Iwo Jima 70th Anniversary Banquet in Guam

The Marine Commandant honored the vets, and last surviving Iwo Jima Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams sang Take Me Home, Country Roads, punctuated with the Marine cheer, Ooh Rah.

The Iwo Jima 70th Anniversary Banquet in Guam on March 20, 2015 was a tribute to the 44 veterans gathered and all who served there, and a prelude to the next day’s commemorations on Iwo Jima itself.

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Col. Warren Wiedhahn USMC (Ret) of Military Historic Tours opened the evening, with Young Marines & Seat Cadets bringing in the Colors to the bewilderment of the mostly Japanese tourists in the adjoining Outrigger Guam lobby waiting for their redeye departures.

All rose for the National Anthem:

Remarks of tribute were made by Governor of Guam Baza Calvo. Several Iwo Jima veterans present were also liberators of Guam, and were recognized.

Lieutenant General Lawrence F. Snowden, USMC (ret.), the guiding light behind the Iwo Jima commemorations continued, followed by Commandant of the Marines, General Joseph F Dunford, Jr. Also present was Rear Admiral Babette “Bette” Bolivar, Commander, Joint Region Marianas, who the night before had hosted the veterans at her residence.

When Take Me Home, Country Road played, the spotlight illuminated Medal Honor Recipient Woody Williams:

The great pleasure of the evening for me was sharing a table with two Montana-based veterans, Gene Bell and Ron “Rondo” Scharfe.

Gene followed service with a career as a pilot for Delta and since retiring 38 years ago, continues business interests and lectures. He flew 350,000 miles last year. Prior to the banquet he was checking in on things on his smartphone.

Ron was 16 when he faked a baptismal certificate to enlist, and the youngest veteran in attendance. He continued to serve in Japan through the post-war occupation. This was his first time back to the island, the next day on top of Mt Suribachi he quipped, “It still stinks [from the sulfur].” Asked his feelings 70 years on, “I think we won the war and lost the economy, from where I stand” he deadpanned.

The most touching moment of the evening fpr me was a quiet aside encapsulating the vibrancy of these men who served and those whose lives ended too young in sacrifice. In line for the buffet a veteran leaned on his walker, his daughter behind, dancing to the music.

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