LYNCHBURG, VA – Greek-American Theodore “Teddy” Mariolis was recently profiled in the News and Advance for his trip to the United States Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, VA. The World War II veteran served in the Marines in the Pacific theater and at age 101 made the trip as part of the Honor Flight Network, a nonprofit organization that transports veterans to visit the war memorials.
When young Marines shook hands with him to thank him for his service, Mariolis pointed to a scuff mark on a young sergeant’s shoe, “What’s going on with that?” and the young Marine explained that he’d scuffed his shoe while pushing another veteran’s wheelchair and would set it right immediately, the News and Advance reported, adding Mariolis reply with a smile “Make it quick. And Semper Fi.”
Forest, VA-resident Mariolis was among 14 veterans of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam who took the three-day trip beginning at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA on October 11, the News and Advance reported, adding that it was the “third for the Central and Southwest Virginia Honor Flight in Bedford, which was organized by Martin Leamy and Maggie Mitchell in 2018. The Central and Southwest Virginia Honor Flight conducts two Honor Flights each year. The next trip is scheduled for April 2020.”
Mariolis said “the trip brought back a lot memories of his service in the Pacific Theater during the war,” the News and Advance reported.
“I can see faces today and they are just so clear. It doesn’t seem that long ago right now. I thank God that he kept me alive long enough to come on this trip. This is really something.”
A native New Yorker and son of Greek immigrants, Mariolis was drafted after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and was sent to the Pacific Theater in 1943 as part of the Marine Corps’ 3rd Division, the News and Advance reported.
“They gave me a choice and I remember wanting to join the Marines because I wanted to fight. The Japanese attacked my country and killed my countrymen. I wanted to go over there and fight them.”
Mariolis was stationed in Guadalcanal and later in Guam, and told the News and Advance that “the nature of the Japanese soldiers was to hide in the jungle and fight and never give up,” he said. “They were told to always fight to the death for their Emperor, even if it meant killing themselves to take out as many American soldiers as they could.”
He “recalled the apprehension he felt one day when a Japanese soldier approached him attempting to surrender to American soldiers,” the News and Advance reported.
“A lot of them would pretend to surrender and have grenades under their arms and when they would get close, they would raise their arms and the grenades would fall out and kill them and some Americans. I was shaving one day and in the mirror I see a Japanese soldier coming at me with his arms up. He was naked and already had his hands in the air so I could see that he didn’t have anything on him. That was the only reason I let him approach me.”
“In 1945, Mariolis’ anti-aircraft unit was transferred to the island of Tinian, where they were assigned to guard a U.S. Army air base that was conducting bombing missions over Japan,” the News and Advance reported.
“I didn’t understand why they had a bunch of Marines guarding an Army base. They had their own guys to do that so it struck me as odd,” he told the News and Advance, adding that “one day they told us to pack up because we were going home. We were guarding the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan. It made a lot more sense then.”
“After the war, Mariolis returned home, met and married his wife of 53 years, and entered into a career in hotel and resort management,” the News and Advance reported, adding that “he lived in Florida for many years before coming to the Lynchburg area about 12 years ago.”
Though over 70 years have passed since the war, Maria told the News and Advance that he still feels survivors’ guilt.
“So many guys didn’t make it and that still gets to me,” Mariolis said. “I keep asking ‘why me?’ Why did I make it out? Look at the Bedford Boys, where two-thirds of the guys that left never came back. The magnitude of loss will always bother me.”
“However, Mariolis said his only regret is ‘not being 10 years younger’ so he could get out and advocate for the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan,” the News and Advance reported.
“I would be in Washington, DC, banging on every door I could, telling the government to bring our people home. There is nothing in Afghanistan we need. We don’t need to lose any more people over there. That is what I want to say to the politicians in Washington. No more… not one more. Bring them home,” Mariolis told the News and Advance.