I lay awake last night wrestling with regrets. Yesterday, I went to a luncheon with a small band of octogenarians at the Marriott Hotel in Newport Beach, California, to share their memories of Iwo Jima and the battle they fought there seventy years ago. Surrounded by their family and friends and Marines of every generation and every war including Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, as well as the Cold War, they shared their stories. The event was hosted by “Operation Home of the Brave” and “Iwo Jima Monument West”, which was led by Ms. Laura Dietz. They were raising funds to bring a monument memorializing their victory to Camp Pendleton, where these brave men learned the art of war. Sadly, as the event ended, my courage failed me and I wondered all night if I could have waded ashore with them and earned a place on their memorial.
The monument was cast in stone by sculptor Felix de Weldon who was serving in the Navy at the time the Marines raised their beloved flag above Mount Suribachi on the Island of Iwo Jima. The iconic photo snapped by Associated Press photographer Joseph Rosenthal inspired him. While this photo was reproduced in every newspaper and on countless posters, inspired Americans to rally to buy bonds in record numbers, Weldon was inspired to fashion ten statues commemorating the event. A 10,000-pound version of it, which had stood for years at Arlington National Cemetery, has become available.
Weathered by decades of exposure to the elements, it was sold at an auction to Rodney Hilton Brown of New York, who had it restored and placed safely in storage while looking for a good home so that, as he says, “we can pass the flag onto somebody else”.
Ms. Dietz and her organization hosted the event at the Marriott to kick off their efforts to raise an estimated $3 million to purchase the monument, transport it across the country, and build a permanent home for it at Camp Pendleton. Following the opening benediction and Pledge of Allegiance, a succession of speakers praised the Iwo Jima veterans and inspired the audience to help the cause:
Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a Marine and the son of a Marine veteran, praised the Iwo Jima veterans for their contribution to winning a lasting peace that built one of the world's most successful and enduring alliances spanning the Pacific Basin for almost seven decades.
Another speaker had an inspiring story. Although many veterans of horrible battles lose their voices when they return, one Iwo Jima veteran seems to have found his. Although just 19 years old at the time with no medical training, he successfully operated on a seriously wounded young Marine. After reconnecting at a reunion, he recounted that this Marine referred to him as “doctor”. The Iwo Jima veteran never corrected him - he didn't want the man to know that a 19-year old kid operated on him.
Thankfully, the speakers, though interesting, didn't have the skill with words to scare others in the audience. However, for the Iwo Jima veterans, their words were keys to unlocking memories hidden away for the last seven decades.
Following the closing benediction, again delivered by a Marine chaplain, the audience was ready to disperse. However, there was one ancient Marine who must have felt that something was forgotten. He began singing the Marine Hymn. The Marine's voice was frail. It no longer bellowed parade ground orders or battleground cries. Few heard him…but I did. As I looked, his family hushed him, but he persisted for another verse. It occurred to me that one strong voice joining him would most likely prompt the entire audience to join in. I was tempted. However, I feared that my voice would not evoke the desired response. (I've been told that I sing like a wounded turkey caught in a barbed wire fence.) So, I allowed the moment to pass. The Marine was silenced and we exited the banquet room.
Therein lies my insomnia. Like all others, I am neither a hero nor a coward. When put to the test, I sometimes rise and sometimes fall. In that moment, I fell. I allowed my fear to dictate my action. It may seem to be a small matter now, to you. But, in that room full of heroes, I succumbed to fear.
Thank God they didn't succumb to their fear when the landing crafts beached and the ramps splashed in the surf. Thank God their will prevailed as they rushed onto the beaches on the day following my second birthday. Thank God they fought and lived and died so that I could reach my seventy-second birthday on this day and shake their hands, each and every one I could reach. I thanked them for you as well as me.
Now, I’d like to ask your help in getting them their memorial if you are able. Visit the Operation Home of the Brave and Iwo Jima Monument West website at: http://www.marinesoniwojima.com/index.html.
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