BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — It was one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corp history, on a small volcanic island 750 miles from Japan. Local Marine Augustine 'Augie' Flores crawled ashore on the first day of fighting and was there until it was officially captured by U.S. forces.
Augie enlisted in September of 1941, about three months before Pearl Harbor and was home in Bakersfield when the Japanese attacked U.S. Naval forces. His first deployment was a quick trip to Roi-Namur, an island in the Kwajalein Atoll. The 23rd Marines captured an airstrip on the island, then made preparations to head for Saipan.
Flores only spent one day on Saipan, after he was shot in the arm and then, while waiting to be evacuated, took shrapnel to his back in an explosion. An officer who recognized him asked if he needed morphine and Flores said, "No, save it for someone who needs it."
While recovering in Hawaii, Augie said he was given the chance to go home and declined. "I didn't want to go," said Flores, "I wanted to be with the guys I trained with." And that decision would land him on the beach at Iwo Jima.
"We hit the beach, and it was all black sand," said Augie, "there were guys all over the place." He remembers every inch of that island and the friends that fought beside him. Not only their names, but their nicknames. His buddies called him, 'The Great AJ', a title Augie said he didn't deserve, adding that he was only doing what he was trained to do.
Flores said the Japanese were well hidden and Marines would get shot, walking right by them, but never seeing them. Near the end of the fighting, Augie spotted a Japanese soldier hiding under a truck with a grenade. Before he could get his rifle, an explosion killed the enemy but spared his life.
When it was over, the survivors gathered on the black sand beach, using their helmets to wash up, while burning their clothes.
Flores went on the April 2017 Honor Flight trip to Washington DC, and had an emotional reaction to the Marine Corp memorial, capturing the moment an American Flag was raised on Mount Sirabachi. Six months later, he suffered a severe stroke.
Augie is now 96 and lives with his daughter's family. There are mementos of his time in the military throughout the house, along with pictures of him as a BPD officer. He was married for 65 years to his wife Ruth, who passed away in 2016.
Flores said he's grateful to God for all of his blessings and the recognition he received for his service. Just don't call him 'Great'.