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Iwo Jima vet gets his dues

Posted: September 12, 2008 11:01 p.m.
Updated: November 14, 2008 5:00 a.m.
 

87-year-old Iwo Jima veteran, the Department of Veterans Affairs will pay him all the money he's owed.

Retired Staff Sgt. Carl Diekman of the U.S. Marines Fifth Division, who lives Grenada Villa mobile park in Canyon Country, said he is very grateful to all who helped him.

"I was dumbfounded, at first," Diekman said about the moment he received the letter.

"I was going to wait to tell my daughter and my son when I got the letter Monday," he explained. "But I had to go into the hospital on Tuesday, so I thought ‘This is too good to keep to myself'."

Diekman's list of people to thank is a long one but at the top of the list are his son, Trevor, and his daughter, Carla.

Trevor Diekman wiped tears from his eyes as he stood on the veranda of his father's mobile home Friday.

"My father called me at work..." the younger Diekman said. "Because of what you (The Signal) did my father got his benefits."

His father, who was released from hospital Thursday, never asked for anything from anyone yet received an outpouring of sympathy and support from strangers and soldiers.

Many of them learned about his plight because of a Signal story published in April.

"We got a huge response," Trevor Diekman said. "We want to thank the U.S. Marines at 29 Palms and in Pendleton."
Diekman was one of 110,000 Marines on one of 880 vessels sent to Iwo Jima in the closing months of the World War II.

More than 6,800 servicemen in the Allied Forces died in action at Iwo Jima.

On Feb. 23, 1945, Diekman jumped into the water near Iwo Jima shortly after five Marines and a U.S. Navy serviceman steadied the American flag on Mount Suribachi which was photographed and became an iconic figure of American patriotism.

It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

"When the flag was raised, I was aboard a ship, ready to disembark," he told The Signal when first interviewed.

Inside Diekman's home is a plaque of medals issued from the United States government for his bravery, including a Veteran World War II medal, an Asian Pacific Campaign medal, a Good Conduct Marine Corps medal with the 5th Division, a National Defense medal, a Navy Occupation Service medal, and a Naval Commendation, Staff Sergeant 5th Division U.S. Marine Corps.

In April, however, the U.S. government sent him a letter informing him he was being cut off from his monthly $84 veterans check and was, instead, ordered to pay the U.S. government nearly $4,000 or have his case turned over to a collection agency.

On Monday, the department informed Diekman, in a letter, that he would receive $512 a month retroactive to May when he was cut off.

"Now I'm getting six times more than what I originally got," he said.

The letter, dated Sept. 4, is signed: Terri Beer, Tiger Team Director. It reads:

"Dear Mr. Diekman, The Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs created a special claims processing unit at the Cleveland Regional Office known as the Tiger Team. This unit has been tasked with expediting the claims of veterans. Your claim was chosen to be processed by the Tiger Team.

"We are pleased to inform you that the Secretary's Tiger Team has granted your claim for benefits."

Diekman also served in the Korean War in 1950 and 1951.

He married shortly after that and stayed married until 2003 when his wife died.

Father of five, with a daughter who died at age 3, Diekman has 10 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

He notified the VA of his change in status when he remarried and then, because of the change in marital status, was apparently no longer eligible for the monthly $84 check.

Shortly after that, the VA office sent him an order to pay $3,936 in overpayments.

"My son, Trevor, and my daughter, Carla, because of their writing letters and telephone calls, taking me to the doctor - all this came about because of them," Diekman said Friday.

One of the many people who responded to articles that appeared in The Signal about Diekman's problems with the veteran's department, was an Agua Dulce woman - who asked The Signal to use only her first name, Wendy - in Agua

Dulce who contacted the paper wanting to know where she could send money to Diekman.

"I had a lady in Agua Dulce help me. She sent me a check and, then, a few weeks ago I got another check from her," he said, explaining that he drove to Agua Dulce to "thank her in person" but she wasn't home at the time.

Wendy sent copies of The Signal article to friends at the Edwards Air Force Base.

Blogs and websites run by veterans copied The Signal stories and posted them online.

The initial story about Diekman's struggle prompted other media and politicians to respond.

One of those people, now on Diekman's "Thank You" list, is U.S. Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon who began championing the veteran's case after Trevor contacted him.

On May 6, Diekman received a phone call from McKeon in Washington telling him he could rip up the bill for nearly $4,000 and expect to start receiving his benefits again.

This week, McKeon was good to promise when the VA sent Diekman a letter of confirmation.

Less than five months ago, the Diekman family feared the worst for the highly-decorated patriarch who was facing mounting debt, a loss of benefits, medical costs, and the possibility of losing his social security.

"I started crying when I phoned my sister with the news," Trevor Diekman said.

"And, then she started crying. I really appreciate what you did for my family."

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