Iwo Jima Vets Observe Battle's 65th Anniversary
(February 24, 2010)
Frank G. Willetto, an 84-year-old Navajo code talker, renders honors during the
playing of the national anthem at a ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary
of the Battle of Iwo Jima at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in
Triangle, Va., Feb. 19, 2010. In February 1945, the United States launched its
first assault against the Japanese at Iwo Jima, resulting in some of the
fiercest fighting of the war.
||TRIANGLE, Va., Feb. 19, 2010
veterans of the Battle of Iwo Jima and their
families gathered at the National Museum of the
Marine Corps here today to commemorate the 65th
anniversary of the iconic World War II battle.
The battle for Iwo Jima – the first U.S. attack on Japanese
soil – is memorialized worldwide by the famous Joe Rosenthal
photo of five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the U.S.
flag on Mount Suribachi. Three of the six later were killed
“Iwo Jima was not the bloodiest or the longest battle” of
World War II and “it probably was not even the most
successful in the Pacific Island campaign,” Gen. James T.
Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, told the audience.
“All that said, Iwo Jima occupies a place in our history
like no other battle.”
Conway said he believes that's a result of the
determination, courage and sacrifice of the men who fought
there, noting the “savagery” of the battle. “It was kill or
be killed,” he said.
And that was true of both sides of the fighting, Conway
said, noting a comment a Japanese lieutenant colonel made
about the Americans during the battle: “They are relentless,
and they fight with a mentality like they are exterminating
George Alden of Fort Worth, Texas, was a 20-year-old
sergeant with 1st Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, 5th
Marine Division, when he stormed the volcanic ash beach in
the first wave of U.S. troops onto Iwo Jima. The Japanese --
who with 21,000 troops had nearly three times more men than
Alden and his unit expected -- had terraced the beach,
making for an arduous climb for the troops who had no
alternative but to move forward on the eight-square-mile
About 400 yards up the beach, Alden and his unit came upon a
bunker. After taking charge of the action that demolished
the bunker, Alden was seriously wounded on his left side by
rifle fire. “I laid out in the open until almost dark,” he
Finally, a litter bearer approached the injured Alden. “They
said they'd passed me four times thinking I was dead,” he
said. They could not evacuate him until the next morning,
leaving Alden and three of his comrades in a fox hole
Three days later, on the fifth day of the battle, Alden was
aboard a hospital ship when a medic told him to look out the
port hole over his bed. “That was when I saw the flag rising
up above the smoke and haze,” he said, remembering the scene
of Rosenthal's famous photo.
Like others, Alden said, the image of the U.S. flag on the
mountaintop made him think the battle soon would be over. In
fact, it would last 31 more days, claiming 6,820 Americans
dead or missing, and 19,000 wounded.
“We could not have guessed that Feb. 19, 1945, would start
36 of the most deadly days in the history of the Marine
Corps and probably the most savage fighting we have ever
engaged in,” Conway said.
For today's Marines, Iwo Jima is the “gold standard,” the
commandant said. “It drives us, it inspires us, and it gives
us confidence” in training and preparedness, he said.
In the Iraq war, Conway said, a young Marine was asked about
the possibility of U.S. troops wresting control of Fallujah
from insurgents. “Of course we can take Fallujah,” Conway
said the Marine replied. “We took Iwo Jima.”
Retired Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones, now President
Barack Obama's national security advisor, thanked the
veterans for their service. “We honor your legacy for the
lives you saved,” he said.
Jones said today's Marines gain strength from the examples
set by the veterans of Iwo Jima, and he asked the audience
to keep today's Marines in mind, especially those
confronting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Ron “Rondo” Scharfe, an Iwo Jima veteran from Missoula,
Mont., was 16 when he hit the Japanese island's shores. “Our
knees were shaking so bad we could barely stand up,” he
said. “We didn't know where the hell we were going. We were
tight as rubber bands.”
|Bill Toledo, Frank G. Willetto and Keith Little, Navajo code talkers, participate with other Iwo Jima veterans at a ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va., Feb. 19, 2010. On Feb. 19, 1945, the United States launched its first assault against the Japanese at Iwo Jima, resulting in some of the fiercest fighting of World War II.
Scharfe said he and his comrades crawled onto the beach,
which already was smoking and “smelling like a junkyard” on
the first day of battle. The Japanese “waited ‘til we got on
the beach, then they opened up on us,” he said. |
Scharfe survived nine days of Iwo Jima without serious
injuries, before being sent to Okinawa. Today, he said, he
thinks about the Marines in Afghanistan and thinks Iwo Jima
was easier in at least one way. “At least we knew who the
enemy was,” he said.
Retired Marine Corps Col. Harvey Barnum, a Medal of Honor
recipient for heroism in Vietnam, said the courage of those
on Iwo Jima was proven by the number of Medal of Honor
recipients the battle yielded: 22 Marines and five sailors.
The commemoration of the battle is important for the
veterans who remain, Barnum said.
“They've gotten older, but nothing has changed in their
heart,” he said. “These people are all in their 80s, and
they've come from all over the country to be here. But this
will be the last time for many of them.”
Article by Lisa Daniel|
Marine Corps photos by Cpl. Scott Schmidt U.S.
American Forces Press Service
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