Iwo Jima 70th Anniversary Symposium in Guam

The vets were respondent. Woody Williams, last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the battle, was beaming to the gather crowds. A Navajo code talker was signing a commemorative map. Other vets entered, all nine decades young.

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A day ahead of the Iwo Jima 70th Anniversary Commemoration on the island itself, a symposium was held at host hotel Outrigger Guam, under the auspices of the Iwo Jima Association of America.

Lieutenant General Lawrence F. Snowden, USMC (ret.) is the leading light that did the painstaking diplomatic work in the 1980s for the first Reunion of Honor on the island, held for the 40th, and continues to this day. He was wounded on Iwo Jima, evacuated to Guam, and convinced the doctor to allow him to return to his men on the island. Military Historic Tours, lead by founder Colonel Warren H. Wiedhahn, USMC (Ret) does the complicated logistics work for the events.

Gen. Snowden emphasized in his greeting the positive state of current US-Japanese relations, calling it the strongest bilateral relationship the US has today. He told the audience the time for hate is past and talked through his own journey to reach that perspective. Later in the day, P51 pilot Jerry Yellen made his case for repurposing V-J Day into an international day of peace.

The symposium launched into a comprehensive overview of the Iwo Jima’s history, and the battle, from scholar and National Parks ranger James Oelke Farley. It was a great help in placing the context of the upcoming visit.

Next was a representative of the American Battle Monuments Commission that discussed their work, the cemeteries they main, and the winding bureaucratic road the cemeteries and fallen have travailed. As cemeteries shifted and were consolidated to Hawaii and Philippines, some remains were interred and exhumed as many as five times. The cemeteries on Iwo Jima are remembered now by memorial markers. I have visited a number of the AMBC’s sites and plan (this week!) to visit more. Anyone visiting Hawaii should, after a Pearl Harbor visit, head up the hills to the VA cemetery at Punchbowl and the ABMC’s memorial.

The afternoon panel featured several veterans sharing their experiences at the battle, the years since, and the experience of returning to the black sands. In a first, heavily covered by Japanese media, a surviving Japanese defender appeared along with author Don King, who features him on the cover of A Tomb Called Iwo Jima. . He had been badly wounded and his life was spared by an American solider whose military dog had located the wounded. This gentleman (I did not catch his name) awoke in a military hospital in Guam.

The symposium at a close, it was time to collect our charter boarding passes from the United staff at the hotel and to prepare for the evening’s banquet. The vets led the way, as they have for 70 years.

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  • Teresa

    General Snowden doesn’t look like he has aged a day since I last saw in in 2008. He is incredible!

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Teresa – indeed a number of times this weekend I did a double-take and asked if these guys really are in their 90s. Incredible spirit among them. Gen Snowden was the ringleader all weekend right up through laying a wreath on the memorial

  • Teresa

    I think he missed only one visit since the first visit to Iwo. I am enjoying your reports. Were you able to get around the island much other than Mt. Suribachi? We were able to go all the way around, stopping at various points, but it took energy and moving fast to do it. I think they have restricted doing that now. There is so little time and so much to see and experience.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Teresa – we were able to go around, although many areas were roped off as unsafe. Major intersections had both Japanese and US Marines stationed to provide directions. I walked from the memorial site up Mt Suribachi, then perhaps unwisely, on the way down peeled for to the left for the small Japanese memorial and kept going along the road on the east of the island, not much can be seen and it was a massive walk as no roads connect back to the west until nearly the airfield. I finally met a Marine who didn’t know how to direct me, she said, “No one comes this way.” The next road some distance away the Marine said, “Sir, where did you come from?” I got to the ceremony late. Afterwards, I walked the beach and then all the way back to the airport. As it turned out, all 3 flights were delayed about 3 hours so could have had more time. More on that story coming up!

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