Hundreds gathered to honor and remember those lost during World War II on the sands of Iwo Jima 65 years ago.
The heartfelt ceremony at Camp Pendleton’s South Mesa Club, Feb. 20, paid tribute to the nearly 7,000 that sacrificed their lives during the 35-day battle.
“I watched the entire invasion unfold,” said 85-year-old Robert L. Bergen, former Navy corpsman and Iwo Jima veteran. “I don’t think a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of that place.”
American forces defeated more than 22,000 entrenched Japanese soldiers, according to Headquarters Marine Corps’ Historical Branch. This victory devastated opposing morale and all but won World War II.
The seizure of Iwo Jima eliminated a strong defense near Japan’s mainland, and gave the United States a much-needed resupply point in the advance toward the island.
“The way the Marines fought was unbelievable,” said Wayne D. DeVries, former Marine tanker who landed on Iwo Jima. “We lost a lot of men, but it sure felt good to see that flag go up.”
With nearly 27,000 wounded and dead, the battle remains one of the fiercest fought in history, according to HQMC. The World War II-skirmish is popularly remembered for the flag-raising photograph taken above Mount Suribachi in 1945 by five Marines and one Navy corpsman.
The three-hour ceremony was filled with the stories of survivors, honored with a 21-gun salute and followed by an elaborate reception, dinner and dance.
“No other island received as much preliminary pounding as did Iwo Jima,” said Navy Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet during World War II. “Among the Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
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