Photo Information

Frank G. Willetto, an 84-year-old Navajo Code Talker, renders honors during the playing of the national anthem at a ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va., Feb. 19, 2010. In February 1945 the United States launched its first assault against the Japanese at Iwo Jima, resulting in some of the fiercest fighting of the war.

Photo by Cpl. Scott Schmidt

65 years later: Iwo Jima veterans honored at commemoration of battle

23 Feb 2010 | Cpl. Priscilla Sneden

World War II veterans and their families came together to honor those who participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima during a ceremony commemorating its 65th anniversary at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va., Feb. 19.

These Americans honored their fallen brethren and fellow warriors who fought 65 years ago when 30,000 Marines and sailors launched the first American assault on Japanese soil, resulting in some of the fiercest fighting of the war.   

During the battle more than 20,000 Japanese imperial soldiers tenaciously defended their positions as thousands of dedicated devil dogs continued their assault. Moments of the battle captured by photographer Joe Rosenthal made it one of the most distinguished battles of the war.

More than 500 people filled the vast atrium of the museum designed around that famous photo. Each speaker recognized the importance of commemorating these veterans for their unrelenting fighting spirit and the warrior ethos, which set the precedence for America's Marines and sailors.

“We’re here today to remember and honor those Marines and sailors who could not be here and to reflect on the profound impact their valorous deeds have had on our national conscious,” said retired Gen. Walter E. Boomer, chairman of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation.

“The already high standards of the United States Marine Corps and Naval service were eternally elevated by the collective actions of these veterans and their fallen comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice,” he added.

U.S. National Security Advisor, retired Gen. James L. Jones Jr., the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James T. Conway, Medal of Honor recipient retired Col. Harvey C. Barnum Jr., and the sergeant major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent, were among those in attendance to pay homage to the old-timers.

Iwo Jima was not the bloodiest campaign of the Pacific War however. It was neither the longest nor the most successful. Nonetheless, it occupies a place in the Corps’ history like no other battle, as a result of the determination, courage and sacrifice of the men who fought there, said Conway.

Conway thanked the veterans for their service and dedication and reassured them that their sacrifices continue to be encouragement for Marines currently engaged in combat operations.

“Marines today hold the Iwo Jima standard as the ‘gold standard,’” he said.  “The incredible legacy that has been provided to our Corps drives us and inspires us.

“It has had a tremendous and lasting impact on our Corps.”

Before Conway spoke, Retired Lt. Gen. Larry Snowden, Chairman of the Iwo Jima Association of America, Inc., presented him with the original, top secret orders for his unit’s participation in the battle.

John A. Connolly and Ray E. Boswell served with 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment during the historic battle. They agreed that although they are honored to have been there, their actions were motivated by the reality of a world at war.

“We were in a world where we had a very different outlook,” said Boswell. “There was a general urgency in those days.”

World War II was an especially trying time for service members around the world.  

“At the time we just did what duty called for,” Connolly said. “We did what had to be done - we fought back.”

The late morning ceremony was a humbling experience for all in attendance. However, commemorating the battle is important for the veterans who remain, said Barnum.

“They’ve gotten older, but nothing has changed in their heart,” he said.

“I’m deeply honored to pay these respects to the veterans of Iwo Jima, on this special day.”

Following the ceremony, many of the Iwo Jima survivors slowly trekked though the museum, many with assistance or wheelchairs, stopped to view the tattered flag that captured America’s spirit at home. 

Raymond Jacobs, a Marine with 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment had just reached atop the crater of Mount Suribachi when the first flag was hoisted up by Marines.  What followed was a moment deeply etched in time by the men on Iwo Jima.  

“You could hear, all of a sudden, just this spontaneous roar from the Marines on the ground down at sea level fighting.  They had spotted flag and they were just so excited by what they saw, they started screaming and cheering and yelling and hollering.  It did so much for the Marines on the island to see their flag on top of this monstrous Suribachi.”
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