MONTICELLO, Ill. (WCIA) – “Semper Fi.”
“Semper Fi to you.”
It’s the greeting of two Marines, 25 years and two wars apart in Les Gadbury’s Monticello home. He and John Martin were in the same boot camp, the same Marine division, and had the same corporal rank.
“There were a lot of coincidences there,” said Martin.
96-year old Gadbury’s service started at the age 19 in 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Gadbury remembered, “I wanted to go to the best. I thought the Marine Corp was the best.”
Over the next three years, the machine gunner was on the frontlines of some of the most historic campaigns of World War Two. Bougainville. Guam. Iwo Jima.
“We landed on Iwo Jima with 206 in our company and 56 of them were killed. Most of the rest were wounded. When I left the island they said, ‘How do you feel? Do you feel elated? The battle’s over?’ To me, I didn’t know if it was a win or a loss when you figure all the causalities. I think about some of the boys. Good friends you know.”
Gadbury finished his service back in Washington D.C. He even played a part in Felix de Weldon’s original sculpture of that iconic photograph from Iwo Jima. He and his friends were models so the artist could work. Thankfully, the Monticello man decided his incredible military career needed to be put to paper.
“One day I got a notepad and started writing,” Gadbury said.
He started in 2000 and finished three years later. John Martin read those memoirs.
“I tell my wife I need to go see this man.”
The Decatur man fought in a very different war, Vietnam, from 1968 to 69.
“I don’t think I slept a great deal those two years.”
But the stories of the Greatest Generation kept him going.
“I had to come and tell Les he and his fellow Marines were an inspiration to me my whole life. Whenever I was faced with something that seemed maybe bigger than I could handle, I could think back to what those guys faces on those beaches and realized if they could do that I could do anything.”
Martin and Gadbury got to meet. During that first visit, one of Gadbury’s stories stood out, losing his Ka-Bar knife in the late 50’s on a camping trip.
Gadbury said, “It was a prized possession. It was a part of me.”
“This knife is something that ties Marines of all generations together,” explained Martin.
The younger Marine was on a new mission to replace it. He drew up designs and also built a display case.
“I’ve never made anything quite like this before and probably never will again but I wanted to make it special for Les.”
Gadbury was beyond surprised. The gift brought him to tears.
Martin said, “It was one of those cases when you really knew you did the right thing.”
It was a handmade gesture that has now built a bond stronger than the gift itself.