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A family legacy

Cedar Rapids father, two sons served in Marines

The Marine Corps emblem rests on a bed of black sand from the Japanese island of Iwo Jima next to a photograph of Leslie Farmer, a U.S. Marine Corps platoon sergeant who served during World War II, in a display of Farmer’s military service of medals and other commendations at his son Gary’s house in northwest Cedar Rapids. Farmer fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima and was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart. The two sons also served in the Marines. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
The Marine Corps emblem rests on a bed of black sand from the Japanese island of Iwo Jima next to a photograph of Leslie Farmer, a U.S. Marine Corps platoon sergeant who served during World War II, in a display of Farmer’s military service of medals and other commendations at his son Gary’s house in northwest Cedar Rapids. Farmer fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima and was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart. The two sons also served in the Marines. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — David Farmer lost all of his family’s photos in the Flood of 2008, when water inundated the basement of his home.

So the framed black-and-white image of his father, Leslie P. Farmer, serving as a young man in the Marines in World War II, is precious. So, too, are the articles and medals that describe what his father did in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

David and his brother, Gary, were also Marines. They keep those medals and the photo of their father framed behind museum-quality glass, a surviving testament to their family’s history and sacrifices.

“I’m proud of what I did. I’m proud of what my dad did, and I’m proud of what my brother did,” said Gary, also from Cedar Rapids.

Leslie Farmer was a platoon sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps when he was involved in a battle on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima on Feb. 25, 1945. The battle lasted five weeks, and nearly 7,000 Marines were killed, as well some 21,000 Japanese forces.

According to a newspaper article the Farmer family has framed, Leslie Farmer later received the Silver Star for “conspicuous gallantry” in action on Iwo Jima. During an assault on one of the airfields, he was wounded in the leg by shrapnel but refused to be evacuated. He kept fighting, and noticed the left flank of the company being attacked by enemy forces. On his own initiative and despite his injuries, he moved his platoon to the exposed flank to repel the attack.

“His personal bravery, determination and outstanding leadership were a constant inspiration to his men and were in keeping with the highest tradition of the United States naval service,” the article quotes Marine Capt. George H. Curtis Jr. as saying as he presented Farmer with the Silver Star in a ceremony at Cedar Rapids City Hall. On Dec. 4, 1945, The Gazette ran a photo from that ceremony.

Farmer also received the Purple Heart and other medals for his service.

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“He really, in my estimation, had done a lot for the country,” Gary’s wife, Karen Farmer, said.

Leslie Farmer, who served in the Marines Corps from February 1942 to October 1945, would have been 100 this Veterans Day. He was born Nov. 11, 1918 — the end of World War I — in the Wright County town of Goldfield and died in 1979 at age 60.

“I think of Veterans Day as Dad’s birthday,” Gary said. “He always joked the government shut down so he could have the day off.”

Though he always walked with a limp from his war injuries, Leslie Farmer seldom discussed his experiences in the Marines, David and Gary said. Rather, their memories are of him getting up early every morning so he could read and smoke — he loved novels, and he passed that love down to his sons. He retired from the Postal Service after 30 years.

He wasn’t the only member of his family impacted by World War II; his brother, Sgt. Raymond S. Farmer, was killed in action in Luxembourg in 1944.

David remembers going into the attic as a child and putting on his father’s uniforms. But he never talked to his father about those uniforms’ histories.

“He probably had a little PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), but in those days they called it shell shock,” David said. “He never talked about it.”

“We all respected that and didn’t ask,” Gary added.

It did influence them, however. When David graduated from high school, he was supposed to register for college at Iowa Wesleyan in Mount Pleasant. Instead, he enlisted in the Marines to serve in Vietnam.

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“Everybody else I knew was going into the service. I figured I’d better do the same,” he said.

His father’s reaction was anger mixed with pride, his sons said.

“We want our children to do better than we did,” Gary said. “Dad probably didn’t want either of us to go into the service, but he was proud of us no matter what we did. And being Marines like he was, maybe a little bit extra.”

Later, Gary also enlisted in the Marines. He was sure his draft number would be called, and he didn’t want to wait to be drafted into the army.

David served from 1967 to 1969 and was deployed to Vietnam, while Gary served from 1970 to 1972 and was stationed in Hawaii.

Gary was slightly underweight when he went to enlist and said the captain at the enlistment office had him drink from a water fountain for 10 minutes and put a paper weight in his pocket before reweighing him.

“He said, ‘How bad do you want to be in the Marines?’” Gary recalled. “I said, ‘My dad was, my brother was, I’m going to be one, too.’”

His mother called him when he was about to ship out; his draft notice had indeed come in the mail.

When the brothers came home, the attitude toward veterans was very different from it is now, Gary said.

“At that time, veterans were frowned upon. Veterans of the Vietnam War were really frowned upon,” he said. “But it wasn’t the veteran’s fault we were in a war we probably shouldn’t have been in.”

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He’s glad that times have changed and that veterans now receive more recognition for what they sacrificed.

“It means so much more now that it did before. We’re proud, but it feels different now than it did before.”

• Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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