‘Iwo Jima mascot’ Russell Meche hosts veterans gathered for special reunion

IWO JIMA VETERANS were special guests of Russell and JoAnn Meche recently for an afternoon of reminiscing. Pictured, from left, are Meche, who has been nicknamed “Iwo Jima mascot,” are Al Pagoaga of Idaho, John Scarfo of New York state, and Walter O’Malley of Massachusetts. (Acadian-Tribune Photo by Paul Kedinger)

By PAUL KEDINGER
Managing Editor

When Russell Meche learned three retired Marines had traveled to Alexandria for a special reunion with a fellow Purple Heart recipient, he quickly decided to host them on Sunday, Oct. 6.
The World War II veterans had come to Alexandria for an informal reunion arranged by their fellow Marine Menard “Bull” Brouillette.
The men who met when they were 19 in the same company, the Fifth Division, Company E.
Unfortunately, Brouillette died Sept. 22 in his Pineville home. The reunion, nevertheless, went on as scheduled at the American Legion Post 3 in Alexandria.
Brouillette was the man who provided the link to Rayne and Russell Meche and his wife, JoAnn.
According to JoAnn, 30-plus years ago, Brouillette had  stopped at Paco’s and spotted something at Russell’s Furniture he wanted to buy. However, JoAnn who had just unpacked the bar   refused to sell it.
“If I had known he was a Iwo Jima hero, I  would have sold it to him then and ordered another,” says JoAnn.
Brouillette placed an order for a second bar and the Meches delivered it and other furniture over the ensuing years.
A friendship was struck up and Russell became so close to Brouillette and his fellow Iwo Jima companions that he quickly became a part of their inner circle, traveling with them to numerous events.
The friendship bond became so close that JoAnn’s tag for her husband, an ex-Marine, became  “Iwo Jima mascot.”
Russell didn’t hesitate one moment. He quickly invited Al Pagoaga of Boise, Idaho, John Scarfo of Utica, New York and Walter O’Malley of Clinton, Massachusetts to join him in Rayne for dinner and an afternoon of reminiscing.
When the veterans landed in Iwo Jima there were 250 men in the unit. At the end of the battle, 32 were left.
The veterans of the Iwo Jima battle have been meeting since 1949. The last three years the average attendance has been about 21. Attendance won’t get any larger, with the minimum age of 86.
As judged by their willingness to travel across the country for their compatriot, the men are very close.
“We don’t talk war,” they say at their reunions. “The most memorable part of being on Iwo Jima was getting off Iwo Jima,” says O’Malley.

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