The death of a Marine: Billy’s story, part three

Published 9:51 pm Saturday, April 18, 2009

Private Stuart was buried in the 5th Marine Division (MARDIV) Cemetery on Iwo Volcanic Island on March 9, 1945 in grave 1184, row 10, plot 5. In November, 1948, his body was exhumed from Iwo Jima and shipped back to the United States, and on January 6, 1949 (10 years to the day his Father was buried). He was laid to rest in the Stuart family plot in Pine Grove Cemetery north of Picayune.

Of the 220 Marines assigned to H Company that landed on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945, only 23 left the island unscathed. 190 enlisted Marines were either killed or wounded and of the 7 officers 3 were killed and 3 wounded.

I kept trying to make sense of it all, trying to figure out why God would allow this young Marine to live through 16 days of some of the most horrific, bloodiest, hand-to-hand fighting in the Pacific or even the European Theater for that matter. It just didn’t make sense.

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On Saturday, March 7, during Billy’s Memorial Dedication at Pine Grove Cemetery — the ceremony I always wanted to have for Billy — I believe the answer finally came to me.

In attendance were two of the handful of H Company Iwo survivors along with Billy’s best friend and fellow Marine Fred Henley. As each stood and shared their fond memories of this young Marine and how he had touched their lives in his brief time on earth I couldn’t help but think how many lives Billy might have touched during those 16 days of hell on Iwo Jima before he was struck down? How many of the wounded Marines did Billy share his faith with before he drew his last breath?

The guest speaker on Saturday was Dr. Willis B. Usry who had served with Billy. He talked of “Stuart” always asking him to attend church services with him. Usry would always decline. He said Billy would see him and say, “I’m praying for you Usry.”

It was these events and the loss of Billy Stuart on Iwo Volcanic Island that moved Usry to surrender his life to the Ministry. So again I pondered how many people have been saved over the past 64 years due to the one life taken on that small insignificant island in the South Pacific in 1945?

And so I feel that the story of a person’s life just might be like the old cliché of throwing a rock into a calm body of water and watching the ripples go in all directions to the far banks. The rock is gone but the ripples continue. It dawned on me that our lives continue to affect people long after we leave this earth.

It is written, “The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and no torment will ever touch them.” In the eyes of the foolish, Billy seemed to have died, and his departure was thought of as a disaster, but I know he is at peace.

I think this poem says it best:


Don’t grieve for me for now I’m free,

I’m following the path God laid for me.

I took His hand when I heard Him call,

I turned my back and left it all.

I could not stay another day,

To laugh, to love, to work or play.

Tasks left undone must stay that way,

I found that peace at the close of the day.

If my parting has left a void,

Then fill it with remembered joy.

A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss,

Ah yes, these things I too will miss.

But be not burdened with times of sorrow,

For I wish you the sunshine of tomorrow.

My life’s been full. I’ve savored much,

Good friends, good times and loved ones’


Perhaps my time seemed all too brief

Don’t lengthen it now with undue grief.

Lift up your hearts and share with me.

God wanted me now. He set me free!

Pfc Charles Wilmon Stuart Jr was not only faithful to his God, but also to his fellow Marines. As the Marine Corps motto “Semper Fidelis” is a charge for all Marines to follow, so it seems the same with Billy Stuart. Always Faithful!

Lieutenant Colonel Lourie N. Formby III is a native of Picayune and currently serves as the Personnel Officer for the 184th Sustainment Brigade in Laurel.