John Roy Coltrane, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who fought in the Pacific Theater in Midway and Iwo Jima, was buried Saturday with grains of sand from Iwo Jima under his pillow.
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SILER CITY — John Roy Coltrane, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who fought in the Pacific Theater in Midway and Iwo Jima, was buried Saturday with grains of sand from Iwo Jima under his pillow.
Placed there by one of his grandsons, the portion of “black sand” – actually volcanic soil which Coltrane acquired on a return visit to the Japanese Island in 2015 – was a nod to the high regard with which Coltrane viewed his six years of service to his country during the war.
A lifelong resident of Siler City, Coltrane passed away last Wednesday at the age of 96 at the UNC Hospice Home in Pittsboro, where he spent his final days.
His daughter, Valerie Dorsett of Siler City, said that shortly before her father’s death, another member of the family played a recording of the Marine’s Hymn for him.
“It was everything he could do, but he got his hand up and he saluted,” she said.
Dorsett said her father didn’t discuss his military service much when she was a young girl, and her knowledge of his years of service was vague. She knew he’d been involved in the war, and she knew he’d been a Marine.
And sometimes from his room at night, she could hear him having nightmares.
“He didn’t talk much about his service,” Dorsett said. “Those veterans of the war were supposed to just come home and pick up where they’d left off, it didn’t make any difference. But I knew there were things that bothered him. My mother said he would call out orders in his sleep.”
Coltrane was the oldest of seven siblings, raised on a farm.
He aimed to join the Army, but the Army rejected him because of flat feet. Undaunted, he turned to the Marines and Coltrane “scrunched up his toes” during the medical exam, and passed, Dorsett said.
Coltrane’s service with the Marine Corps ran from May 7, 1941, to May 9, 1947.
“He was proud of his service to his country,” Dorsett said. “But anytime someone called him a hero, he always said, no, the heroes were the ones who didn’t come home. He was very humble about it.”
Coltrane fought in two battles in Midway and in the Battle of Iwo Jima and served in Occupied Japan. In Iwo Jima, he sustained a shrapnel injury to his elbow.
“He was a true blue Marine,” his daughter said.
Dorsett said her father was educated only through the 8th grade and was “a self-taught man, a simple man, grew up in the country.”
Coltrane retired from a job as salesman/manager of Oakwood Mobile Homes at the age of 62 and became increasingly active in a number of veterans’ organizations.
“That was kind of cathartic for him,” Dorsett said. “He didn’t have as many nightmares.”
Over the last few years, he attended veterans’ events in San Antonio, Tampa and Washington, D.C. In 2015, marking the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, he returned to Japan. Last year, confined to a wheelchair, he attended a reunion of WWII veterans in Hawaii.
Coltrane was a member of Community Baptist Church in Siler City, where he was buried on Saturday. The church flew its United States flag at half-mast in honor of the veteran.