WJTV News Channel 12 - History lives at Armed Forces Museum in Largo

History lives at Armed Forces Museum in Largo

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WWII Iwo Jima veteran John Residence shares a moment with a young museum visitor on Memorial Day WWII Iwo Jima veteran John Residence shares a moment with a young museum visitor on Memorial Day
LARGO, FL (WFLA) -

Former Marine Corporal John Residence is 68 years removed from the Battle for Iwo Jima.

But he still remembers seeing the thunder of the 105 mm Howitzer he manned and the sight of a marine buddy at his side who was mortally wounded as the 5th Marine Division pounded Mt. Suribachi with cannon fire to quiet the Japanese defenders in the final months of the war. 

John Sweet was right next to me," Residence said. "He was turning white and dying right before my eyes."

Residence is one of the few living eyewitnesses to that epic battle, and the famous flag-raising memorialized in sculpture, photos and history books. He is also one of the "living" attractions at the Armed Forces History Museum in Largo.

He was wounded from an explosion with blood seep from his ears, but kept fighting for 36 days straight. "I said as long as Marines are dying I'm gonna stay here and fight," said Residence.

The 87-year-old WWII veteran  is a regular at the Armed Forces History Museum at 2050 34th Way N. in Largo which hosted a Funfest on Memorial Day to remind the rest of us what this holiday is about.

Korean conflict POW survivor Bill Allen was also there, telling his story of capture and survival at the hands of Chinese and North Korean soldiers.

"We buried 1600 out of 3000 prisoners just that first winter alone," said Allen.

Allen said it took him 50 years to open a box full of mementos and start sharing the story of his combat and  two month frozen death march to a North Korean POW camp.

"I wrote later that I was walking into the jaws of Hell and the devil himself was waiting for me," said Allen.

Visitors to the museum can chat with Allen and Residence who are frequent volunteers.

Tyler Baldwin has never been to war--after all, he's only 8 years old. But he proudly wears his grandfather's Vietnam Service medal on his chest and is a weekly visitor to the museum.

He often chats with Allen and Residence and informs other visitors about the numerous war relics on display, ranging from authentic battle tanks and cannons to battleship models.

Baldwin also knows Memorial Day is supposed to mean more than just a day off of school or a fun day at the beach. "It means commemorating all the dead soldiers who did not make it," said Baldwin.

The Armed Forces History Museum is normally open every day except Monday until 4pm.

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