Past meets present: Service members honor history at Iwo Jima
IWO TO, Japan -- Emotions arose as Marines made their way across a historic island, pushing themselves up the mountain just as many warriors did before them. For decades, people from around the world have visited Iwo To to reflect on the sacrifices made there years ago.
Service members with Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 1, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, visited Iwo To, formerly known as Iwo Jima, for a professional military education tour April 11.
The educational opportunity allowed service members to experience and better understand what Marines and sailors endured during the Battle of Iwo Jima, which took place 69 years ago, from February 19 to March 26, 1945, as part of the Pacific Campaign of World War II.
After hiking to the peak of Mount Suribachi, where photographer Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph of five Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman raising the American flag atop the mountain took place, service members took advantage of the opportunity to enhance impactful moments in their personal and professional lives.
Marine Staff Sgt. Amy E. McLallen brought an American flag to fold while atop the mountain for the family of retired Marine Cpl. Jay L. Bentley, who was the last living Battle of Iwo Jima veteran from Iowa.
“When I heard about this upcoming tour, I absolutely knew I had to be a part of it,” said McLallen, an imagery analyst with MWHS-1, 1st MAW, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “I grew up with his family. Getting the chance to do this for them means everything to me, and is an indescribable feeling.”
Recognizing the incredible sacrifices made by past Marines and honoring their legacy through actions in the present was stressed by the 1st MAW leadership during the tour.
“When you go back home after this trip, keep in the back of your mind to take care of the veterans you see — because they’re important,” said U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, the commanding general of 1st MAW, III MEF. “Understand that, now, you all are veterans. As you grow older, teach the younger generation what it means to be a Marine, and the values and virtues that can’t be replicated (anywhere else).”
Following the flag folding event, Rudder executed a reenlistment ceremony for U.S. Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Alfredo Chavez, the 1st MAW command master chief, while his brother, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Adrian Chavez, proudly looked on.
“Being in two different military branches, I never thought I’d be stationed at the same place as my brother,” said Adrian, an air medical evacuation planner with 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, 18th Operations Group, 18th Wing. “Nor did I think I’d get to see this point in his career and witness another branch’s history with him.”
Following the ceremony, service members took pictures and video, and left personal mementos at monuments located at the summit before trekking down to the black-sand beaches to learn more about what transpired nearly seven decades ago.
“This sand (represents living) history,” said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Christopher M. Butler, the meteorology and oceanography chief for 1st MAW. “When my kids see this and ask me what it is, then it’s story time. It’s my way of showing my appreciation for this place.”
The historical tour was a fulfilling and unique experience for old and new generations of Marines, including Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Corey L. Croom and his oldest daughter, Marine Lance Cpl. Chesney A. Croom.
“It’s surreal because, in 26 years, I never pictured myself getting an opportunity to even land on Iwo To,” said Corey, the operations chief of 1st MAW. “To experience this with my oldest daughter, who happens to be a lance corporal in the United States Marine Corps, is (even more unique).”
Being with her father, seeing how the island looks now compared to the battle damaged area that it once was, made the tour a humbling experience, according to Chesney.
“Being here gave me more knowledge about the island’s history,” said Chesney. “It allowed me to see something a lot of Marines, and people in general, don’t get to see.”
His daughter, and the other service members who were present, should now understand history’s importance, according to Corey.
“We can’t forget where we came from,” said Corey. “It’s not about getting a title or going through (recruit training). It’s about the things you go through 24/7, and how you conduct yourself. With our values and courtesies, we build our tradition – that’s what keeps us strong.”