Day 15 – Houston to Home

The journey of a lifetime was almost over.  There was a short layover in Houston before my flight to San Antonio and the 1:15 hour drive north to Fredericksburg.  What a trip it was, fulfilling every expectation.

Day 16 - Random Photo (Fort Santa Agueda Cannon) for My Final Flight (12 in All) to San Antonio

Day 16 – Random Photo (Fort Santa Agueda Cannon) for My Final Flight (12 in All) to San Antonio

As I took no photos on this leg, I decided to include one of me with the 5″ iron cannon atop Fort Santa Agueda on Guam, one of hundreds of photos not included in my Blogs.

The trip is over.  I’m glad you’ve been along for the vicarious journey with me.  I have no clue what my next adventure may be … I don’t think anything could top Iwo Jima … but you can never tell.

For now, my game plan is to try to bring this horrible cold that sprouted over the weekend under control, and then get on with living a wonderful and active life.

Peace,

Bill Sadd
Fredericksburg, TX

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Day 14 – Kill a Day Before Red Eye to Houston.

Day 14 (Tuesday, March 22) was a quiet layover day.  I spent the time in my room until the 1 pm checkout deadline culling through my hundreds of photos (about 600 in total).  I checked my bag at the front desk and made the short walk to a McDonalds for lunch.

I had made arrangements to meet with Joan Williams, a Kindergarten classmate, who was dropping her sister off at the airport.  After lunch, I set up shop in the quiet hotel restaurant which was closed and continued to work on my Blog.

About 3 pm, Joan called saying she was having difficulty finding the Best Western and was parked at a McDonalds.  I said, “Don’t move … I’ll be there in five minutes.”

Day 15 - Reuniting With Kindergarten Classmate John Who Has Lived on Honolulu for Almost Thirty Years

Day 15 – Reuniting With Kindergarten Classmate John Who Has Lived on Honolulu for Almost Thirty Years

Joan has lived in Honolulu for almost thirty years and we spent a totally enjoyable hour and a half bringing each other up to date with the intervening 70 years.  We could have gone on for several more hours, but it was time for me to head to the airport.

Day 15 - My Boeing 777 Plane for the Non-Stop Red-Eye Flight to Houston

Day 15 – My Boeing 777 Plane for the Non-Stop Red-Eye Flight to Houston

The final legs of my journey were routine airport travel.  My United flight (photo above) left Honolulu at 7 pm, arriving in Houston at 8 am on Wednesday.

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Day 14 – Flight: Guam to Honolulu

Day 14 (Tuesday, March 22).  We boarded our bus at 4 am for our 3,800 mile flight to Honolulu.  This would be another of those crazy days crossing the International Date Line.  We left Guam at 6:35 on Tuesday morning (Mar 22) and set down in Honolulu at 5:30 pm on Monday, March 21.

Day 14 - Our Journey Home Began on Tuesday ... Having no Photos four Flight from Guam to Honolulu, I Inserted This One From Iwo Jima

Day 14 – Our Journey Home Began on Tuesday … Having no Photos four Flight from Guam to Honolulu, I Inserted This One From Iwo 

There were no photos from Tuesday’s GUM – HNL flight so I decided to insert this one of the Three Musketeers taken on Iwo Jima.

Arriving in Honolulu and clearing immigration, Derek Reynolds and I caught the shuttle fro the Best Western – Airport.  Some folks caught an early evening connection to the mainland … Derek and I just wanted to give our bodies a chance to acclimate.

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Day 13 – Free Day in Guam

Day 13 (Monday, March 21) was a free day in Guam.  I chose a relaxed and productive way to pass the time while I significantly updated my notes from the days since our departure from Honolulu.

Day 13 - The Long Beach of the Outrigger Hotel ... to the Right is the Large Water Park Filled with Pools, Slides, Water Falls, Lounging Areas

Day 13 – The Long Beach of the Outrigger Hotel … to the Right is the Large Water Park Filled with Pools, Slides, Water Falls, Lounging Areas

After a leisurely buffet break fast, I slowly explored all of the outdoor water activities at the Outrigger Hotel, in part looking for a comfortable place to settle and update my notes.

