On June 14th the United States celebrates Flag Day. During the battle of Iwo Jima in February 1945, the USS Blessman was severely damaged in an attack by a Japanese bomber. The ship was a destroyer escort converted to high-speed transport and only the day before it had been under bombardment by shore defenses as the underwater demolition teams that it carried were conducting reconnaissance of the Iwo beaches where Marines would soon be landed.
My uncle, Arthur Hettema, was one of the swimmers who surveyed the waters where the amphibious landings would take place. Like the other frogmen, he swam more than a thousand yards from drop off point to the beach, dressed simply in swimming trunks and having a noteboard strapped on his leg so he could make notes of sand, surf, and obstructions using a grease pen. He swam under the waves, dove to check the sandy bottom, and, hoping not to become a target, surfaced in troughs to breathe. He and his partner did the job and swam back to their pickup point without being hit.
Later, he was onboard the Blessman when it took two bombs mid-ship, immediately disabling it. He and the other surviving UDT members had to deal with explosions; dead, dying, and wounded sailors; fires; and the confusion that's inevitable when a ship receives direct hits. For the work he did in the water and on shipboard he was given the Bronze Star.>
He was also presented with this flag, which the Blessman had flown.