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Monday, June 17, 2024

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World War II Veteran: ‘We All Fought Like Hell’

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By Collin Hall

WEST CAPE MAY – There are so many remarkable aspects of David Goodwin’s story, himself a 98-year-old World War II veteran, that it is easy to forget that the trauma he endured in bloody warfare was typical for men his age.  

Goodwin fought on the island of Iwo Jima, home of one of the most violent battles in American military history. He flew over the Himalayas upwards of 20 times and met his blood brother deep in the trenches of warfare before settling in Cape May County, where he still lives with his wife, Gloria. 

Seventy years later, Goodwin recalls the events of World War II, as if they took place last week. 

Goodwin was a gunner aboard B-29s for most of his time in the service. At only 17, he wanted to join the U.S. armed forces voluntarily (joining before getting drafted ensured better pay), but just before he could finalize his application, he was drafted anyway.  

“They paid me half as much, and that was it,” Goodwin said.  

He trained as a B-29 tail gunner in Panama and was soon shipped all over the globe aboard one of the most advanced planes to ever sail the skies.  

Goodwin recalled the exact amount of time that a “hump” mission took for him and the crew: 15 hours and 40 minutes. The “hump” refers to an Eastern portion of the Himalayan Mountains that Allied forces often crossed to access Japan. Goodwin took this journey no less than 25 times and stared off into the distance, as he recalled the many journeys he took across the colossal mountain range.  

“I spent two years in India, where we flew over the ‘hump,’” he said.  

Every mission was a potential death sentence for Goodwin and his crew. He recalled being shot down by Japanese fighters as he neared the end of a particularly grueling “hump” mission.  

“We were coming back over the hump, and we were attacked by three Japanese fighters. They were mean sons of guns. They took us down and we crash-landed. I got stuck trying to get out of the turret.”  

He remembered freefalling for hundreds of feet as he desperately tugged at his parachute strap.  

Obviously, he survived the fall, but this was not the last time his plane was shot down.  

Goodwin and his crew were assigned to the Pacific Theater and were shot down near Iwo Jima. The pilot made a miraculous emergency landing on a far end of the island.  

“We had to crash land on the island… We stopped just short of the water’s edge. We were only about 100 feet from a cliff, and we almost went in,” Goodwin remembered.   

He and his fellow crewmates waited on the bloodied and battered island for over four days before rescue came. He spoke plainly as he recalled the many corpses he stepped over, and the grave conditions of the men left alive.  

As Goodwin waited on a remote corner of the island for rescue, mangled soldiers waited desperately for admittance to a nearby hospital ship.  

“They would check the dog tags. If they were dead, they’d send the tags back over and leave the body… The island was so loaded with Japanese… We all fought like hell. It was hell. The Marines were doing their best to take the island, but it was a hell of a job,” he said.  

After this second brush with death, he was sent on a plane to Hawaii, where he would be discharged and sent back to civilian life at home. The plane scheduled to take him home made a stop on an island to refuel. It is here that he witnessed a paralyzing moment of coincidence.  

He said, “We were all waiting for the plane to refuel, but there was action happening on the island. I was hiding in a bunker, really just a hole. I look over, and my brother is there beside me. My blood brother. He looked at me wide-eyed and just said to me, ‘David, what the hell are you doing here?'”  

His brother, Charles Goodwin, also saw action in the Pacific, but they had no idea they were stationed anywhere near each other until they reunited for a moment on that sweltering island filled with gore.  

Life after warfare was kinder to Goodwin. He quickly found himself in Wildwood, where he met a green swimsuit-clad woman who would change his life.  

“I hadn’t seen a woman or talked to one in several years at this point. I remember walking down the Wildwood Boardwalk, and I saw a beautiful young girl in a green bathing suit. I was so nervous, but I waved at her, and she waved back. My first thought was to turn back. I thought I better not get in trouble here, but I went down, and she told me to sit next to her. I asked her out to eat that night…” He married this woman, Gloria Christie, eventually and they are still married today.  

Of all the battles and violence he endured, Goodwin said that the reunion with his mother was the most visceral moment he had yet experienced.  

“I remember going to my mom’s restaurant… I showed up unannounced and just walked up to her and said, ‘Mom, I’m home.’ She almost dropped the food she was carrying. She just looked at me and started crying. That hit me more than anything ever had.”  

Goodwin now lives in West Cape May with his wife. They have spent most of their lives there and built many buildings in the small town. They have witnessed immense technological and social changes in their lifetimes, and Goodwin’s experiences in war serve as a living testament to the horrific violence that defined much of the 20th century.  

However, as his wife reminds him, “There is no more war for you. Not now, not ever. It is over.” 

To contact Collin Hall, email chall@cmcherald.com. 

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