A 100-year-old Navy veteran who witnessed the testing of the first atomic bomb at Bikini Atoll and touched the iconic flagpole after a costly victory at Iwo Jima marked another milestone Sunday.
Forrest Phelps was the grand marshal of the annual Charleston Veterans Day Parade Sunday. He rode in a green World War II-era Jeep and smiled and waved at spectators along East Bay and Broad streets.
“I feel like someone is trying to make a VIP or an icon out of me,” he said with a laugh before the parade.
Phelps turned 100 Sept. 22, he pointed out.
Phelps was aboard a fire and rescue ship during the invasion of Iwo Jima, pulling survivors from destroyers out of the water. A few days after Marines finally raised an American flag on Mount Suribachi in February 1945 — an image that has become a memorial to Marines — Phelps climbed up the rock and touched it. He said he remembers the day clearly, sticking to the volcanic rocks to avoid any hidden land mines.
“I’ve had to pay the price, living to be 100,” he said, referring to his fading eyesight and dependence on a cane to walk. “At least I’ve got a good memory.”
Phelps spent 20 years in the Navy, then worked for many years at the Charleston Naval Shipyard.
Not as many people watched from the Customhouse steps Sunday as have in years past, possibly because this year’s parade was a week before Veterans Day. The parade was held Sunday to avoid a conflict with Second Sunday on King Street next weekend, according to an organizer with the Ralph Johnson VA Medical Center.
Several of the veterans on the floats called out their thanks to those who showed up to wave at them.
As usual, the parade kicked off with the deep-throated roar of about 150 motorcycles. The Lowcountry Star motorcycle club led off with American, military and state flags.
“It’s really cool,” said club president Michael Roach of Hanahan, who took the lead spot. “It’s one the few times you can roll the throttle and people love it and you don’t risk getting a ticket.”
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Mount Suribachi. We apologize for the error.