On 20 May 2010, Marines, Sailors and Soldiers returned the favor to the late Reverend E. Gage Hotaling of Agawam Massachusetts, sending the old Navy chaplain on to join his comrades with military honors.
Reverend Hotaling was the last surviving chaplain who served ashore with the Marines at Iwo. He joined the Chaplain Corps at age 28 in 1944 because he didn't feel he could preach to the WW II generation unless he knew what they had endured, so he found himself with the 4th Marine Division on Iwo Jima. Some of his experiences on Iwo Jima are included in the book, “Flags of Our Fathers,” which tells the stories of the men who raised the American flag during the battle of February 1945.
Rev. Hotaling's first sermon was delivered at a Manton, Rhode Island church on November 19, 1933. At that time the country was in the depths of the Great Depression. Rev. Hotaling was 17 years old and had promised his father, who was dying of cancer, that he would carry on the work of ministry.
Hotaling, 94, died Sunday 16 May 2010 in a Springfield hospital, 65 years after the iconic battle for the Pacific island. In a 2007 documentary, he talked about the grim task he faced as Marines fell in bitter combat against the dug-in Japanese enemy. Of the 6,821 Americans killed, Hotaling believed he buried about 1,800.
“We would have four Marines with a flag over each grave. And while they were kneeling with the flag, I would stand up and I would give the committal words for each one,” he told the filmmakers.
He said he took up smoking to overcome the stench of decay.
“I did it not as a Protestant, Catholic or a Jew, but as a Marine,” the Baptist minister said. “Every man was buried as a Marine. And so I gave the same committal to each one.”
A Marine Corps honor guard stood by as family members and other veterans paid their respects yesterday at Massachusetts Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Agawam.
“He was a man of God, a man who comforted people and a shepard to his flock,” said son Kerry, 57, of Ludlow. “He brought comfort to the fighting Marines who were on the island.”
Thanks should go to Massachusetts State Trooper Mike Cutone, an Army vet, who was on a prisoner watch at Mercy Hospital when he learned from an old Marine that Hotaling was dying down the hall. Cutone made some calls and saw to it Hotaling was attended at his bedside by Marines in dress blues in his last days, just as he had tended to them in theirs in dirty, bloodstained dungarees.