IWO TO, OKINAWA, Japan — As the rain trickled down on a cloudy day, Marines trudged along a muddy path on an island where decades before so many had made the ultimate sacrifice.
Approximately 120 Marines and sailors visited the island of Iwo Jima, which was renamed Iwo To in 2007, during a professional military education tour May 17.
The event provided an opportunity for the Marines and sailors of Marine Wing Communications Squadron 18, Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force, to see, experience and evaluate the incredible challenges Japanese and American troops endured during the Battle of Iwo Jima as part of the Pacific campaign of World War II.
“There is a lot of history on this island that not everyone is aware of,” said Staff Sgt. Jason L. Day, a wire chief with MWCS-18. “If they look at this ground from the perspective of someone during that battle, it will be easier for the Marines to understand and truly respect our Corps’ history.”
Shortly following their arrival on the island, the Marines and sailors hiked up Mount Suribachi, the ground made famous by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the American flag atop the mountain in 1945.
“Suribachi was one of the strongest defensive positions occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army,” said Staff Sgt. Patrick G. Kawano, a motor transport chief with MWCS-18. “The defenders were able to survive multiple days of naval bombardment and aerial bombings before attempting to repel the Marines. That puts into perspective how difficult it was for the Marines fighting on the island.”
Upon reaching the precipice of Suribachi, the visitors reflected on the sacrifices made by warriors on both sides during the historic battle. To demonstrate the connection to their fallen comrades, Marines and sailors left memorabilia such as dog tags and rank insignias on monuments at the mountain’s peak. The unit also held an awards and re-enlistment ceremony atop Suribachi.
“It was my distinct pleasure in recognizing Marines and sailors for their hard work at a place like this,” said Lt. Col. Bret A. Bolding, the commanding officer of MWCS-18. “It’s the embodiment of leadership and what the Marine Corps is all about.”
The Marines also took time to pause at the shoreline of the island to discuss and envision the events that transpired in the fateful battle.
“When you think about what the Marines before us did, what they sacrificed here in the battle, it opens your eyes to the conditions then,” said Kawano. “It’s important not to forget who came before us and not to forget where we come from.”
For many of the Marines and sailors visiting the island, this was the first and possibly last time they will be able to visit Iwo To, according to Day.
“Being able to come here is always good for Marines and sailors,” said Day. “It allows them to further their professional education and maintain a tangible connection to Marine Corps history.”