View Full Version : Remembering those gallant Marines

12-03-07, 09:12 AM
Remembering those gallant Marines
By David McClain /President and publisher of the Sun-News
Article Launched: 12/02/2007 01:00:00 AM MST

I think back to Nov. 10, the U.S. Marine Corps birthday and I was standing on the landing beach at Iwo Jima. That is sacred soil for the Marines. Their invasion on Feb. 19, 1945 was the first incursion into the Japanese homeland.

This was a landmark in World War II for another reason. This is sacred soil for the Japanese, too. It showed the tenacity of the Japanese soldiers and their willingness to fight to the death, to sacrifice their lives for the homeland and for their emperor. This battle is the only time the Marines suffered greater casualties than the enemy.

The 20,000 Japanese fighters were in secured underground firing positions. They had 11 miles of intertwined tunnels and undetected resupply capability. When a firing position was hit by the Marines, the Japanese were able to move new men, new guns and new ammo into that position.

This was a bloody battle. Japanese Gen. Kuribayashi had orders to defend and hold the island at all costs. They would not be reinforced, evacuated, provided with air cover or resupplied. He informed his soldiers that they must kill 10 Americans before they die.

Marine Maj. Major Neil Murphy was our guide on the island and he explained the order of battle. Thousands of ships and landing craft would eventually bring 87,000 U.S. troops to the fight, mostly Marines. The Japanese defenders used a defensive tactic known as defense by depth. They used the island's geography to their advantage. They were completely underground and protected form naval gun fire and air attack. They did not begin firing until three waves of Marines had landed on the beach. In the midst of the landing chaos, with trucks stuck in the sand and the confusion of war, the Japanese opened fire on the troops in the open.

Seven-thousand Marines were killed and 19,000 injured or wounded. Nearly all 20,000 Japanese were killed. Few were taken alive. Marines were awarded 24 Medals of Honor while U.S. Navy seamen received five Medals of Honor.

I had a few surprises during the Iwo Jima tour. It is a closed island. The Japanese do not let their citizens on the island. Even the 139 families that were removed are not allowed to return. Our visitation was made possible by the Department of Defense Joint Civilian tour. The grass is cut. The buildings are maintained but no one lives on the island. We were escorted by many Japanese officers. They observed us closely to be sure that no artifacts were removed and that no American flag was displayed and no ceremonies were conducted on their island, on their sacred soil.

We traveled to the top of Mount Suribachi. It took the Americans three days to plant the flag. On the fifth day, a replacement flag was erected, forever immortalized by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Joe Rosenthal. In fact, there's a statue at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C. bearing the same image. I expected to see that statue on the top of Mt. Suribachi. I was disappointed. There was nothing. Only a little memorial identifying the U.S. units that landed on Iwo Jima. There were also several Japanese memorials for that battle.

Standing on the beach, my feet sunk into the black volcanic granules. I could feel the sucking sensations with each movement. I felt a great remorse for the loss of so many gallant servicemen. I felt anger for the brutality they endured. I looked up to Mt. Suribachi and I could imagine the hellfire that rained down on the Marines. I felt great sadness for the death and destruction that comes with all war. It is so sad that we send such fine young men and women to fight our battle.

I remember the words of Marine Capt. Blanca Binstock on the first day of our Pacific Command tour. Capt. Binstock said Iwo Jima was the second best place in the world for a Marine to be on it's birthday. Her first choice would be to return to Iraq, "fighting for freedom on the front lines with my fellow Marines." Semper Fi.

That is the American spirit that wins wars.

Since returning, Sweet Dona and I have viewed Clint Eastwood's two movies on Iwo Jima. "Flags of our Fathers" is about the planting of the flag at Mt. Suribachi and the impact it had on many lives. "Letters from Iwo Jima" tells the Japanese side of the battle from an individual human perspective. Both are great movies for its historical perspective and for the personal aspect that is presented. For me, it was a flashback to real life. Just two weeks ago I was walking through the kill zone, sensing the valor of our Marines as they charged into enemy fire. I stood on Mt. Suribachi and envisioned the thousands of ships moving to the invasion. I was in the caves where the Japanese conducted their defense.

The Japanese allowed us to remove sand from the Marine landing beach. I would be proud to share this sand with any Marine who wants a piece of that history, collected on the Marines' 232nd birthday. Just stop by the office and allow me to thank you for your service to our country.

That's what I think.

David McClain is president and publisher of the Sun-News. He can be reached at dmcclain@lcsun-news.com.