Iwo Jima veterans return to mark WWII battle’s 72nd anniversary
By JESSICA BIDWELL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 27, 2017
IWO JIMA, Japan — Francis Jackson was told he likely wouldn’t survive the attack on Iwo Jima as Marines prepared for one of World War II’s bloodiest battles.
“You will probably all be killed but let’s take two of them with you,” Jackson’s platoon leader told his men the night before they hit the black-sand beach on the heavily fortified island in 1945.
Eight U.S. veterans of the battle, which claimed the lives of nearly 30,000 men, returned to the island now called Iwo To on Saturday for a ceremony marking the 72nd anniversary of its capture.
The event at the foot of Mount Suribachi, where six Marines were photographed raising American flag on Feb. 23, 1945, included Japanese veterans and families of those killed in action.
Jackson, a Marine radio operator who was just 18 when he fought at Iwo Jima, said his family encouraged him to return.
“I have children, grandchildren and great grandchildren,” he said. “They wanted me to come. They need to know.”
Jackson said he wasn’t scared during the wartime beach landing but he thought about his platoon leader’s warning that he’d probably be killed.
“We came to do a job, and when I was told to do something I did it regardless … I operated the radio for 63 straight hours,” he said.
Norman Smith, a retired Marine who attended the ceremony, said those who fought at Iwo Jima were a fine example for both nations.
“We must forever revere and emulate their courage, now more than ever, as our two countries bridge the Pacific Ocean at a dangerous time, in a dangerous world,” he said.
Lt. Gen. David Berger, commander of Marine Forces Pacific, told those gathered for the ceremony that America and Japan have moved on from what happened at Iwo Jima.
“We have learned from this epic battle,” he said. “We have moved ahead together as an alliance, serving shoulder to shoulder around the world.”
Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, also at the ceremony, echoed the comment.
“Enemies that had fought each other so fiercely have now become friends bonded in spirit,” she said. “I am deeply moved by how we have become the strongest of allies, and that we can hold this reunion of honor ceremony under the auspices of such a firm alliance.”
Iwo Jima was “a harrowing battle, one fought with fierce desperation rarely seen in the history of war,” Tetsuro Teramoto, president of the Japanese Iwo-To Association, said during the ceremony.
“I am deeply concerned that the memory of the historical battle of Iwo [Jima] is gradually fading, but we have a responsibility to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to passing our memories to the following generations in order to not repeat such a tragic battle.”