Marines with III Marine Expeditionary Force climb the steep slope of the landing beaches during a trip to Iwo Jima, Japan, Dec. 19, 2017. Marines from across III MEF, the 31st MEU and Marine Corps Installations Pacific, flew some 850 miles east, from Okinawa, Japan, to visit the historic island, now called Iwo To, to tour the battle site and honor the men who fought there in February 1945. (Photo by Staff Sgt. T. T. Parish)
IWO JIMA, Japan -- Iwo Jima. It sits mostly silent, near nowhere, with a small airstrip to welcome visitors who go there to remember the cost of war and honor the men who fought there. The sounds of the surf offer a soothingly low rumble in the background, an eerie juxtaposition to the hellish noises of war that rang there in February 1945.
The Marines who landed in February 1945 carried rifles, shovels, bullets, band aids and flame throwers. Today’s Marines carry iPhones, smart watches and plastic bags, with which they collect the famed sands of Iwo Jima. Another juxtaposition, but also evidence of the continued reverence today’s Marines have for the veterans of one of America’s most costly battles.
Iwo Jima – now known as Iwo To – remains a violent, costly, intimate connection between two nations that are now allies, a blood-bond that will remain forever between the United States and Japan.
Iwo Jima. It means so much to the Marine Corps – to the United States as a whole, really – that one of the most striking monuments in Washington D.C. is the Marine Corps War Memorial, with "Uncommon Valor Was A Common Virtue” inscribed on its west face. The statue is based on one of the most widely-viewed photos to be published during WWII, Joe Rosenthal’s flag raising image from atop Mount Suribachi, of six Marines hoisting the Stars and Stripes overseeing the island’s main defensive position.
Iwo Jima. Marines revere the name and fight tooth and nail to get there – too few seats and too many Marines ask to go. Why? To honor, yes, but also to connect with the lineage that ensured the Marine Corps will exist, in the words of Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, “…for the next 500 years.” The Marine Corps is the smallest branch of service in the U.S. military, and until WWII, was considered redundant to the Army and Army Air Corps. After 35 days of continuous bloodshed, the Marine Corps secured its position, not just within the military, but in the annals of history.
It is hallowed ground. It is a burial ground. It is a monument and a refuge – it is many things to many people. It is also a bridge and a road that connects past to present, generation to generation, nation to nation. But most importantly, it is a reminder to today’s generation of Marines that yesterday’s battles help prepare us for tomorrow’s wars.