the Marines while on a hunting trip with a cousin. On the way, they heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor.
"We looked at each other and said, let's join the Marines," he said.
His memories are vivid, and his involvement with the Marines to this day is strong.
His home is filled with memories of his service - medals, pictures, and handwritten accounts of battle action.
One account recalls his first introduction to combat, when he and fellow Marine Reid Chapman were fighting with the 4th Marine Division on the island of Roi-Namur in February of 1944.
In the remembrance, Doddie writes of machine gun fire and shelling echoing throughout the air when he and Chapman were ordered to use hand grenades to attack a Japanese block house.
Stuffing grenades in their pockets, the pair ran to the blockhouse. There, Doddie advanced and threw his grenades, and then covered Chapman as he went in to do the same.
"The deep window sill slanted slightly forward and his grenade landed just short of going in," Doddie wrote. "It paused for a second and started rolling forward."
That's when Doddie started yelling to Chapman to get away from the window. The grenade landed on the ground and exploded where Chapman had been standing seconds before.
"I often thanked the Lord I was watching him that close," Doddie wrote.
But written remembrances aren't the only way Doddie remembers his service. He and Dottie travel to Arizona each winter for several months. While there, they go to the town of Sacaton each February. The town is the home town of Ira Hayes, one of the six men in the iconic photo of the flag raising at Iwo Jima.
According to Dottie, the town each year remembers Iwo Jima and Hayes with a lengthy parade. The Ira Hayes Park has a statue in Hayes' memory.
In 2012, Doddie was "honored to lay the flag there," said Dottie.
His involvement doesn't stop in Arizona. Doddie is a member of the Gettysburg Battlefield Detachment of the Marine Corps League. He and his wife expect to attend the annual birthday banquet honoring the founding of the Marine Corps this coming Saturday.
For many years, Doddie has been the oldest Marine in the group, and has had the honor of cutting the birthday cake. He then passes it on to the youngest Marine, "thus pasing the traditions of the Marine Corps on to the next generation," explained Dottie.
After three years of service, Doddie returned home to Gettysburg, where he worked at the family restaurant on Carlisle Street. In 1958, he founded The Avenue Restaurant on Steinwehr Avenue. He ran the establishment until 1976. The restaurant is now under the leadership of its fourth owner.
Throughout his life, from childhood to the present, Doddie has also been an avid hunter.
In 1968, he was the second hunter in Pennsylvania to complete to the Grand Slam of Big Horn Sheep, and for years, had his trophies mounted in his home. The Grand Slam has since been donated to Cabela's in Hamburg Pa.
He still has many of his trophies - a bear head he refers to as "Old Grizz," several bucks, and grouse.
"Grouse is my specialty," he explains with a smile. The 91-year-old hopes to bag a deer during the upcoming hunting season. Wife, Dottie, has already taken her deer for the season. Over the course of their 29-year marriage, Dottie has learned to hunt and golf and joins Doddie in the pursuits that keep him active.
"When I get old, I'm going to quit," he quips. "Age is just a matter of the mind, and if you don't mind it doesn't matter."
"The good Lord has truly blessed us," said Dottie. "Sometimes it's hard to believe what blessings we've received."
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Information from: Gettysburg Times, http://www.gettysburgtimes.com