Marines surprise WWII veteran by bringing birthday ball to his retirement home

MISSION, Kan. (WDAF) - Jerry Ingram has been part of nearly every Marine Birthday Ball with his Band of Brothers since World War II.

But this year because of ailing health, the 92-year-old World War II veteran thought he wasn't going to be able to celebrate. So the U.S. Marine Corps brought the celebration to him.

"Freedom isn't free, you have to fight for it. You have to fight and keep it and protect it," Ingram told WDAF.

Ingram joined that fight and the U.S. Marines by fibbing about his age when he was just 15, back in 1942. At age 17 he landed on Iwo Jima with the 4th Marine Division.

"One of every three Marines was either killed or wounded on that island," Ingram said.

He's honored his duty to remember the fallen by visiting Leavenworth National Cemetery every year.

"When I saw all those crosses and all those lives -- what a waste of life," Ingram said, recalling the only time he ever cried on the battlefield at Iwo Jima.

Ingram also never missed a Marine Birthday Ball other than 1981, when he survived a fire in a Las Vegas hotel in an elevator with others who didn't. He had to undergo multiple surgeries.

But this year the 92-year-old knew he wouldn't be able to make it because of his health.

"I feel very dismayed to let my brothers down. I can't do what I'm supposed to do," Ingram said.

"Knowing that Jerry never complains, here's a man that's been through so much, not that it was a complaint, but he was sad that he was going to be missing this," said Paul Chapa, president of Friends in Service of Heroes.

So the Marines showed up with a cake at Ingram's assisted living facility to celebrate the Marine Corps 244th birthday.

As customary after the cake is cut with a sword, the oldest Marine passes the cake to the youngest Marine, signifying the passing of experience and knowledge from generation to generation.

"It's important that now before we miss that opportunity that we are enjoying as much time as we can with them because we are cut from the same cloth," Sgt. Natalie Dillon said.

Ingram got a chance to watch the video that will played at this weekend's ball and to join in the Marine Hymn.

"They mean everything to me. I grew up in the Marine Corps. I am a Marine. I always will be a Marine, and I represent all those that aren't here. They don't die easy," Ingram said.