Iwo Jima 70th Anniversary: The Island

We walked across Iwo Jima Airport’s tarmac and were surprised at the relative disorganization. There was no clear directive about what we would or couldn’t do. One Marine shouted from a bus that if we wanted to head for Mt Suribachi, the bus would get us halfway, to the memorial, and we could hoof the final 2 km from there. There were smaller cars and vans dedicated to shuttling the veterans.

Some opted to walk the 3 km to the memorial. In order to conserve limited time, it was now past 9 am and the ceremony would start at 11, I hopped on the bus. From the memorial I made a beeline down the dusty coastal road and up Mt Suribachi. Those from the earlier two flights were already up on the mountain, with veterans and their families sharing poignant moments at the flag-raising spot.

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This is where my camera froze and iPhone reset, so I have a partial gap from mountain descent through beach, before using my other phone.

I descended the mountain and instead of returning to the beach, headed for a Japanese memorial on the west side of the island. I saw the memorial and a Marine was returning from the path saying there was a Betty Bomber up ahead. I trailed a Marine and civilian about 100m ahead of me, though when I bent down to get my water bottle, I looked up and they were gone. Proceeding ahead I could not find any spot they might have gone, and plenty were marked as unsafe. I did not see any cross-island roads on my way up the east coast, though against perhaps better judgement, I followed the road on the lonely west coast.

That was a long hour plus before I emerged again to the memorial, missing the first half. That quiet hour alone, smelling the sulfur, feeling the loneliness, seeing the occasional bright flower or fruit that had returned was a personal experience of the island I would not have had with the crowd. Japanese and Marines were stationed at all major intersections. The first Marine I found said, “No one comes this way,” and did not know how to direct me. Some distance along I had gotten back to the turnoff from the airport road to the memorial and that Marine said, “Sir, where did you come from?”

 

I joined the ceremony mid-stream, the first with attendance by Japanese cabinet members, who were giving speeches. Then both the Japanese and US on their opposite sides of the monument laid wreaths, Amazing Grace and a companion Japanese song were sung, and both sides gave 21-gun salutes.

I descended to the blacks sands of the landing beaches. Several Marines were hauling out huge amounts of sand. The shifting sands were difficult to navigate. I am still picking out stones from my shoes from the sliding descent and return ascent.

The short time was nearly at an end, with just enough to walk back to the airport, an effort in the heat rewarded by marker of a since relocated to Philippines US cemetery, Japanese memorials, tunnels, and glimpses of the small community of Japanese workers on the island with their shop, barbeque pavilion and dorms. A Japanese speaker on the tour dead-panned, “I wonder what it takes to get sent to Iwo Jima. Knowing Japanese culture, it’s not a reward.”

I strolled into the airport for what turned out to be several hours in the hangar, wistfully wishing for more time to explore Iwo Jima.

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  • Teresa

    Your pictures are nice. It sounds like you explored as much as you could. I know they have closed off quite a bit of the island from the early years of the tour when you could go all around it. It always depends on how many Marines are there to help with the logistics. I was able to see the hospital cave, the sandstone flag raising memorial and some bunkers. It took quite a bit of effort to do all this and the luck of finding jeeps and transport, rather than having to walk it all in that heat.

    The memorial ceremony with all the speeches is nice, but can also get long. It is a trade off, you want to attend the ceremony, but also want to see the island.

    The time waiting for the airplane, going through the lines in the hanger, etc., are always hard and long. It is hard to get that many people processed and to where they need to go, especially with 3 airplanes. I have only been there with 2 airplanes and it still took hours to get everyone through. The issue with organization is that there are so many organizations involved, with United, The Marines, Military Tours and the Japanese.

  • Shannon

    This series is so special comparing to other luxury style travel blog post. But is your weekly points and news digests going to be bi-weekly and monthly issue?

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  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Shannon – still supposed to be weekly, I really got (happily) crushed with work and travel last week, trying to catch up! Wanted the Iwo Jima series to fall by the wayside since it was more timely.

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