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IWO JIMA, Japan — Perched in his wheelchair atop Mount Suribachi on Wednesday, retired Marine Col. Richard Rothwell stared down at the black sands of Invasion Beach and remembered the assault on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima 65 years ago.

Rothwell, 97, was just 33 during that battle. He was a lieutenant colonel and commanded the 2nd battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division.

“Iwo was very different then,” he said. “This place was full of mangled vegetation. Like some planet you never wanted to go to.”

He said his trip this year to Iwo Jima — which the Japanese now call Iwo To, its original name — was a last-minute decision.

“My wife wanted to see it, so we decided to come,” he said. “I’m glad I’ve come back here and seen the place again.”

His wife, Rebecca Rothwell, rarely left her husband’s side while they were at the top of Suribachi.

“He wouldn’t tell you, but he was awarded the Silver Star,” she said in a brief moment away from his presence.

Richard Rothwell was one of many veterans who made it back to Iwo Jima for the 65th anniversary observance.

Many active-duty Marines came, too, as well as the sons and daughters of fallen Marines.

“To me, it’s a way to revisit who he was and what he was,” Anderson Giles said of his father, an veteran who survived the bloody battle only to be killed in the Korean War. “When you come back, you feel a little closer to him. It’s religious. It’s kind of like church, but you have a confession, a funeral and a remembrance all rolled into one.”

Giles said he has a few memories of his father. Wednesday’s visit was his 10th time back to Iwo Jima.

“They certainly rewrote the book on the percentage of casualties a unit could take and still function,” Giles said, walking away to get a different view of the island his father fought so hard to take 65 years ago.

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