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Dr. E. Bruce Heilman shares the fading message of World War II veterans

Dr. E. Bruce Heilman serves as featured speaker during the Oct. 25 chapel service at CU. (Photo By Joshua Williams)
Dr. E. Bruce Heilman serves as featured speaker during the Oct. 25 chapel service at CU. (Photo By Joshua Williams)

By Josh Christian, student news writer, office of university communications

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. — “I was never quite able to forget the faces of those men they carried on the stretchers. They had looked about sixteen. While on this detail, I learned that a lot of blood can leak out of a body that had been half cut in two by machine gun fire,” Dr. E. Bruce Heilman, chancellor of the University of Richmond, member of Campbellsville University board of trustees, and 1949 alumnus of Campbellsville University, said during the Oct. 25 chapel service at Campbellsville University.

Heilman shared this vivid account from a fellow solider and friend, Kenneth Brown of Utah, who served at Iwo Jima.

Brown had served as a chaplain during World War II and agreed to share his experience as a reminder to people, particularly those who are young, what war is all about and the price of preserving freedom.

Heilman also served as a Marine for four years, seeing combat in Okinawa.

“There are a number of things associated with battle which writers, correspondents and movie-makers simply find impossible to convey or communicate to those who haven’t experienced war first-hand,” Heilman said.

Heilman, from Brown’s account, explained these two things were sound and smell.

“I am not referring to the usual sounds of gunfire, bombs, explosions, etc., which can easily be described or duplicated. The sounds which have haunted me from the beginning, and I still haven’t wiped away from my memory, were the screams, moans, the outlandish cries of the wounded and dying,” Heilman said.

“To those of us who were listeners, these shouts, curses, screams and groans were constant, day and night, and were indistinguishable as to enemy, comrades or outfits,” Heilman said.

Heilman also did not refer to the smells of battle which ones could imagine.

“The smells I refer to as indescribable were those of rotting, decaying, and sometimes burning human flesh.”

“There simply is nothing so offensive to the senses as that of dead bodies ripening in the sun,” Heiman said.

Heilman also emphasized the ill portrayal, of writing or films, of dying on the battlefield.

“Dying on the battlefield is most often a long and drawn out affair.”

“The Marines on Iwo Jima were well conditioned and in perfect health. I was surprised to learn how much it took to kill one of them,” Heilman said.

“I have seen them with the whole lower part of their bodies blown away, still able to talk coherently for a time.”

“God made the human body to take a lot of punishment. Too bad Iwo Jima had to subject so many strong young men to an impossible level of recovery,” Heilman said.

Brown and Heilman went back to Iwo Jima 60 years after the war to commemorate the dead Japanese and the dead marines, but both still struggle with feelings of guilt from having survived when so many of their friends did not.

“I could not help but think of all the young men who had died there, who never had a chance to get married, have children or live a life. I left in tears,” Heilman said.

“Tho’ much is taken, much abides and tho’ we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are—one equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek to find, and not to yield,” Heilman quoted from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses.”

Heilman, some 70 years since serving, ready to invade Japan and expecting to die, has fathered six children, grandfathered 11 grandchildren and great grandfathered nine great-grandchildren. Heilman was also married for 65 years until the death of his wife, Betty Dobbins Heilman in 2013. She was a 1948 graduate of Campbellsville College, and the president’s home at Campbellsville University is named in her honor.

Heilman is the spokesperson of the Greatest Generation Foundation, often speaking for veterans who have died or cannot speak for themselves. He attempts to keep the soldier’s memory alive, as to forget would make their sacrifice be in vein.

Heilman has also traveled across the 50 states, over 100,000 miles, in memory of the Gold Star families, those who have had loved ones pay the ultimate sacrifice in battle.

Heilman’s name is on the E. Bruce Heilman Student Complex at Campbellsville University and a third building in that complex is in the planning stages.