Iwo Jima, Japan --
The famous Battle of Iwo Jima between the United States and Japan during World War II, has seized the hearts of many Americans since the iconic photograph"Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima" was taken. But seeing movies or pictures of the battle doesn’t quite compare to actually visiting the famous battle grounds to truly appreciate the sweat, blood and tears U.S. service members shed over the island.
Sweating their way through the scorching humidity up Mount Suribachi here, more than 60 Marines and sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit made the trek to one of the most storied battle sites in American military history Aug. 7.
The MEU staff coordinated the trip for their Marines and sailors to give them a greater understanding of what those who fought on the island endured and accomplished, according to Staff Sgt. Casey E. Brown, the MEU fire support chief.
Warrior reflection is something Marines need to do, said Brown, a native of Lisbon, N.D. Because Iwo Jima was a big battle, it plays a significant role in the Marine Corps'heritage, and Marines identify themselves with that battle. This was an opportunity to give this new generation of Marines a greater appreciation for what the Marines and sailors went through back in 1945.
After arriving on the island the large group was divided up into smaller details. From there, each detail was handed a map of the eight-square-mile island and was set free to navigate the terrain.
Everyone seemed to have their sights set on Mount Suribachi, which towered in the distance, but they also chose to witness the countless war relics that still remain on the island.
The history of the island really came to life for the visitors, as they took the coastal route where Japanese bunkers and machine gun nests still mark the battlefield, giving the Marines and sailors a glance of the staunching resistance that the allied forces met. Some even explored caves where Japanese soldiers hid from view and opened fire on American forces.
The groups then trudged north to tackle Mount Suribachi, with the steepest stretch of trail still ahead of them. Although the rise now has a winding paved roadway leading to its summit, the walk up the mountain was a sobering experience for many of the Marines and sailors as they imagined those who fought to the top of the steep, heavily defended mountain yard by yard.
On the mountain summit, Marines saw a number of memorials paying tribute to both fallen U.S service members and Japanese defenders. The view from atop the mountain allowed them to see the entire island, which provides good insight on the tactical significance for Mount Suribachi.
The groups then moved along the shoreline and they came upon Invasion Beach, the point where the bulk of the amphibious invasion was inserted. Some collected the black volcanic sand - a tradition among Marines and sailors who visit the battle ground.
Diverging on paths less traveled led to the entrances of caves and tunnels the Japanese had chiseled out of the islands volcanic bedrock. There, pebble-like volcanic sand and the steep shoreline made for an exhausting climb inland despite lightweight packs the visiting service members shouldered.
For most of the service members, the trip was their first time on the island; where U.S. forces suffered more than 26,000 casualties while fighting approximately 22,000 Japanese defenders during the 36-day battle, according to the Personnel Accounting Section, Records Branch, Personnel Department, Headquarters Marine Corps.
Brown said the trip was important because it allowed the Marines to reflect on the Corps'warrior ethos.
"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.
Lance Cpl. Antonio Guzman, an administrative clerk with the MEU said this trip was important to him because up until his visit, he did not know much about the battle.
“All I knew about the Battle of Iwo Jima was from the movies. I thought it was a typical battle just like any other,” said Guzman a native of San Diego. “Walking up through that island, especially the mountain, really puts the hardship of the battle into great perspective.”
Staff Sgt. Christopher Oliver, the MEU embark chief echoed his words.
“After we climbed the mountain, I heard so many people talk about how easy the movies made the battle seem,” said Oliver. The native of Tampa, Fla., then added that walking through the island and up the mountain in the hot and humid weather, divulged how tough the conditions were for allied forces.