By Jim Zes
Posted: June 1, 2005
Our recent trip to Iwo Jima was one of the most incredible trips I have ever been on in my life. When I first viewed Iwo Jima from high above the island on the plane, it seemed so very small (it is only 2 miles wide at its widest point and 4 miles long) for being the site of one of the bloodiest campaigns in the Pacific during World War II.
We were truly blessed by the veterans of Iwo Jima who we accompanied for the sixtieth anniversary of the battle for this strategic island. (Since Iwo Jima is situated less than 700 miles from Toyko, the capture of this island was considered vital to the war effort in the Pacific.) These Iwo Jima veterans are truly heroes, yet as I was able to spend time with them, I found that they did not consider themselves heroes, but rather considered their fallen comrades the true heroes those who had made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.
I was thankful to be able to honor these veterans in a small way for their role in this long forgotten battle of World War II. These veterans braved many dangers in securing our victory over the 22,000 Japanese soldiers defending Iwo Jima in February and March of 1945. Many of the veterans were grateful that people still cared about what had happened on Iwo Jima and that they were not forgotten.
It was encouraging to meet many of the veterans who had brought their sons and daughters along on the trip to find out what their fathers had endured on this tiny island so long ago. I was amazed at the stamina and energy of these veterans, most of whom are now in their eighties. Each of the eighty-seven veterans had a different story to tell. Most shared easily about what had happened during this bloody battle, while some were reluctant to share their stories.
The battle for Iwo Jima was a remarkable legacy of valor. In just a little more than a month, twenty-seven Congressional Medals of Honor were given to the men of Iwo Jima for distinguished acts of bravery. I was struck by the fact that here were ordinary young Americans thrown into extraordinary situations, men who answered the call of duty. On D+1, one of the veterans had smothered a grenade with his body to save his comrades and lived to tell about it. Another veteran shared how on D+10 he was blown fifteen feet out of his foxhole by a Japanese mortar shell. One Marine was stranded alone in a mortar crater for three days and three nights in no mans land with Japanese soldiers all around him at night. Still, other veterans described how bloody and fierce the battle had been, with numerous occasions of hand-to-hand combat. After thirty-six days of bitter fighting, the Americans were victorious, and the island was secured.
Remembering the Providence of God throughout history is extremely vital for the health and well-being of a nation. We owe the warriors of Iwo Jima and all veterans a great debt for fighting for the liberties and freedoms we now enjoy. Truly these are heroes, men worthy of honor and remembrance.