Iwo Story

Japan allows only one one day tour of Iwo Jima each year. There are still 11,000 soldiers entombed there, so it’s a sacred place to them. The tours are run for about 150 people by Military Historical Tours of Woodbridge, Virginia. They are run in conjunction with the Iwo Jima Association of America. Japan has a corresponding organization and works with the Americans on the annual commemoration ceremony. All tour participants have to join the American Association. It’s a great bargain - $25 for a lifetime membership. I was accepted for the tour as a descendent of an Iwo Jima veteran. My father, who died in 1978, fought with the 4th Marine Division on Roi-Namur, Saipan, Tinian and was wounded on Iwo.

The first enclosed picture is a rather unique gate picture at the Guam airport. We're all dressed up for the memorial service on Iwo. I had a backpack to put my blazer in for the climb up Mt. Surabachi. We also got a rare stamp on our passports - Iwoto - the Japanese word for the island. Guam is a magical place. It combines a tropical climate with both Japanese and the Northern Marianas Indigenous Chamorro cultures.

The tour group was met on Runway 2 on Iwo Jima by the III Marine Expeditionary Force Commander, a 3 star general, and a horde of lesser Generals and Colonels. They shook everyone’s hand and welcomed us.

After arriving, we were bussed to the permanent memorial site. Maybe half of the 150 tour people decided to climb Mt. Surabachi before the service. I put my blazer in my pack and started out. It would be about a 3 mile round trip.

A jeep with two Marines, one a huge Sgt Major, stopped and asked me if I wanted a ride to the top. I think they were sort of a Safety Patrol in case someone got in trouble. It was fairly warm. I said, "Hell No! I didn't come halfway around the world to be driven up Surabachi! These Marines supporting the tour were from III Marine Expeditionary Force - the Pacific Marines. They had flown in on their own C-130.

The second was taken at the base of the mountain. I just stood there in awe of how difficult it was to climb Surabachi under fire.

The third was taken at the summit. It was a bright day with a gentle breeze and the landing beaches below quiet and empty. A distant relative of my mother, Rene' Gagnon, was one of the flag raisers who stood at that spot. I'm half French Canadian. There is also a memorial at the summit to two Japanese Kamikazi pilots who crashed into Surabachi. All the tour participants also received a good luck amulet that was designed and made by the widow of a Japanese soldier killed on Iwo. Her name is Mrs.Teruko Abe. Her husband was Cpl. Tadashi Abe and his remains were never recovered. She is 96, never remarried, and still visits Iwo regularly. She had prayed separately over each one in hopes that our nations will never go to war again. That was quite touching. A picture of it is enclosed.

After getting a full water bottle at the summit, I started down. Then I did what any runner would do - I ran down Mt Surabachi. I arrived at the memorial in my dress shirt and tie, only a little disheveled. I donned my blazer for the ceremony. An excerpt from the ceremony is at the bottom of this document. The invocation was delivered by Lt. Jared N. Smith, CHC, USN. One of the Japanese speakers was Mr. Yoshitaka Shindo, the grandson of General Tadamichi Kuribayashi. He was the commander of the Iwo forces and arguably designed the best defense in military history. His remains are still with his men’s on Iwo. The Marine’s Hymn is often played at the end of ceremonial occasions. Not this time. Only Taps for all the Americans and Japanese who lost their lives on Iwoto. There was not a dry eye anywhere.

While we were waiting to board the plane for the return trip to Guam, a huge Sgt Major accosted me. It was the one I had encountered before. He presented me with a Challenge Coin. That's a high honor in the Marines. They're given spontaneously for doing something extraordinary. He must have seen me run down the mountain. He said I had motivated him! He was THE Force Sgt Major. A picture of it is enclosed.





Furusato (My Childhood Home)
Recovered from a Japanese soldier killed on Iwo Jima

I chased hares among its mountains
Fished small carp there in its stream.
These memories still fill my mind,
I cannot forget my childhood home.

I wonder how my parents fare?
I trust my friends are well?
Whether faced by rain or storm,
I think fondly on my childhood home.

When I have attained my dream,
I will return at last to my home,

My home, where the mountains are green,
My home where the stream runs clear.