Day 13 - After Walking Around the Whole Beachfront Complex, I Settled into a Lounge Chair Under a Twin Palm.

Day 13 – After Walking Around the Whole Beachfront Complex, I Settled into a Lounge Chair Under a Twin Palm.

My first choice was a lounge chair on the deck overlooking the beach underneath a twin palm trees.

Day 13 - After a Time on then Twin-Palm Deck, I Moved my Blogging Office to a Shaded Spot Near the Hotel

Day 13 – After a Time on then Twin-Palm Deck, I Moved my Blogging Office to a Shaded Spot Near the Hotel

After a while, I changed my location to a shady table and chairs on a deck up by the Hotel.  There were plenty of Japanese tourists willing to snap a photo.

Day 13 - Deciding to Take a Swim, I Carefully Walked out from the Beach to Snap this Photo from my iPhone.

Day 13 – Deciding to Take a Swim, I Carefully Walked out from the Beach to Snap this Photo from my iPhone.

For a change of pace, I decided to go for a swim in the warm and shallow waters.  I carefully waded out with my iPhone to snap a few pictures … then safely stowed my phone before heading out to deeper water.  There was a round orange buoy a ways out so I set that as my goal.  It’s been quite a while since I have been in the water … other than my shower.  Reaching the buoy I turnemd back towards the beach, enjoying just lolling in the water.

I felt something interesting with my toes on the bottom and decided to bend over and pick it up.  It was a small interesting piece of coral … It was about that time that I felt my ears and found my hearing aids firmly in place.  They are not designed for water immersion, especially salt water.  After a quick “Oh, sh#@” I pulled them out, cupped them in my hand and began the long slow trek from the water to the beach to the hotel to the elevator to my room.

There I took out the batteries, wiped them with a towel, blew the insides with multiple sharp puffs, and left them to dry.  There was nothing else I could do.  As luck would have it, when I dressed for dinner, they fired right up … I had dodged an expensive bullet.

Day 15 - A Gourmet Seafood Dinner in one of the many Hotel Restaurants, Celebrating the 82 Birthday of one of our Group Members.

Day 15 – A Gourmet Seafood Dinner in one of the many Hotel Restaurants, Celebrating the 82 Birthday of one of our Group Members.

The dinner was delicious as we celebrated Ron Hahn’s 82nd birthday, a fitting ending to our final day on Guam.

Alarms were set for for another 3:00 am wake-up to catch out flight back to Honolulu.

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Day 12 – Guam Landing Beaches and Banquet

Day 12 (Sunday, March 12) was the final official day of our tour.  It had the potential of being a down day coming on the heels of our pinnacle day on Iwo Jima.  After a normal (“short”) night’s sleep we boarded our tour bus at 8:30 am and headed for the Agat / Asan invasion beaches on the southwest shore of Guam.  En route, our historian Don Farrell took us to visit historic Spanish sites at Fort Santa Agueda and Plaza de Espana.

Day 12 - Fort Santa Agueda Featured Three Cannon with a Commanding View of the Harbor Below

Day 12 – Fort Santa Agueda Featured Three Cannon with a Commanding View of the Harbor Below

Fort Santa Agueda displayed three massive iron cannon  with a commanding view of the bay below.  Returning to sea level and the Plaza de Espana which featured restored buildings and walls along with disintegrating ruins.

Day 12 - Centuries Old Spanish Plaza de Espana, a Blend of Restorations and Ruins

Day 12 – Centuries Old Spanish Plaza de Espana, a Blend of Restorations and Ruins

Fast forward to July 21, 1944 and the landings on Agat and Asan Beaches separated by Orote Peninsula with it’s valuable airfield and the sheltered Apra Harbor,  The laser driven map from the museum on Friday provided an excellent overview of the twin beachheads as they combine at the base of Orote Peninsula.

Day 10 - Large Scale Model of the Battle for Guam Showing Each Day's Progress in Green Laser Lights

Day 10 – Large Scale Model of the Battle for Guam Showing Each Day’s Progress in Green Laser Lights

We first visited the southern Agat Beach where a rusty Japanese Anti-Aircraft gun stood guard over the beach.

