World War II Hero Inspires Military Cadets in Mexico
MEXICO - Corporal Leo Champagne is the last living survivor of the first Iwo Jima flag raising. He carried the flag to the top of Mt. Suribachi and traded it for a Japanese one. This weekend, Champagne is in Mexico, celebrating homecoming at the Missouri Military Academy.
Cpl. Champagne enlisted in the Marines in 1943 when he was 17. Two years later, his platoon climbed Mt. Suribachi and raised the American flag for the first time. "You're tossed into a sitation, and you make the best of it that you can," he told a group of cadets, parents, and veterans Friday afternoon.
"I never thought I'd get to hear from anybody like this in my life," said Senior Derek Kantrorski. His grandfather was in World War II, and he plans to follow in his footsteps. "I'm thinking of going into the Army now or the Marines, to do my share."
Cpl. Champagne says he has only been sharing his stories for the past two years, mostly as therapy for himself. However, he says it's rewarding to talk to young men and women. "It makes what I'm doing worthwhile."