Debt of Honor

"I don't know how many times I saw that image of the flag-raising at the Saturday matinees as a little kid," Bob Bolus says. "Every time I see it go up, I get a chill." (Debbie Bolus Grosek - Photo By Debbie Bolus Grosek)
By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 9, 2007

Bob Bolus has a gold nameplate on his office desk that says "President" and a panoramic view of a junkyard. Above the filing cabinet there's an old World War II artillery map, and on a recent afternoon, Bolus stood inches away, peering deeply into its contour lines, searching.

"There it is," he said, as if pointing to an 'X' on a treasure map. "That's Hill 362A."

It wasn't much of a landmark. Hill 362A is a squat, unremarkable ridge, 362 feet at its highest point, on the northwest corner of Iwo Jima. Like much of the island, it was bombed, shot, burned and generally blasted to bits in 1945, when U.S. forces fought to drive out the Japanese from a network of tunnels and caves that crisscrosses its base. Entombed somewhere in those passageways, among the rocks and the rubble and the unexploded ordnance, are the remains of a Marine Corps sergeant and cameraman named William H. Genaust.

Bolus is not related to Genaust, but for the past two years he has been fixated with the Marine's fate. He has lobbied generals, politicians and ambassadors on Genaust's behalf. He has traveled to Hill 362A and drafted surveyors, archivists, military historians and forensic anthropologists to his cause. Bolus is resolute on recovering Genaust's remains from his anonymous grave. He calls this "my mission."

"He belongs at Arlington," Bolus said. "And I'm not going to stop until he's home."

Bolus's persistence has prompted Pentagon officials to begin consultations with the Japanese government about a recovery operation. It would be the first time the United States has searched for missing service members on Iwo Jima since returning control of it to Japan in 1968.

But perhaps what is most unusual to the Pentagon is that someone who is neither family nor a fellow service member has become so engrossed with a long-dead serviceman's remains.

"I believe he's the first," said Larry Greer, a spokesman for the Defense Department's Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office."He has demonstrated a lot of energy and a lot of commitment to this."

Bolus, 64, is the owner of Bolus Truck Parts, Scooter's Hot Dawg Hut and a slew of other business ventures in Scranton, Pa. Over the years, he has been a Democrat, a Republican, a trucking tycoon, a felon, a race car driver, a philanthropist and a failed mayoral candidate, among other things. Then, one Sunday morning in February 2005, Bolus read an article about Genaust in Parade magazine, and he was seized.

"I must have read it three or four times," he said. "I just couldn't believe that the man who gave us that image had been left behind."

Genaust was among the Marines and journalists who climbed Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima's highest point, on Feb. 23, 1945, four days after U.S. forces landed.

Genaust, who was trained to fight -- and film -- at Quantico Marine Corps Base, captured footage for training videos, propaganda efforts and other military purposes. On that day, Genaust went up Suribachi to capture a flag-raising.

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