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WWII Veteran remembers harsh fight for Okinawa

Merwin Cowles with his wife Mary in their Plattsburgh home. Cowles served in the South Pacific with the U.S. Marine Corps.

Merwin Cowles with his wife Mary in their Plattsburgh home. Cowles served in the South Pacific with the U.S. Marine Corps. Photo by Shawn Ryan.

— “When we came home, there wasn’t anybody around to treat us; to say hello, and say you did a great job. Nobody to say we’re glad you made it back all right. There just wasn’t anybody.”

What he did when he returned home, like so many of his generation, was he went to work. Cowles worked in construction and with heavy equipment, eventually becoming a superintendent for a large construction company. He also met and married his wife.

“And thank God I did,” he said.

Their children came to Plattsburgh to attend SUNY Plattsburgh, and they suggested that their parents move to the area as well. They moved in 2002, and Cowles continued to work construction in Plattsburgh as well.

It wasn’t until Cowles, now 88, was chosen as one of the first four veterans to fly on the inaugural North Country Honor Flight to Washington that he started to open up about his war experience. The trip to Washington, he says, was such a moving experience that he openly wept at the World War II Memorial. He calls the trip to Washington one of the best things that ever happened to him, going a long way to erasing the feelings of the homecoming he and his generation never received.

Honor Flight is working to get Cowles the Purple Heart he rightly deserves. He was also awarded the New York State Medal of Merit and the Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon through the efforts of Honor Flight.

Now Cowles, along with his fellow “Band of Brothers” Bob Brooks, Napoleon Light and Dave Mitchell, as well as numerous other local veterans, crisscross the North Country taking part in Honor Flight events. He especially likes speaking at schools, but says with a self-depricating manner, that he is not nearly as good a speaker as Brooks.

One thing that he will always be, is a good Marine.

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