From invasion beach to Mount Suribachi's summit, Marines reflect on historic battle

28 Dec 2006 | Lance Cpl. Richard Blumenstein

Sweating, huffing and puffing their way up the paved road that spirals up Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi, more than 60 Marines with the 3rd Marine Division made the trek to one of the most storied battle sites in American military history Dec. 14.

Leaders within the Division's command staff coordinated the trip for their Marines to give them a greater understanding of what those who fought on the island endured and accomplished, according to Maj. Christopher J. Galfano, 3rd MarDiv air officer, Headquarters Battalion.

"Warrior reflection is something we need to do as Marines," Galfano said. "Marines identify themselves with Iwo Jima. This was an opportunity to give them a greater appreciation for what those Marines went through back in 1945."

The Marines walked from the airfield in the central part of the island along the famous battlegrounds to the southeast, including the infamous invasion beach where Marines from 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions stormed ashore and where many stained the black sands red with their blood. 

Walking the battlegrounds, Marines saw machine-gun nests and cave entrances to a maze of tunnels dug by Japanese defenders years ago in preparation for the battle. 

"It was reported by Marines after the battle that they could hear voices as they hugged the ground for cover," said Capt. Michael C. Nesbitt, 3rd MarDiv's assistant air officer. "Those were the voices of Japanese soldiers moving under the ground through the tunnels."

After walking along invasion beach and collecting some of its black volcanic ash - a tradition among Marine visitors - the Marines headed to Mount Suribachi on the southeastern tip of the island, where Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal snapped his famous flag raising picture. 

At its highest point, the mountain, an active volcano that last erupted in 1727, is 354 feet above sea level, and its vertical slope is 80-85 degrees in some places. The walk up the mountain was a sobering experience for many of the Marines as they imagined those who fought to the top of the steep, heavily defended mountain yard by yard.

"You get a sense of pride coming up the hill," Nesbitt said. "Walking up Mount Suribachi, you get an understanding of how hard the Marines fought to take Iwo Jima. When these Marines see movies or pictures of Iwo Jima they're going to say, 'It was every bit as difficult as that.'"

On the mountain summit, Marines saw a number of memorials paying tribute to both fallen Marines and Japanese defenders, and the view from atop the mountain allowed them to see the entire island.

"I didn't realize the challenge the terrain presented," Galfano said. "Pictures and movies don't properly display how hard it was for those Marines to move through the island."

For most of the Marines, the trip was their first time setting foot on the island's hallowed ground where nearly 26,000 Marines were injured or killed fighting 23,000 Japanese defenders during the 45-day battle. 

"There are so many Marines that don't get a chance to do this," said Lance Cpl. Taylor B. Scribner, a data network specialist with the division. "This is something I've wanted to see since I joined the Marine Corps."

Nesbitt said the trip was important because it allowed the Marines to reflect on the Corps' warrior ethos.

"While most Marines have heard stories, seen movies or read books about the battle, they won't fully understand the hardships those Marines went through until they walk up Mount Suribachi," he said.