Day 12 - Japanese Anti-Aircraft Gun Guarding Agat Beach

Day 12 – Japanese Anti-Aircraft Gun Guarding Agat Beach

I completed my collection of sand from each of the island beaches we visited on our tour.

Day 12 - Bill Collecting his Guam Landing Beach Sand Sample

Day 12 – Bill Collecting his Guam Landing Beach Sand Sample

Hidden in some hillocks just off the landing beach were a variety of concrete Japanese bunkers.  This bunker, while readily seen from on shore, was heavily camouflaged vegetation making it impossible to spot from the landing Amtraks.

Day 12 - Well-Campflauged Bunker Right on Agat Beach

Day 12 – Well-Campflauged Bunker Right on Agat Beach

Returning to the ridgeline gave  us the broader picture.

Day 12 - Ridgeline View with Commanding Views of Agat Beach and the Rugged Lower Hills

Day 12 – Ridgeline View with Commanding Views of Agat Beach and the Rugged Lower Hills

Leaving the beach, we drove up to a ridgeline overlook that provided a commanding  view of Agat Beach and the rugged lower hills that faced the Marines on their struggle to come ashore.  And above this viewpoint, the jungle growth continued up the to higher ridgeline,

Dat 12 - Rugged Jungle Mountains Above the Ridgeline View of Agat Beach.

Dat 12 – Rugged Jungle Mountains Above the Ridgeline View of Agat Beach.

Returning back to the shoreline, we moved up to Asan Beach where a rusting fuel pipeline remains from the system to move fuel from beyond the reef line to the beach.  Then it was back up to the ridgeline for an overview of Asan Beach.  This back-and-forth between beach and ridgeline was very effective in providing multiple perspectives of the same scene.

Day 12 - Ridgeline View of As an Beach

Day 12 – Ridgeline View of As an Beach

Driving over to the east coast of Guam, we came to Jeff’s Pirate Cove for a coastline lunch in a large A-frame shelter.

Day 12 - Jeff's Pirates Cove of the Eastern Side of Guam

Day 12 – Jeff’s Pirates Cove of the Eastern Side of Guam

At the long bar there was a collection of 20 or 30 beers offered.  Spotting a Shiner Bock, brewed in nearby Shiner, Texas, I felt right at home.

Day 12 - Shiner Bock (Brewed in Texas) Among the Vast Selection at Jeff's

Day 12 – Shiner Bock (Brewed in Texas) Among the Vast Selection at Jeff’s Pirate Cove

Back at the Outrigger Hotel, we has an hour or so to relax before all of the Iwo Jima tour members boarded busses for our farewell BBQ banquet at The Pacific Museum.  This private museum represented a lift-time of collecting WW II relics which are displayed around his hillside property.  The photo below is of the tail section of a Japanese VAL Fighter-Bomber … you can see the very faded red circle Rising Sum emblem.

Day 12 - Japanese VAL Bomber Tail Section at the Private Pacific War Museum

Day 12 – Japanese VAL Bomber Tail Section at the Private Pacific War Museum

Following the dinner, we were all treated to the hot harmonica of one of the Iwo Jima veterans.  He still had his skills …

Day 12 - Iwo Jima Veteran Playing a Hot Harmonica

Day 12 – Iwo Jima Veteran Playing a Hot Harmonica

The grand finale featured a group photo of the veterans, their Grand- or Greatgrand- Children and the contingent of public liaison US Marines.  We all sang a very moving rendition of God Bless America.  Great ending to a great evening.

Day 12 - Final Banquet Group Photo of Six Iwo Jima Veterans, their Grand/Greatgrand Children and Marine Public Liaison .

Day 12 – Final Banquet Group Photo of Six Iwo Jima Veterans, their Grand/Greatgrand Children and Marine Public Liaison .

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Day 11 – Iwo Jima Day – Pt 2: Commemoration Ceremony

[Blog Delay  … After experiencing perfect health during my trip, the day after returning home, I started to be leveled by one of the worst viral colds I’ve experienced.  Today, I’m getting slowly back to normal.]

Returning from our exploratory hike up Mr. Suribachi, we discovered that the Commemoration Ceremony had been scheduled for noon… so we hadn’t missed anything. The event started with the presentation of colors and a very moving singing of both national anthems.  The extreme precision of the US Marines was quite impressive.

