Ruth Ann Kepler didn’t know the details of her father’s military service until a couple of years after his death in 1971.
He was in the Navy, that much she knew. But when Kepler or her three sisters would ask him about his service, Robert William Strecker kept his answers short.
“He’d say, ‘Oh yeah, I was in the Navy. It was a good time,’ and left it at that,” Kepler said.
She would learn later that her father served with the Navy’s Pacific Fleet from 1942 to 1946. That he was stationed on a submarine chaser during World War II. And that he served at the Battle of Iwo Jima, which began 70 years ago Thursday.
Kepler was among nearly 30 people who gathered at the National World War II Memorial on the anniversary to commemorate the battle in which more than 6,800 American service members were killed. It would come to be known as the deadliest battle in Marine Corps history.
A large wreath arranged with red, white and blue flowers was placed at the base of the memorial’s Pacific Arch. A bugler from the U.S. Marine Band sounded taps as some in attendance stood in salute.
Josiah Bunting III, chairman of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial, spoke briefly at the ceremony, telling the gathering that they must continue to honor those who served.
“This is a solemn occasion, but it’s also a joyous occasion,” Bunting said. “It’s a great and remarkable feat to which succeeding generations must be introduced so we never ever forget their sacrifice.”
Kepler traveled from Oxford, Pa., to attend the ceremony. She said that until now, her father had never been specifically honored for his service at Iwo Jima. She had previously been in touch with Holly Rotondi, executive director of Friends of the National World War II Memorial, who invited her to come for Thursday’s event on the Mall.
Only a couple of years after Strecker’s death, Kepler’s mother died. Kepler said her mother had left her with a rosary, a book and a diary that her father wrote while at war. But she said she never had the opportunity to hear about his experiences.
“Usually when you become an adult and you’re in your 20s, that’s when you start asking those questions,” she said. “Our parents were gone; there was nobody to ask.”
She began to research his history and service online and in naval archives. As she learned more, she found records that matched what he had written.
“He talks about all the different places the ship went,” she said. “He’s not very specific about any battles or people dying. He’s very careful about that.”
Since learning about her father’s service, Kepler has done her part to honor veterans, participating in programs such as Wreaths Across America. She made copies of the diary to give her sisters and will be donating the original to the Naval Heritage Center in Washington.
On Thursday, Kepler held up a photo of her father and then placed it under the wreath.
“He served bravely and proudly in the U.S. Navy during World War II,” she told those gathered. “It’s my pleasure to be able to be here today to give him the recognition and honor he deserves.”
Kepler’s oldest sister, Marilyn Zeitfuss of Woodbridge, Va., also attended the commemoration.
“He’s been gone for so long and we never had the opportunity to honor him in this way,” Zeitfuss said. “I’m speechless. It’s just a very good feeling.”