Emotions run high at “Flags of Our Fathers” tribute

As many students rested quietly in the safety of their dorm rooms, the sound of violent screams and booming gunshots could be heard echoing out from Castleton’s Casella Theater on Oct. 19. Hundreds of people, including a large number of American war veterans, braved the cold and cloudy October weather to attend a free screening of “Flags of Our Fathers.”

The film, directed by Academy Award-winning director Clint Eastwood, chronicled the events of the American assault on the island of Iwo Jima during World War II, as the American forces fought ferociously to take control of the Japanese stronghold resting inside the volcanic fortress of Mount Suribachi.

The film was based on the book that was co-written by Ron Powers, a Pulitzer-prize winner and Castleton resident.

Also in attendance were no fewer than six actual survivors of Iwo Jima, some hailing from as far away as Michigan, while others came from as close as Poultney and Rutland.

One of the distant relatives of Rene Gagnon, one of the flag-raisers pictured in one of the world’s most memorable photos, was also in attendance.

Dave Wolk, President of Castleton, asked the attending veterans to stand and be recognized, as they were greeted with thunderous applause.

“Today is our gift to you,” Wolk said. “In honor of all of our veterans.”

Powers himself introduced the film, taking a moment to thank the brave men who fought so valiantly so long ago.

“Being able to tell your story and preserve it for future generations has been the greatest honor in my life,” Powers said.

The film itself was a powerfully moving reminder of the cost of war and the effects that still haunt many to this day.

The graphic nature of the film proved at times to be too intense for many of those in the audience.

Many veterans were visibly shaken by the onscreen sights and sounds. Some sobbed in their seats, while others left to find sanctuary in the theater lobby.

A veteran of the Vietnam War, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was the familiar sound of frantic gunfire that drove him to step out and collect himself.

Brandon resident Eric Wiltz represented the United States Navy at the battle of Iwo Jima.

Wiltz said he and the other veterans felt very honored to receive such a warm welcome from the college.

“It was very emotional, but that’s to be expected,” Wiltz said.

Despite the often traumatic reminders of the day, Wiltz was not left without a sense of humor.

“I’m 81 years old. I get emotional over everything these days.” Wiltz said with a chuckle.

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