MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
The somber tone of remembrance and rifle fire filled the air. Tears ran down the cheeks of onlookers. Beautiful gold and scarlet flowers decorated the memorial site. This was the scene Saturday evening as hundreds gathered to commemorate the 64th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima at the Staff Noncommissioned Officers’ South Mesa Club.
“We are here today to remember those that fought that great battle in the sands on the island of Iwo Jima and the many with unprecedented courage and valor that never left the island alive,” said Jim Fry, retired Navy lieutenant and chaplain, during the invocation.
Tribute was paid to the nearly 7,000 who sacrificed their lives during the 35-day battle.
Not lost in vain, American forces decimated 21,000 of the 22,000 entrenched Japanese soldiers. This victory devastated opposing morale and all but won World War II, according to Headquarters Marine Corps' Historical Branch.
“That small island tested the best in all of us and took the future from many of the rest,” said Joe Garza, World War II veteran and Iwo Jima survivor. “I will never forget the raw courage and commitment that prevailed to the bitter end, and bitter it was.”
The ceremony was filled with the stories of survivors reliving the gruesome battle and included the time honored 21-gun salute. These events were also followed by an elaborate reception, dinner and dance.
“With the passing of time more and more blurs, but will never erase the images of determination on that black volcanic sand,” said Garza. “The small island was only a few miles long, but felt like 50 before guns fell silent.”
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 Japan.
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.
As the ceremony came to a close, mourners continued to lay flowers on Pendleton’s memorial facing the Pacific and holding photos of loved ones lost during the battle. The observance was dedicated to the late Jim McGruder, who passed away in 2007. McGruder was an Iwo Jima survivor and ceremonial committee member.
“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.”