- Cullman, Alabama

May 26, 2013

Family, students honor memory of 'Uncle Windle’

By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times

— Young boys were eager to join the military during the first and second world wars. Many of them were still in high school or had just gotten out. They were raring to go, and felt that it was their duty to serve their country. Many wanted to see the world. Little did they know that the ones who survived would be haunted by scenes from those wars for the rest of their lives.

Becky McDonald Manning keeps the service photo of her uncle in her fifth-grade classroom at Good Hope Elementary School. It sits next to the American flag. Each day when the children recite the Pledge of Allegiance, they are reminded of his service and ultimate sacrifice.

As a child, Becky grew up hearing about her Uncle Windle, who served his country as a United States Marine. “His picture was hung in our living room,” she recalls. “My daddy, Joe McDonald, was his much younger brother. I am one of seven children and Daddy would often tell us stories about my uncle. He looked up to his strong, courageous brother and was so very proud of him. Daddy told us that he had a great sense of humor. When asked why he joined the Marines, Windle would reply, ‘I thought that I would look better in the Marine uniform’.”

Windle McDonald had plans to return after the war and work at his father's saw-mill in the Dodge City community. “My grandfather, Ercie McDonald, owned one of the largest saw mills in the county and employed many men,” said Becky. “My grandfather and grandmother had eight children. My aunt, Jeanette McDonald Todd, is the only living sibling.”

The family still has McDonald’s last letter, which he wrote as his transport ship was traveling to the invasion of Iwo Jima. “Obviously from the tone of the letter, he had already witnessed an enormous amount of death and destruction for a young man of just over 22 years old,” said Becky’s husband, Mike Manning.

He wrote that he was going into battle, and that he could not disclose his destination. It was a “good-bye” letter, one last “I love you” before he had to leave the ship, facing what, he didn’t know…

“The initial understanding from my wife’s father, Joe McDonald, who passed away in 2005, was that his older brother was killed by a sniper bullet after the Battle of Iwo Jima was won,” Manning continued the story.

The letter concluded with the statement that they might not hear from him for a while. It was the last time his family ever heard from him.

Mike Manning had been keenly interested in Windle McDonald’s story for a long time. “In 2010, I was reading ‘Flags of Our Fathers’ and was able to understand that Windle actually died 20 days before the battle was over,” explained McDonald. “The book also had maps that give a clearer understanding of where the 4th Marine Division landed on the island and the route that they followed during the battle.”

Manning’s studies have revealed that most of the population at that time felt a great sense of victory when Mt. Suribachi was taken on February 23,1945 at 11 a.m. “However much hard fighting and death remained,” he said. “The Battle of Iwo Jima lasted from February 19, 1945, to March 26, 1945.”

 The Mannings contacted the U.S. Veterans Affairs Office concerning McDonald’s full military records. A certificate of service and service record were on file with the local Veterans Affairs office in the Cullman County Courthouse.

Manning noted that McDonald was killed exactly two years to the day after his enlistment.

His death left a void in the McDonald family that still exists. His niece tells his story, the story of many young men who fought and died for this country, to her fifth-grade students each year.

“Our heroic PFC Windle McDonald will forever be remembered for his life and for making the ultimate sacrifice for his beloved United States of America,” said Becky.