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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.(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
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.