A Thanksgiving surprise

Photo courtesy of Jack Dunn | The views expressed in the following article are the opinion of the writer and do not reflect the opinions of the Newswire staff as a whole.


It is incredibly difficult to listen to the voice of a loved one years after they’ve passed. However, it can be one of the most fulfilling things a person can discover over the holiday.

I know this because I did exactly that over Thanksgiving break. Just before everyone went home for the holiday, my brother Patrick made an interesting discovery. My grandfather, Dr. Paul Joseph Dunn (whom I affectionately called ‘Papa’ when I was young), had recorded a reading of his memoir for a local radio station that detailed his experiences as a medic in the Navy and the Marine Corps leading up to and during the battle of Iwo Jima and the subsequent occupation of Japan.

I found it incredibly difficult to get started listening to each of the four episode podcasts. I decided that I needed to be in the proper space to experience them, so I put it off for a week. It only felt right to describe the emotions that I felt in writing this, as these tapes offered a unique experience. It is impossible to break down his story into one small piece in a way that will do it true justice, but I will attempt to provide the highlights.

Papa began his story describing his time at the Covington Latin School in Newport, Ky., in the heart of the Great Depression. After graduating in 1935, while working several jobs, Papa began taking classes here at Xavier. It was during that time that his family moved across the street from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, and his sister Mary forced him to take a tour with her. “It suddenly hit me like a lighting bolt,” Papa said. “This is really what I want to do. I want to study medicine and become a practicing physician.”

Papa was at the dedication ceremony of the new Covington Latin School on December 7, 1941. He decided he was going to study first aid and become an instructor to join the navy as a medic, recalling his feeling of “none of this foxhole infantry stuff for me.”
After studying for several months, he was sent to a Naval Base in Mayport, Florida.

Despite spending the least amount of time there, he was the first to receive his orders to be transferred to the Marine Corps. He decided to make the best of it, and went to a sort of modified Marine basic training camp with medical field training.

After receiving Physical Training (which he described as commando training), Papa was soon shipped off to Iwo Jima as a part of the Fifth Marine Division. This is where he would normally shy away from talking to us, his family, about the battle itself. It is easy to see why, as he describes the initial landing of the battle as “shooting fish in a barrel with a shotgun.”

He talks about how “indescribable” it was to be assigned to triage at the field hospital based on the injuries he saw. But he noted how the Marines never complained. He fondly recalled the 28th Marine Catholic Chaplin, Fr. Paul Bradley, who was with the front line Marines, administering last rites to those dying on the battlefield. Papa described him as “a saint,” whom he had written to and corresponded with a year before he passed in 2008.

I could continue with other countless stories from the Battle of Iwo Jima, his time during the occupation of Japan or what it was like to be the father of 10 children. But the best way for you to hear it is in his own words. If you search “Paul Dunn, The Road to Iwo Jima” on Google it should be the first result.

Not many people get to hear the voice of those they love after they are gone. But it is something truly moving to hear in this time of Thanksgiving. I guess if there was a point for all this, it would be to make sure you spend time with those you love over the Holidays. Maybe even find time to record some of their stories. You don’t know how nice it might be to hear those stories over and over again, after they’re gone.


Jack Dunn is a U.S. & World News Editor for the Newswire. He is a junior sport management major from Wilmette, Ill.

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