Robin Barrett, a resident of the Edward C. Allworth Veterans’ Home, celebrated his 94th birthday on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
For decades, however, his birthday has also stood as a reminder of one of the most momentous days of his life. It was on Feb. 19, 1945, that American forces landed on the small Pacific island of Iwo Jima.
“That’s where I celebrated my 20th birthday. And it was a party,” Barrett said.
The United States had gathered an immense force for the invasion which included more than 450 ships and approximately 60,000 Marines.
“You never saw so many boats and water craft,” Barrett said.
Barrett was a member of a mortar platoon which went ashore during the second wave of the assault. He waded through the surf carrying an 87-pound base plate for the mortal on his back. Another member of his team carried the mortar pipe and a third carried the tripod.
“It was a three-man operation just to get the mortar on to the beach,” Barrett said.
When he got to shore, he briefly hid behind that base plate while waiting to assemble with his team.
“At the end of the first day, somebody said ‘Oh, by the way, Robin what happened to your base plate?’” Barrett said.
He didn’t think anything had happened to the plate, but at his friend’s suggestion he flipped it over and looked at the bottom.
“A machine gun had walked right across that sucker and my head was right beside it,” Barrett said. “I had a few more near escapes; I was just one of the lucky idiots.”
Barrett was born in Pasadena, Calif., and grew up in southern California. He had enlisted in the Marine Corps three years earlier, needing his mother’s permission to join as a 17-year-old.
He went to basic training at Camp Pendleton and trained to be a parachutist.
“I jumped out of the first plane I ever flew in,” Barrett said.
He saw his first duty as part of the clean-up squad on Guadalcanal. That first tour through the Pacific also included stops at Vella Lavella and Choiseul.
At that time, the Marines Corp’s parachute program was disbanded and Barrett was among those sent back to Camp Pendleton for re-training. It was there that he was assigned to a mortar platoon.
After the brief stop at Camp Pendleton, he was sent to Hawaii for additional training. Their first action back in the Pacific was at Iwo Jima.
Barrett remembers wondering what was so important about this island, which was particularly unpleasant.
“It was all lava rock. You couldn’t dig a fox hole. You would shovel it and two shovels full would fall back in the hole,” Barrett said. “That island was as bare a church collection plate on Saturday night.”
The war in the Pacific ended on Sept. 2, 1945. After the war, Robin went back to southern California where he and his wife, Marvel Mae, raised four children: sons Lee, Robin and Scott, and daughter Dana.
He remained very active in the VFW and in the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) organizations.
“I was a post commander for five different posts,” Barrett said, adding that he was also the state commander of the Military Order of the Cootie.
Later in life, he became an Episcopal priest and served various congregations in eastern and southern Oregon.
After 66 years of marriage, Marvel Barrett passed away on Sept. 28, 2018. It was at this time that Barrett made the decision to move to the veterans’ home where he quickly made himself at home. He has become a bit of a celebrity, being featured in the Oregon Veterans News Magazine and in a local television news segment.
His favorite pastime is talking about his children and his grand-children, and the highlight of each day is the nightly phone call with his daughter. On school days, he goes next door to Pioneer School in the morning to greet the students.
“I like kids,” Barrett said. “It doesn’t take a kid very long to know that you like them.”