Samowitz, oldest Iwo Jima survivor, dies at 99


Samowitz, oldest Iwo Jima survivor, dies at 99


Date: December 7, 2013
by: Robin Hartill | News Editor


Martin “Marty” Samowitz, the oldest known survivor of the Battle of Iwo Jima, has died. He was 99.

Born Oct. 28, 1914, Samowitz was 27 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and enlisted shortly thereafter in the Air Force. He was fighting in the Pacific as part of the Seventh Fighter Command, 20th Air Force when he got orders to ship out to attach to a Marine unit.

He was nearly a decade older than the Marines he served alongside, most of whom were in their late teens and early 20s.

Samowitz told the Longboat Observer in February that as troops prepared to invade Iwo Jima, a general told them it would be over in two days.

“Thirty days later, we were still living in foxholes,” Samowitz said.

The battle that began Feb. 19, 1945, wouldn’t end until March 26.

Four days into the battle, on Feb. 23, 1945, Samowitz watched five Marines and a Navy corpsman raise the American flag over Mount Suribachi.

“We were just fooling around because we were happy to get to the top,” Samowitz said.

Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal snapped the photo of the flag raising that would win him a Pulitzer Prize.

“It became an iconic symbol of the worst war in history,” Samowitz said. “But they would have never dreamed that it would become that way.”

When World War II ended and Samowitz was discharged on the West Coast, he and a few buddies bought new clothes, threw away their military uniforms and took the train back home to New York.

Upon his return, he took a job at a shoe store. He went into the business himself and built the northeastern chain Marty’s Shoes. By 1997, the business had grown to more than 70 stores; he later sold the business in 2006.

Samowitz and his wife, Paulette, purchased their unit at Grand Bay in 1998.

Over the decades since the war, Samowitz attended reunions organized by the Iwo Jima Survivors Association. He was there in August 2010 for what the group called its 65th Final Reunion — “final” because the number of survivors was dwindling so low.

The reunion included a candlelight service in honor of members’ comrades who lost their lives on Iwo Jima and the survivors who had since died. A table remained empty in honor of those who were unable to attend.

On Oct. 3, 2010, Samowitz reflected on the final reunion in an email to fellow survivors that he called “Idle thought on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Atlantic City, N.J.”

The Journal of the Iwo Jima Survivors published it. It stated in part:

“Can you believe it’s been over 65 years since D day when we stormed the beaches on that God forsaken black sand island off Japan and lost almost 7,000 of our comrades? The candlelight service for our departed, who lost their lives then, and in the intervening years, was so moving that these hardened eyes of mine could not help but shed a tear.”

Samowitz established the Martin A. Samowitz Foundation in 2004 through which he donated to more than 50 non-profits. In 2012, he and Paulette pledged $1 million to Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s ENVISION initiative last December.

Samowitz gathered with friends and family members in his Grand Bay condominium Oct. 28, to celebrate his 99th birthday.

He reflected on his life in a “My View” column published that week in the Longboat Observer.

In the column, he described his efforts through the Samowitz Foundation as his greatest accomplishments and quoted Andrew Carnegie, who said, “He who dies rich dies disgraced.”

He also paraphrased a Scottish philosopher whose name he didn’t remember: “Those who help others will always live in the hearts of his countrymen.”

Samowitz is survived by his wife, Paulette; daughter, Lani Haynes; and two granddaughters.

For more information, pick up a Dec. 12 copy of the Longboat Observer.

Contact Robin Hartill at


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Currently 1 Response

  • 1.
  • Another hero of the Greatest generation gone to his reward
  • John Flaherty
    Mon 9th Dec 2013
    at 5:09pm
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