There are plenty of slogans, such as “first to fight” and the “best of the best,” that describe Marines. But Marines weren’t just handed these slogans. They earned them with their blood, sweat and tears, at home and overseas.
Feb. 22. is the day set aside to remember the 68th anniversary of the Iwo Jima Flag Raising. That is why the few who have earned the right to be called Marine today are reminded to pay homage to those have fought and made the ultimate sacrifice.
The Battle of Iwo Jima was a major battle of World War II in the Pacific in which the United States armed forces fought for and captured the island of Iwo Jima from the Japanese Empire. For the U.S., Iwo Jima was strategically important as an air base for supporting of long-range bombing missions against mainland Japan. By taking the island, the U.S. forces could launch sea and air blockades, conduct air bombardment and destroy the enemy’s air and sea capabilities.
The assault elements of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions, which was the largest force ever committed to a single battle in the Marine Corps’ history, landed on Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945. Then 35 days later, the island was declared secure. To make matters better for the U.S., seven months later World War II ended.
The surrender of Japan was a glorious day for the U.S., but for the Marines, this victory was a bittersweet. The ones who were alive were surely glad to be. Yet, they knew better than anyone the cost of winning. More than 24,000 Marines and 649 sailors were killed during the war.
“The Corps didn’t prepare you to die,” said 87-year-old Frank Matthews, a docent at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, who was an 18-year-old private first class when he landed on Iwo Jima with 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division. “Most of the Marines that I knew were around 19-years old and had a chance to really live life. But the Marine Corps did train us well for battle and we knew that as we approached the sands.”
That year in cemeteries all over the world, American flags flew above the graves of Marines who would never take part in the victory celebrations. In homes all over America, families, sweethearts, friends and co-workers faced a tragic reality. For them, there would be no homecomings or parades from World War II with their Marines.
At the dedication of the 3rd Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima in 1945, division commander Maj. Gen. Graves Erskine spoke words that, in a sense, represent all the Marines and attached Navy personnel who fell in the war.
“Victory was never in doubt, its cost was,” Erskine said. “What was in doubt, in all our minds, was whether there would be any of us left to dedicate this cemetery at the end, or whether the last Marine would die knocking out the last Japanese gun and gunner.”
Lance Cpl. Antwaun Jefferson