By Melissa Montoya
For World War II veteran who will be honored next week, the Fourth of July is not as patriotic as it used to be.
“The Fourth of July for me has become over the years more and more disappointing. When I was growing up, it was a great day to look forward to because of the parades, celebrations and getting together with families and vets,” Joseph Dryer said.
“Today, it seems more of a holiday for picnics and hot dogs and hamburgers.”
In 1945, the 22-year-old Dryer spent his Fourth of July at Aiea Naval Hospital on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. He was recovering from a wound he received in the battle of Iwo Jima in Japan.
Dryer was a second lieutenant officer in the Marines. His regiment was part of the third wave of troops to land on the beaches of Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945.
Dryer, now 91 and living in Palm Beach, and four other veterans will be honored July 11 at a fundraiser for the Friends of Fisher House. The Fisher House provides housing for families of wounded soldiers who need long-term medical treatment.
“Almost everyone I knew in college couldn’t wait to sign up for the military,” said Dryer, who was shipped off to war after he graduated from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
To him, times have changed.
“I never heard anyone say why we are here, what are we fighting for,” Dryer said about the men he fought alongside with.
About a month into his time on Iwo Jima, Dryer was aiming his own gun up toward a cave. He looked over his shoulder and saw the barrel of a gun pointing at him.
“There wasn’t any time to move, and he made an absolutely perfect shot,” Dryer said.
The bullet left a gaping hole in the center of his chest, Dryer said.
It took five surgeries and more than a year for him to recover.
Dryer said he thinks the Fisher House is a worthy organization.
“If I were a veteran returning from Afghanistan or Iraq today, I would really appreciate a program like Fisher House because my family can stay nearby,” said Dryer, a Purple Heart recipient.
Last year, the eight-room Fisher House, at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center, housed 735 families, according to manager Thompsi Hoff. Families stay for an average of three days, Hoff said.
“Often it’s a hardship to travel long distances in order to be with the patients here,” Hoff said. “It’s the best we can to make it a home environment for people that are staying here.”