How to say thank you.
70 years ago, the beaches of my homeland were graveyards full of mothers' sons, defenders of freedom and those who thought they could make a difference - the only thing is, they did. In 70 years, those same beaches is where my family would host barbecues for my younger siblings' birthdays, where I would have balati (sea cucumber) fights with my cousins, where we would challenge who could make the biggest splash using a rusty World War II Sherman tank as our diving board. Now I am not from Iwo Jima as the above picture and this article is about, but I am from Saipan, which was a few stops before Iwo Jima, and I just wanted to say these memories are thanks to the men who fought with the same diginity as the men in the Iwo Jima tour and to the men I will never meet.
Those who didn't make it home
When we think of islands these days, we may think of vacation paradises, think of coconuts with little umbrellas, hula dancing. What the men who gathered for the annual Iwo Jima Survivor's Reunion experienced was different. Five weeks of island warfare, 21,000 stalwart Japanese defenders, 70,000 spirited American Marines ... The Battle of Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific Theater during World War II. All but around 200 Japanese forces gave their lives for their emperor and around 7,000 Marines would fight one of the last battles, but not live to see the end of the war.
"Of the men who fought on Iwo Jima uncommon valor was a common virtue." - Chester W. Nimitz, fleet admiral of the United States Navy.
On Feb. 15-16, people from all around Wichita Falls, Texas, came to see the men who saw battle at Iwo Jima. The reunion, run by volunteers from the Disabled American Veterans, focused on remembering those who call themselves survivors or veterans, but we call them heroes, role models, martyrs.
The event started with a welcome to Wichita Falls with speeches from Hershel "Woody" Williams, survivor of the Battle of Iwo Jima and last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima, Brig. Gen. Ronald E. Jolly Sr., commander of the 82nd Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, and Col. Timothy Parker, commander of the Marine detachment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
(U.S. Air Force photos by Airman 1st Class Pedro Tenorio)