Oldest surviving Battle of Iwo Jima Marine veteran returns for ceremony
IWO TO, Japan -- The Battle of Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest and most horrific battles of World War II. Amid the initial chaos, a 23-year-old Marine captain named Lawrence F. Snowden stormed the shores among the second wave of troops. Entering the historic battle and changing the course of his life forever.
The now 93-year-old retired Lt. Gen. Snowden was inspired by his experiences on Iwo Jima and time spent in Japan after the war to start the annual Reunion of Honor ceremony in 1995.
“People often ask me what the most effective weapon on Iwo Jima was,” said Snowden, the oldest surviving Marine veteran of the battle. “I say that the most effective weapon was the Marine with determination, who was well trained, trusted himself and trusted his fellow Marines.”
During the battle, Snowden was the commander of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 23 Marine Regiment, 12th Marine Division.
“I was in the third wave, which was the second troop wave,” said Snowden. “I was in an LVT (Light Vehicle Tracked). The objective was to ride the LVT up over the beach. Unfortunately, intelligence sources had not given us the straight scoop about the difficulties of the soil.
“I remember reading that the soil would not be an impediment to troops. People did not realize that the black sand was not soil at all, it was volcanic ash,” added Snowden.
The black sand was only the first of many physical obstacles the Marines had to overcome. Throughout the battle, the Marines also encountered mental and emotional challenges in the face of unimaginable casualties and destruction.
It is important to recognize the courageous actions and indomitable fighting spirit of the men who embodied the warrior ethos of their nations during the battle, according to Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps.
“Two great militaries fought on this ground,” said Amos. “It is interesting how our nations have become such close friends and allies today when you think about the ferocity that took place on this island.”
After the war ended, Snowden decided to remain in the Marine Corps and served more than three decades before retiring.
“I was so impressed with the leadership I found in the Marine Corps that I decided to stay,” said Snowden. “Fortunately, I was awarded a commission very early and I stayed in for 37 years and enjoyed every moment.”
A few years after the Battle of Iwo Jima, Snowden again found himself on Japanese soil. During the Korean War, he spent a week in Kyoto working directly with counterparts from Japan.
“My first exposure to Japan after World War II was when I was fighting in Korea,” said Snowden. “I spent a week in Kyoto working with the Japanese and discovered that they were just like we were on our side. The young men I faced on this island were just like me.
“They were fighting for the emperor, and I was fighting to go home. I wanted to go home and have a job and family. This is what the Japanese wanted,” added Snowden.
It was ultimately his service in Japan and the years spent there after the war that encouraged Snowden to start the ceremony.
“I decided that after my service in Japan, that we ought to have this ceremony together because we had transitioned from being enemies to friends,” said Snowden. “I decided that I would do anything I could to help that relationship.”
Snowden realizes the importance of the ceremony for both nations involved, and hopes this ceremony continues with the next generation leading the way to honor their shared past.
“I founded the Reunion of Honor in 1995,” said Snowden. “With the exception of two years, I have been here every year since. I want to complete 20 years and hope that some younger folks might pick up the reins and carry this forward. We want the families to pick up the reins as well. After all, we are honoring the family members.
“We do this for the single purpose of honoring the dead on both sides. We are here so salute those on both sides,” concluded Snowden.