After a lifetime of service, World War II veteran Jerry Ingram passed away this week at 94 years old.
Ingram died at 7:50 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 7, the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, an event which helped bring America into World War II and would shape Ingram’s life for decades after.
Paul Chapa, a long-time friend of Ingram, confirmed his friend’s death, calling him a true example of the Greatest Generation.
“He was able to continue influencing our young people, you know, so they could see for themselves what service and devotion to their country really looks like,” he said. “We were with Jerry until the very end.”
Chapa met Ingram roughly five years ago through Friends in Service of Heroes, a local nonprofit Chapa founded which is aimed at supporting veterans.
He said his first impression of Ingram was that he was ornery, but he had a smile that could light up a room.
Ingram’s death on the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor was no coincidence, Chapa said. Dates were important to him and Pearl Harbor was what inspired him to serve his country during World War II.
Joined the Marines at 15
Ingram was only 15 when he joined the Marine Corps in November 1942, but lied about his age in order to enlist. Later in life, it was important to Ingram for kids to know they could start serving others at any age.
“He was a very kind man and always made time, especially for young people,” Chapa said. “Jerry loved this country and wanted to serve his fellow man, and that’s what he did.”
After boot camp, Ingram became a tank commander in C Company of the 4th Tank Battalion.
He shipped out to the Pacific theater of battler, where he saw combat during several island campaigns. He eventually landed on Iwo Jima in early 1945, site of one of the bloodiest and most hard-fought battles of the war in the Pacific.
Chapa said of 40 men he started with, Ingram was the only survivor of the group.
Survived hotel fire
Years after serving World War II, Ingram escaped death again during a national sales convention in Las Vegas in 1981.
A fire broke out at the Hilton Hotel where the event was talking place. Ingram was inside an elevator with five other men, and Chapa said he became determined not to die there.
Surviving that fire led him into the fire rescue equipment business, and he owned his own company Ingram Fire and Rescue until earlier this year.
“To be trapped inside an elevator, it only makes me wonder if he felt like he was on the islands of Iwo Jima once again, trapped inside a tank,” Chapa said. “He was not going to stay there.”
Over the year following the Hilton Hotel fire, Ingram endured more than 400 surgeries on his head from injuries sustained in the fire.
Chapa said he never knew Ingram without a head bandage. But this didn’t stop him from wanting to be involved with serving his community and being a part of F.I.S.H projects.
“He never complained,” Chapa said. “Jerry always wanted to be sure that he was included in everything. He wanted people to see him, and not because he felt he was special, but he felt as though he had a message to share. And that message was that freedom is not free.”
Ingram will be buried at Leavenworth National Cemetery. He is survived by three daughters.
A new bench at the Fire Academy in Olathe as well as a service dog in the department will bear Ingram’s name as a tribute.
Chapa said Ingram worked hard to make a difference in the lives of others, and he leaves that legacy in the Kansas City area.
“He was a man of service and a man of faith,” Chapa said. “He’s a man that saw everyone around him die. Even after the war, it wasn’t over. And yet he was still here, still battling and moving forward, trying to make a difference. That’s how Jerry lived his life.”