Day 11B - Entrance of the US Colors to Begin the Commemoration Ceremony

Day 11B – Entrance of the US Colors to Begin the Commemoration Ceremony

The Ceremonial area consisted of three tents in a u-shaped configuration with the ceremonial monument in the center opening.  The Japanese delegation was in a white tent on the right side …

Day 11B - The Japanese Delegation Tent

Day 11B – The Japanese Delegation Tent

… while the American delegation was on the right with the US Marine Band in the upper center.  The Japanese were mostly dressed very formally … coattails, top hats etc. The Americans were all wearing coats and ties (mandatory for boarding the plane) and Marines were in field green camo uniforms.

Day 11B - American Delegation Tent to the Left with the Marine Band Tent - Up Center

Day 11B – American Delegation Tent to the Left with the Marine Band Tent – Up Center

There were two speaker’s podiums, one for the bi-lingual Introducers and one for the multiple speakers.  With a single exception, the remarks  were not translated.

Day 11B - Twin Podiums:  R - For Bi-Lingual Introductions, L - For Speakers

Day 11B – Twin Podiums: R – For Bi-Lingual Introductions, L – For Speakers

Following the extended introductions came the laying of multiple wreaths by each delegation … first the Japanese …

Day 11B - Japanese Delegation Laying a Ceremonial Wreath, one of Several

Day 11B – Japanese Delegation Laying a Ceremonial Wreath, one of Severalg the

The Americans presented four wreaths with the Cadet Marines delivering the wreaths to the presenters …

Day 11B - Parade of Four American Wreaths to be Placed by Selected Delegations

Day 11B – Parade of Four American Wreaths to be Placed by Selected Delegations

One of the American wreaths was presented by RADM Bette Bolivar and Brig Gen Andrew Toth, shown below in the midst of their precise salutes …

Day 11B - RADM Bette Bolival and Brig Gen Andrew Toth preparing to Salute Before Placing One of the US Wreaths.

Day 11B – RADM Bette Bolival and Brig Gen Andrew Toth preparing to Salute Before Placing One of the US Wreaths.

The hour-long ceremony concluded with the retiring of the colors.  I was very impressed with the American Flag bearer who maintained his ram-rod straight pose throughout the ceremony despite the presence of strong onshore winds.  I spoke to the color guard after the ceremony … they had formed their color guard a month ago and had clearly honed their skills to a high level.

Day 11B - The US Colors are Retired at the End of the Ceremony.

Day 11B – The US Colors are Retired at the End of the Ceremony.

After the ceremony concluded, there was general intermixing of the Americans with the Marines but seemingly no interaction with the Japanese. At one point we found ourselves having an extended chat with newly promoted Cpl. Meter (during the Suribachi ceremonies … an impressive young woman.

Day 11B - Newly Promoted Cpl Meter

Day 11B – Newly Promoted Cpl Meter

Many of the American delegation chose to hike down the beach … a considerable distance over the very squishy slippery black lava sands.  I chose to only walk down part way … I’d made my beach visit on the return from Mr. Suribachi.

Day 11B - American Tourists Walking Down to the Beach to Collect Their Sample of Black Lava Ash.

Day 11B – American Tourists Walking Down to the Beach to Collect Their Sample of Black Lava Ash.

While chatting with a few people, I noticed a very heavy rusted steel half-donut piece of shrapnel that had lain in place for 71 years.  I also spotted several other smaller pieces.  While I may have been tempted to bring home a “souvenir,” I decided to leave it alone.  I later regretted not walking back down to the beach with my friend Frank … on his return climb to the left of the main pathway, he discovered a very rusted coastal gun sitting in a cave.

Day 11B - Six Inch Long Half-Donut of Steel Shrapnel

Day 11B – Six Inch Long Half-Donut of Steel Shrapnel

We reboarded the mini-busses for the short ride back to the airplane hangar where we experienced a very thorough TSA-mandated body-wanding and carryon-bag search before collecting our Passports and taking a seat in the cordoned waiting area.

