Arlington, Va. --
Seventy years ago, they charged the black sands of an island in the Pacific. But this week, the surviving warriors of Iwo Jima reunited for reminiscing and camaraderie at the Iwo Jima Association reunion in Washington, D.C. On Thursday, Feb. 19—the 70th anniversary of Operation Detachment—more than 200 Marines, family members, friends, and representatives of the media attended a memorial ceremony in Crawford Hall at Marine Barracks Washington, the Oldest Post of the Corps.
Iwo Jima survivor Frank Hall, decked out in a red Marine Corps polo shirt, USMC jacket, and Iwo Jima hat, brought 13 family members from New Jersey to share in the reunion festivities. As survivors shuffled to their seats, a Marine brass quintet performed marches over the high-pitched whir of hearing aid batteries and hearty greetings between heroes.
William “Bill” Young, of Mooresville, N.C., came to the ceremony wearing his Service “A” uniform, issued 73 years ago. Young served in the 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division as a forward observer and actually saw both flags raised on Mount Suribachi. “I was about 400 yards away when they raised the first flag. It was so small though. You couldn’t see it from the ships, so they went and got a bigger one.” Young says he shot the breeze with flag raiser Ira Hayes “on the boat home. They didn’t think anything of it.”
During the ceremony, Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph Dunford and Japanese Ambassador to the United States Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae sat in the front row as the quintet performed the Japanese and American national anthems. The musicians also performed a salute to the armed forces, allowing veterans to stand when they heard their service song. “Gung-Ho!” Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams shouted from the first row.
Marine Barracks Commanding Officer Colonel Benjamin Watson spoke to the group, saying that the Oldest Post of the Corps is “quite often host to the highest ranking members of the armed forces and to the most highly decorated civilians in our government today. But rarely, however, are we so privileged as to have such a group as we have here this morning. We are truly honored by your presence.”
Following his remarks, Watson introduced retired Lieutenant General Lawrence F. Snowden, the senior American survivor of the battle. In his remarks, Snowden said he took 231 Marines ashore and “99 of us made it to walk off the island.” He asked, “What is there left to say, 70 years later?” Yet he said it all in a moving tribute of words that honored those who served through a hellish battle together in 1945.
Later that day, the survivors attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., a monument dedicated to their service and sacrifices. A firing party rendered honors, Snowden and Watson presented a wreath, and Marine Band trumpeter Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Orban sounded a solemn “Taps” for the men of honor, courage, and commitment.
In the gusty winds and frigid temperatures, Orban said, “It was darn cold, but nothing compared to what these guys did 70 years ago.”
They gave it all on Iwo Jima where, as Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz said, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
View photos from the reunion
Watch video of the reunion event
Watch video of trumpeter Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Orban sounding “Taps” at the wreath-laying