A short time after being sent to Iwo Jima during the height of World War II, a shell landed near Steve’s foxhole. It blew him in the air, tearing nerves in his left arm and peppering his body with shrapnel.

The Oakmont Northville resident, who lives there with his wife Nadine, reflected on his time with the Marines as he showed several pictures from that time and explained how fortunate he was to be alive.

At some point, he was moved from the battlefield to a hospital. Along the way, he experienced many sights and sounds. At one point, he awoke to find a Catholic priest praying over his wounded body.

“I opened my eyes to see Fr. Bradley giving me last rites,” Steve said. “He was making the sign of the cross over me. I wasn’t expecting that. I’m a Protestant, and I’m not used to seeing a priest praying like that. I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. I’m going to die.’”

A poignant picture and bittersweet memory

Steve showed a picture taken as he arrived at Iwo Jima. It was snapped only minutes before an explosion claimed several other Marines in the photo.

“There were four or five of those guys who had just landed and were killed,” he said. “We landed on the island and started going up, and so many of these guys were dead right after this. We were 20, 21, 22 years old….In fact, when we went into the first hospital, I heard a lot of crying. And I could hear the nurses saying, ‘Oh, those poor, young boys.’ They saw how bad it was.”

“I was lucky to come home. I tell people this and they don’t believe me, and the only ones who believe me are the ones who have been in combat. They know what I was talking about. A lot of people don’t say anything about it. It was tough, seeing all those guys killed.”

The fact he is able to tell that story means things worked out pretty well, although it did have an effect on the rest of his life.

Life before and after the war

Prior to World War II, Steve was a semi-pro basketball player, along with being active in several sports. The injuries at Iwo Jima kept him from competing as an athlete, but he stayed busy in coaching — including guiding his team to an American Legion state championship.

“He went to Southwestern High School in Detroit, and I attended Fordson in Dearborn,” Nadine said. “So we met through a mutual friend. And we’ve been married for 75 years.”

They raised their family in Dearborn as he was employed as a manufacturing engineer with the Ford Motor Company. Eventually, they were able to travel — which included trips to Europe and various places throughout the United States. In one of his travels, for a reunion, he actually came across a familiar face wearing a priest’s collar.

“Fr. Bradley, you gave me my last rites,” he said. “He told me, ‘I gave a lot of young men their last rites.’ What guy ever gets a chance to meet the man who gave him his last rites? Never.

“It was a miracle.”