Brent Verwers meets Dorothy McMahan, widow of Norman McMahan, who saved Verwers' father's life in World War II. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]

Remembering a hero

An emotional meeting some 72 years in the making took place on Medford’s Peachwood Court Thursday morning.

Medford native Dorothy McMahan waited eagerly, oblivious to the sweltering heat, on her tidy front porch for a family who had ventured from across the country to meet her and pay tribute to her deceased husband, who made their very lives possible.

After all, were it not for the heroic actions of Norman McMahan, their family patriarch would have perished in the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II, and 22 members of their family would never have been born.

Wringing her hands and watching anxiously toward the road, a teary-eyed McMahan said, “I’ve waited for this day for a long time.”

McMahan proudly tells the story of Norman, her husband of 60 years until his death in 2010.

On March 6, 1945, his recon company was ambushed on the tiny island in the Pacific. They were ordered to retreat, but in checking on their fellow Marines, Norman, a private first class in the 4th Marine Division, came upon a badly wounded young man from Indiana, Cpl. Cornie Verwers.

Struck three times by enemy fire and bleeding profusely, Verwers' chances for survival were slim. A corpsman told McMahan's company to leave him behind after they received the order to retreat.

But McMahan wouldn't stand for that, his widow recalls.

“He said, ‘I’ll carry him on my back if I have to,’ ” she said.

“So they made a stretcher out of their jackets and their rifles and they got him back.”

On Thursday, Brent Verwers, his wife and two children pulled into McMahan’s driveway for a family reunion of sorts. After several years of corresponding via handwritten letters, emails and on social media, Verwers and McMahan consider each other extended family.

After several long, tear-filled moments, McMahan told Verwers how much the meeting had meant.

“I told my daughter I had one thing on my bucket list I wanted to do,” she said.

“And this is it.”

Verwers, who learned of the grave injuries his father suffered in the battle only in later years, was equally emotional. Cornie Verwers passed away in February 2012, but his second chance at life created more branches on the family's tree.

“My dad said that the medic told him, ‘I wouldn’t of given a plug nickel for you when you got here because you had lost so much blood.' It’s pretty emotional to think that none of us would be here if not for Norm,” Verwers said.

“Dad didn’t talk a lot about the war. When I was a kid and I started getting interested in the fact my dad was in World War II, I would ask questions and he wouldn’t really answer about much. He would just say that he did his duty.”

Verwers added, “Something I finally realized was that this generation witnessed some of the worst that mankind can do to one another. When you think about the bombs and flame-throwers, it was kill or be killed. My father was able to live a full life and have a family thanks to a selfless act.”

McMahan said while she was sad that her husband, who was awarded a Bronze Star for saving Verwers, never had a chance to meet the man again, she was grateful for the connection to a family who holds her husband in such high regard.

United in their memories, McMahan and Verwers thumbed through military albums, old pictures and shared old stories.

Wiping away a tear, McMahan said the connection to lives that were affected by her late husband eased her loss, if only slightly.

“He was a wonderful husband, father, friend,” she said. "Everybody else came first, before him. It’s been quite a loss to be without him.

“He was quite a man.”

— Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at

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