World War II veteran returns to Iwakuni 66 years later
“We had half a circle brick wall, with a gate that you drove into and that brought you into the main building, that is the only one still standing from back then,” said Ray Grinyer Sr., retired English Army soldier, as he described the sight of the station’s front gate from his own eyes, 66 years ago.
Heroes Return 2 funded the veteran's trip, and is a program that provides grants to United Kingdom World War II veterans to visit sites where they served.
“This does bring back quite a lot of memories, even though this place isn’t the same,” said Grinyer. “But now, I have memories of before and after.”
Grinyer said he was granted 5,500 British pounds, equivalent to more than $8,000, for travel expenses for himself, his son, Ray Grinyer Jr. and good friend, Michael Wilson.
The group toured the air station, starting with lunch at JD’s Grille, then moving to the Zero Hangar and also taking time to visit a few units for a personal look at the working sites of some station Marines.
“I think it’s amazing to have this man visit,” said Sgt. Shane Tabor, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12 F/A-18 engine technician. “I’ve been here for almost four years, I’ve been out in town and I’ve seen the places that he talks about when the war ended and he came here. It’s hard to imagine what this place looked like so long ago.”
While Grinyer was the only person in the group returning to Japan to visit an old duty station, opportunity to experience a new culture was not missed by those who accompanied him.
“From my point of view, I’ve only seen snapshots of this country so far,” said Wilson. “It’s hard to put into words because I was brought up on war books, you know, around the second World War era, and we were raised to believe the Japanese were nasty people and so on. But if I had to use one word to sum up these people and their culture, it would be gentle. It seems to me to be a very gentle place. To
me, it’s mesmerizing. We come from a busy London suburb where everybody is out for themselves, there doesn’t appear to be any manners or any law abidance and it’s a dogeat- dog world. Then you come here and it’s just so polite and so gentle.”
Along with visiting locations he has not seen in 66 years, Grinyer also said he was attempting to recreate photos of himself in the same locales he passed through during his military career.