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Volunteers reenact the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi during the memorial dinner for the 71st anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, Feb. 20 at Camp Pendleton. During the 36-day battle for the 8.5 square-mile island, 6,821 Marines gave their lives to gain control of the strategic position in the Pacific during World War II. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Caitlin Bevel)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Caitlin Bevel

Sunset memorial commemorates 71st anniversary of Iwo Jima

23 Feb 2016 | Lance Cpl. Caitlin Bevel I Marine Expeditionary Force

The Marine Corps has a legacy of excellence and victory that was hard won by individuals throughout history. Some of the most well-known acts of valor were from battle-hardened Marines who fought their way across the Pacific during World War II.

On Feb. 20, 2016, 71 years after the iconic battle on the island of Iwo Jima, those same men were recognized again with a sunset memorial and dinner at Camp Pendleton.

Brig. Gen. James Bierman, Jr., the commanding general of the Western Recruiting Region and Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, described the battle as unmatched in both savagery and ferocity. He said that the Japanese defense of the island was among the most impenetrable encountered by the Marine Corps throughout history.

The small, 8.5 square-mile island lies 650 miles from the capital city of Tokyo. During the battle, it represented defense of hearth and home to the Japanese soldiers, according to Bierman. Until the day Marines landed on those volcanic shores, no foreign army had fought on Japanese soil for approximately 5,000 years.

“The 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions were the best of American men who had been trained as Marines and taught never to give up,” said Bierman, a native of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. “They faced an equally committed enemy who was determined to make the Marines fight and pay for every inch of black sand.”

On the fourth day of the battle, the Marines of 3rd platoon, Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marines, reached the summit of Mt. Suribachi on the southern end of the island and raised an American flag. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured an image of that flag raising that was forever engrained in the memory of the nation.

According to Bierman, when President Roosevelt saw the picture shortly after it was taken he immediately ordered that the six flag raisers be pulled from the battle.

“It is a testament to the ferocity of Iwo Jima that three of those men had already died in action before they could come off the line,” said Bierman.

The sacrifices and accomplishments of the men who fought in this landmark conflict have become an integral part of each Marine who serves today.

“Every Marine graduating from recruit training knows the story of Iwo Jima by heart,” said Bierman. “During the graduation ceremony we tell the families about the battle and the meaning for today’s newest Marines. They sit up a little bit taller when their Marines are compared to the heroes of Iwo Jima.”

During his comments to the veterans about their historic contributions, Bierman reiterated a promise made by Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the 70th anniversary memorial last year.

“Your legacy is the young men and women who use your example of courage and commitment to inspire them to confront and overcome the challenges that they will face today. I pledge that today’s Marines will keep the spirit of Iwo Jima alive,” said Dunford.

In the spirit of that pledge, Master Sgt. Reginald Bradford, the operations chief for Marine Corps Installations West - Camp Pendleton, shared his view of the battle and how it gives context and meaning to the actions of currently active duty Marines.

“You always want to remember what happened in the past and recognize those who paved the way,” said Bradford, a native of Atlanta. “I remember coming into the Marine Corps more than 20 years ago learning about the history of Iwo Jima and then fighting in Fallujah. I remember being in some fire fights and thinking about those guys who fought in Korea or Iwo Jima and realizing that I was now a part of that history.”

As more battles and acts of heroism are added to the history and legacy of the Marine Corps, the identity and values of the organization remain constant.

“Marines today are just like Marines from yester-year ... when you pin on that Eagle, Globe and Anchor you are set for life,” said retired Marine Master Sgt. William Behana, an Iwo Jima Memorial Committee member and banquet chairman. “I was in the regiment that raised the flag over Iwo Jima. I was extremely proud to be a Marine then and I’m still proud today after 71 years.”

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