CARLSBAD — At Karl Strauss Brewing Company on a Thursday afternoon, the dining room is abuzz. People are talking about their weekend plans, debating what drink to get and at a private table, discussing “taking a bite out of a German submarine.”
Every Thursday afternoon, a group of 17 World War II vets meet to get a beer and talk about war stories.
The men all served in different branches, including the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy. The men didn’t meet until they all relocated to Rancho Carlsbad, the mobile park on El Camino Real.
“It’s funny I didn’t know any of these guys during the war years but we were all at the same place at the same time,” Harry Oosterom said.
Two of the men were at Iwo Jima when Joe Rosenthal took the historic photograph of the Marines hoisting up the flag on Feb. 23, 1945.
Jim Scotella was 19 years old at the time serving in the Marines. He said he was about 50 yards away from the flag raise.
“When they raised the flag, a bunch of guys were around that saw it. They were just hootin’ and hollerin,’” Scotella said.
The Marine had been on the island for four days when the flag went up. He said at first, about 20 men raised a flag. Then a captain decided that a bigger flag was needed, which is when Rosenthal got the photograph.
“It was just a lucky shot that he got. He happened to turn around just as they were raising this thing, and that was it,” said Scotella.
He recalls the 36 days spent on the island as a time of uncertainty.
“Everyday was a battlefield. Nobody was safe,” said Scotella.
Of the six men in the “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” photograph, three men died within four days, Scotella said.
The battle lasted longer than expected and security was never taken for granted.
Oosterom landed at Iwo Jima to gas up a plane on his way back to the U.S. from Japan. He was told the island was secure, but underground tunnels housed enemy snipers, so it was difficult to truly secure the island.
“We had submachine guns to guard the airplanes because we didn’t know what was going on. It was secure enough to land and get gas,” Oosterom said.
He was there the same time Scotella was; yet they didn’t know each other at the time. Now they gather weekly to discuss their time spent in the service among other things.
“Sometimes we have a lot to say. Sometimes we don’t,” Jay Harn, another veteran who attends the meetings, said.
They don’t have a formal title but they do adhere strictly to one rule — they only drink one beer.