IWO TO, Japan - “By their victory, the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions and other units of the Fifth Amphibious Corps have made an accounting to their country which only history will be able to value fully,” said Fleet Admiral of the U.S. Navy Chester W. Nimitz in a statement following the Battle of Iwo Jima. “Among the Americans serving on Iwo island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
Following five weeks of fighting in early 1945, the rugged, volcanic terrain of Iwo Jima, renamed Iwo To in 2007, became one of the most iconic locations in Marine Corps history. The remote island hosted one of the most brutal and hard-fought battles of the Corps’ 238-year history.
During the battle, the dominant geographic feature of the island became the scene for perhaps the most enduring image in Marine Corps history – the raising of the U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi. Five Marines and one Navy corpsman risked their lives to raise the nation’s colors at the highest point of the island, signaling the allied capture of the mountain.
Marines with Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 1 visited the island Nov. 1 during a professional military education tour to learn more about the battle and commemorate the sacrifices of the Marines and sailors who went before them.
“There are many Marines who go their entire careers without the opportunity to come here,” said Lt. Col. Curtis V. Ebitz, the commanding officer of MWHS-1, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “For those of you who have it on your bucket list, you can now check it off.”
A total of 140 Marines and sailors visited Iwo To for the PME tour, including hospital corpsmen with 3rd Medical Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III MEF.
The tour centered around a hike from North Field, the island’s sole airfield, to the summit of Mount Suribachi on the southern edge of the island. The Marines and sailors stopped at monuments and historically significant sites along the route, including the invasion beaches, to discuss the battle and its significance.
“The hike itself was challenging because of the heat, it gave us a small taste of what it was like (during the battle),” said Lance Cpl. James A. Whitehead, an administrative clerk with MWHS-1. “We walked up a paved path on Mount Suribachi though – they had to climb it while getting shot at.”
The Marines and sailors discussed the importance of the island to the history and culture of both the U.S. and Japan.
“The other (memorials we) saw were from Japanese families because it is hallowed ground for them as well,” said Gunnery Sgt. David J. Richardt, an advanced avionics electrician with MWHS-1. “They had very heavy losses.”
In addition to commemorating the sacrifices of those who fought on the island, the Marines of the squadron held promotion, award and reenlistment ceremonies at the summit of Mount Suribachi.
Almost all Marines would love to visit Iwo To, but to be awarded there is even more of an honor, according to Whitehead, who received a certificate of commendation at the summit.
“It will always stay with me, and it is something I will always be proud of,” said Whitehead.
The leadership implemented this trip after the idea arose during a unit breakfast as a way to reward the Marines for their performance and conduct, according to Ebitz. It also provided them with an opportunity for professional growth.
The hardest leadership is peer leadership, according to Ebitz.
Marines need to be in compliance with the commandant’s direction about the reawakening of the Corps and uphold the standards established during this and many other battles throughout the Corps’ history, according to Ebitz.
“So keep thinking of those ideas, those PMEs,” added Ebitz. “That is why we are here. It is not for me; it is not for the sergeant major; it is for you. You are the ones who make the squadron run; you are the ones who keep our reputation what it is.”