Freedom Fighters: James Arriola - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Freedom Fighters: James Arriola

(KLTV) -

James Arriola dodged mortars and suicide planes, taking troops into the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Arriola has owned Arriola Barber Shop on the south side of Nacogdoches for over half a century. He is 89 now, but was just a teenager of 18 when he left his home to fight for our country in World War II.

Arriola joined the navy in May of 1944 and was trained in amphibian landings. Assigned to the USS Pickens, which carried 28 Higgins landing crafts, Arriola would soon put his training to use in two of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific.

On February 19 of 1945, Arriola's landing craft, filled with Marines, headed for the beaches of Iwo Jima. Mortars fell on the craft. Although the beach was littered with bodies and shells were falling all around them, Arriola and his crew were able to land their Marines and start back to the ship for more troops. However, the captain told him to stand by, because there were so many boats wrecked on the beach that they wouldn't be able to get back in.

They stayed on the boat for six days total. On the third day on standby, Arriola's boat drifted along the coast toward Mt. Surabachi, where he could see the battle taking place on land. 

While Arriola just missed seeing the iconic flag raising on Iwo Jima, he did see the flag seconds afterward.

"I said 'Oh my God, that's the most beautiful sight I've seen in my life!"

Soon afterward, his landing craft was replaced because of damage from Iwo sands, and he and his crew headed for Okinawa. Dodging the numerous suicide planes in the skies, they were sent toward the island but told not to land.

They would find out later that they were part of a fake landing that would draw Japanese forces to that side of the island.

The invasion of Japan would have been next for Arriola, but after two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese surrendered.

Arriola doesn't dispute being a member of the "Greatest Generation," but he has an explanation for the term.

"We were the greatest generation ever, you know why? We had the greatest parents, greatest generation of people sacrificed, and did without."

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