Iwo Jima is an extremely small volcanic island between Guam and Japan. By the way, Jima means island. The sand is black and feels like small BBs. When I walked across it my feet rolled out from beneath me. The island is of little value outside of being a place to land if in trouble.
This is the role it played during WWII and was the bloodiest battle of the war. More Marines were sent to Iwo Jima than to any other battle. More medals for heroism were awarded for action than any other battle in US history. This is the place where the famous picture was taken of the men pushing up the American flag. The statement was made that on Iwo Jima “Uncommon Valor was a common Virtue.”
The Japanese only allow visitors to Iwo Jima one day a year. My husband and I arrived on a charted jet along with 135 other people. We were met by a representative of the Japanese government and US Marines from Okinawa and escorted to a hanger on the airfield where we went through customs. After all, we were now in Japan. Technically we are guest of the twelve veterans traveling with us. One I know of was 90 years old.
After customs we loaded onto small buses and driven two miles to an area where a memorial service would be held later in the day. From there the group hiked up the 545 feet of Mt. Suribachi which is the highest point on the island. During the war, the Japanese had built over ten miles of tunnels in the mount. The island was bombed for seventy-seven days and the Japanese said no one was killed. They had all gone underground or into caves.
We returned around noon to the memorial site for the ceremony commemorating the soldiers’ lives lost in the thirty-seven day battle. A four-star Marine general and the Navy rear admiral for the South Pacific were there to place a wreath honoring the men.
The Japanese representatives were dressed in their traditional white shirts and blacks suit. I have to admit I was disappointed that none of them had worn top hats but still they were impressive.
After the ceremony we walked down to the beach. The beach today is actually three feet further out than it was in 1945. The island is growing. From the beach we climbed up to a gun emplacement that is still sitting high off the beach.
As I climbed I could only imagine what it was like to carry a fifty pound pack on my back, a gun in my hand, the sand rolling out from under my feet, my heart pounding, navel guns shelling where I was just minutes before and Japanese soldiers firing at me. I’m surprised more men didn’t die of fear alone.
It really made me think of what our young American men sacrificed for the freedom wehave today.
We hiked back toward the hanger. Okay, I got a ride with a nice Marine major and was very thankful for it. It was ninety degrees and no shade. I wouldn’t have made a good soldier.
Everyone was required to pass through a metal detector before loading the plane. We were allowed to bring all the sand and rocks off the island we wished but no shrapnel. It was everywhere. Some people with us found shell casings. We had truly stepped back in history.
My husband and I returned to Guam and were more than happy to find our bed.
Thanks for joining me on my trip to the South Pacific. It was certainly a journey.