Day 11B - Americans Wait in Hanger Holding Area After Clearing Security Screening

Day 11B – Americans Wait in Hanger Holding Area After Clearing Security Screening

Back abroad our United charter, we were served a tasty airline dinner (perhaps an oxymoron) … and there was RADM Bolivar walking the aisles helping the United crew collect the dinner trays.  She was a real hot ticket.

Day 11B - RADM Bette Bolivar Lends a Hand Collecting Dinner Trays on Return Flight to Guam.

Day 11B – RADM Bette Bolivar Lends a Hand Collecting Dinner Trays on Return Flight to Guam.

A surprise greeted up after landing in Guam as we were taxiing to our Gate.  The plane was suddenly awash with a huge rain storm … which turned out to be the airport fire engines giving us a “Welcome Home Salute.”  And, adding the icing to this salute, the United ramp crews were lined up saluting us as we pulled to the Gate.  What a memorable way to conclude a very memorable trip to Iwo Jima … it could not have been better.

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Day 11 – Iwo Jima Day – Pt 1: Mt. Suribachi

Day 11 (Saturday, March 19) – Iwo Jima Day 5:00 am – Alarm / 5:40 am – Bus Departure / 6:00 am – Airport TSA Check-In / 6:30 am – Gate Check-In / 7:30 am – Boarding / 8:00 am – Departure.  I’m 75 … the Marines that day were blooded 19-20 year olds.  Inner own way, we were following the same steps they took 71 years ago.  Emotions were complex … excitement / anticipation / nervous / anxiety.  Everything about this day said it was no ordinary day.

Day 11A - United Airlines Welcomed our Group with a Dedicated Check-in Aisle

Day 11A – United Airlines Welcomed our Group with a Dedicated Check-in Aisle

There was a dedicated check-in line for our United 2272 flight.  It was posted on the Departure Boards and at the Gate.  At the Gate, we had to go through a separate Check-in process … and surrender our Passports … that’s always a bit spooky.  There were snack bags for us and cases of water and Gatorade.  At someone’s suggestion, I grabbed a Gatorade, went to the Men’s Room, flushed the contents down the sink and rinsed it out.  Now I had a perfect container for collecting my black lava sand in bulk.

Day 11A - 92-Year Old P51 Mustang  Pilot who Served on Iwo Jima Walking the Aisle of our United Flight

Day 11A – 92-Year Old P51 Mustang Pilot who Served on Iwo Jima Walking the Aisle of our United Flight

There was a festive mood on board the full flight (150 seats).  One of the Iwo Jima veterans, a 92-year old P-51 Mustang pilot, walked down the aisle shaking hands with folks.  (Iwo Jima was strategically important as an emergency base for returning damaged B-29s … but also squadrons of P-51s who could accompany them all the way to Japan).

Day 11A - Stellar Okinawa-Based Marine Receiving Line Headed Up by Lt. Gen Nicholson

Day 11A – Stellar Okinawa-Based Marine Receiving Line Headed Up by Lt. Gen Nicholson

As we debarred the plane in Iwo Jima, a Marine receiving line was there to greet each of us.  Lt. General Nicholson, commander of the contingent that flew in from Okinawa, headed the line that included numerous top brass and VERY firm handshakes.  We proceeded to the Hangar and onto small Japanese mini-busses for the short ride to the Ceremony site.

Today, Iwo Jima is an unpopulated Japanese island with a small garrison of troops and airmen.  There are no accommodations.  The United States maintains limited rights to use the airport but otherwise has no presence.

Day 11A - Ceremonial Joint Japanese-American Monument - Site of the Annual 1-day Gathering

Day 11A – Ceremonial Joint Japanese-American Monument – Site of the Annual 1-day Gathering

Here we encountered the most tense, confusing and unsettling moment in the entire trip.  We didn’t know what time the Ceremony would begin and it was obvious that the summit of Mt. Suribachi was more than a short stroll.  We were told we had to be back at the Tents by noon which gave us just over two hours to make the trek to Suribachi.  We faced a real dilemma:  stay for the Ceremony or head for the mountain.  It took Frank and me about 15 seconds to conclude:  Suribachi.  We set off at a brisk pace with many others falling in behind us.

