ARLINGTON, Va. --
Marines and veterans gathered at the Marine Corps War Memorial Feb. 23 for the third annual wreath laying ceremony in remembrance of the historic Iwo Jima flag-raisings in 1945.
The ceremony, held by the Marine Corps War Memorial Foundation, honored the sacrifices of the Marines and sailors who fought during the epic World War II battle and the fallen Marines of all wars, to whom the memorial is dedicated.
A wreath was placed at the foot of the memorial on behalf of the Marine Corps War Memorial Foundation by Lance Cpl. Thomas Mooney, Petty Officer 2nd Class Steven Albright and retired Lt. Col. Robert F. Lindholm.
Attendants of the event included Marines - past and present. The Marine Barracks Washington color guard, firing party, and “The President’s Own,” as well as Marines of Headquarters Battalion, Headquarters Marine Corps, participated in the ceremony.
The morning of Feb. 23, 1945, men engaged in fierce battle on the island of Iwo Jima, Japan, were overwhelmed by the sight of a small American flag flying from the top of Mount Suribachi.
“We all cheered. The ships at sea blew their horns and whistles. It was a very emotional [moment],” said James Wheeler, who was a forward observer on top of Suribachi for the first 10 days of the invasion.
That afternoon photographer Joe Rosenthal captured Sgt. Michael Strank, Cpl. Harlon H. Block, Pfc. Franklin R. Sousley, Pfc. Rene A. Gagnon, Pfc. Ira Hayes, and Petty Officer 2nd Class John H. Bradley, raising a second larger flag, which ironically had been salvaged from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.
The photo, which inspired the architecture of the National Museum of the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps War Memorial, immortalized the moment forever. It has become the one of the most iconic images of America’s resilience.
“The members of America’s greatest generation, that forged that mental image, leave us with the fading legacy of their selfless sacrifice on that tiny island so long ago,” said Mike Kessler, national executive director of the Young Marines and board member of the Marine Corps War Memorial Foundation, to all in attendance at the ceremony. “We must commit ourselves to forever honoring their service.”
The Battle of Iwo Jima was a strategic and psychological victory for America, Kessler said. It was a turning point in the Pacific Campaign and the first time in Japan’s 5,000 year history that invaders prevailed on Japanese soil.
“There are events in history that are so profound that the whole world recognizes the importance they have. The Battle of Iwo Jima is such a battle,” said Lt. Gen. Duane D. Thiessen, deputy commandant for Programs and Resources, Headquarters Marine Corps. “[It] represents the Marine Corps and our ideals.”
Attendees, such as Vietnam War-era Medal of Honor recipient Col. Harvey C. Barnum, said they were grateful to the foundation for continuing the tradition of honoring the Corps’ history.
“We value our history and those who have gone before us,” said Barnum. “The Battle of Iwo Jima shows who we are, what we are, what we do and the quality of the Marines it takes to do it.”
Wheeler attended the wreath laying with his wife, daughter and grandchildren. The veteran said he often visits schools and civic organizations in an attempt to educate others of the significance the battle had to our nation.
“I think history has to be preserved, and its [events] such as this that’s going to do it, even after we’re all gone,” Wheeler said. “Hopefully [this ceremony will continue to be held] in the future and people who participate will remember what we fought for.”