Day 11A - Van Carries Veterans and Dignitaries to the Summit of Mr. Suribachi ... the Rest of us Walked

Day 11A – Van Carries Veterans and Dignitaries to the Summit of Mr. Suribachi … the Rest of us Walked.  

It was about 2.5 miles to the summit … 1.5 miles on the dirt road and another mile up the moderate switchbacks to the summit.  Vans took the surviving vets, Marine contingent and other dignitaries to the top … for the rest of us, it was time to walk.  Initially, we were unsure if we had time to make the round trip.  I led the way with Frank close on my heels.  Partway up, I had to take a quick break and several others in my group passed me.

Day 11A - Miles of Exposed Black Lava Sand Beaches in the Shadow of Mt. Suribachi's Fortifications.

Day 11A – Miles of Exposed Black Lava Sand Beaches in the Shadow of Mt. Suribachi’s Fortifications. 

At the summit, we were treated to a spectacular view of for broad open black lava beaches that stretched for miles.  Four regiments landed abreast.  The 28th Marines landed closest to Mt. Suribachi and had the dual assignment of cutting off the southern tip of the island and encircling Suribachi.  Further north on this same beach, other regiments moved to capture the two airfields on the island.  The Japanese allowed these Marines to land and spread out along the beaches before opening fire with murderous effect.

Day 11A - Frank and Bill Stand Beside one of the Several Monuments Atop Mt. Suribachi.

Day 11A – Frank and Bill Stand Beside one of the Several Monuments Atop Mt. Suribachi.

Frank and I had a very memorable moment, posing next to a Japanese Monument.  This was the moment we had travelled 8,000 miles to experience … and the experience was sweet.  (A statistic worth noting:  more climbers summit Mt. Everest each year than Mt. Suribachi.)

Day 11A - Marines Stand at Attention During In-Field Promotion Ceremony

Day 11A – Marines Stand at Attention During In-Field Promotion Ceremony

The contingent of Marines held several ceremonies on Suribachi, including the field promotion of a young female Marine to Corporal and another to 2nd Lieutenant.  The six returning Iwo Jima veterans were also honored.  Afterwards, at the main Ceremony down below, Frank and I had a chance to talk with the newly minted Corporal … nice young woman.

Day 11A - Bill at the Site of the Flag Raising Monument.

Day 11A – Bill at the Site of the Flag Raising Monument.

Once the Marine’s ceremony was concluded, the crown started to break up allowing individuals to have their pictures taken at the American Flag Raising monument.  Some had brought along US flags and quickly ran them up the flagpole as special souvenirs.  The original flag raising, and the famous Joe Rosenthal photo, occurred on day 5 of the campaign.  The fighting continued for another three weeks before the island was secured.

Day 11A - Memorial Plaque Honoring Navy Corpsman John Bradley at the Location where 6 Marines Raised the Flag.

Day 11A – Memorial Plaque Honoring Navy Corpsman John Bradley at the Location where 6 Marines Raised the Flag.(Frank Hawkins photo.)

Just behind the American Monument was a plaque in memory of John H Bradley.  John, a Navy Corpsman, was one of six Marines who raised that second flag.  Near this memorial is a plane cement marker where the actual flagpole was planted.  If you visit the Marine Memorial in Washington, DC, and examine it closely, you will find 13 raised hands… the six raisers … and the hand of God.  John Bradley’s book “Flags of our Fathers” provides an excellent account.

Day 11A - One of Two Marine Totems Covered with Dog Tags and other Memorabilia

Day 11A – One of Two Marine Totems Covered with Dog Tags and other Memorabilia

Nearby the Monument stand two short posts literally covered with layers of dog tags and other mementos.  In a way, these reminded me of the trees at Mountain Crossing in Georgia where the Appalachian Train crosses US Route 19 … the trees are strewn with hundreds of pairs of old hiking books which had been chewed up by the trail.

Descending from Suribachi, my roommate Jimmy Spataro and I cut our way down through dense low-lying vegetation growing in dunes of lava sand to reach the beach were we collected out samples.  This was a strenuous bush-whacking trek down over the soft and shifting sands … and an even more difficult climb back up to the main dirt road.

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