13th MEU (SOC) Marines visit hallowed ground - where 'uncommon valor was a common virtue'

27 Jan 2001 | 1stLt. Jeff Landis

At the sight of the bloodiest and most memorable battle of World War II, Marines and Sailors of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group gained an appreciation for the epic battle and sacrifices of Marines at Iwo Jima in a commemorative ceremony and professional military education session Friday.

Straining their necks to see up the steep, slippery slope of Mount Suribachi, Marines and Sailors reflected upon the struggle and sacrifice of Marines, many of whom gave their lives low-crawling inch-by-inch up the mountain to secure the high ground. Nearly 600 Marines and Sailors participated in the ceremony and PME, which served as a unique opportunity to honor those who served and gain a better appreciation for the rich history of the Battle for Iwo Jima.  Several Marines and Sailors also got the chance of a lifetime to reenlist atop Mount Suribachi.

"Not many Marines get the chance to reenlist here, and I thought how cool it would be say, 'I got to reenlist on Iwo Jima' to people," said Sgt. Shannon Mawson, a 23-year-old wireman from Phoenix, Ariz., serving with the 13th MEU (SOC) Command Element.  "As I looked up that steep mountain with its incredibly dense vegetation, I kept thinking 'how the heck did the Marines make it up there?'  There's simply no way to compare what they went through, and I appreciate being able to reenlist on the island."

Most Marines and Sailors were flown into an airfield and hiked three miles to Mount Suribachi, a 550-foot volcanic cone at the island's southern tip.  Others, from the Assault Amphibian Vehicle Platoon, E Company, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, Battalion Landing Team 3/1, conducted an amphibious landing of their AAVs onto the same Green Beach where Marines were pummeled by a wall of steel from the mountain and pillboxes and blockhouses along the beach perimeter in 1945.

Ships of the Tarawa ARG played a historical video and slide show over closed-circuit TV prior to the event and conducted shipboard memorial ceremonies on the same day as the visit to Iwo Jima. 

Most Marines know the significance of the Iwo Jima flag-raising atop Mount Suribachi as the symbol and lifeblood of a Marine Corps rich in history, tradition and warrior spirit.  Many did not know that on D-Day, Feb. 19, 1945, Marines initially landed without confrontation.  The Japanese had lured in large numbers of Marines before they lit up the beach with a barrage of fire and steel.  Historians claimed "it was like throwing human flesh against reinforced concrete." 

Iwo Jima, a 7.5-square-mile island, was a strategic location for American B-29 bombing raids on Japan and for its three airfields.  The landing on Iwo Jima was the first amphibious landing by American troops on Japanese soil during WWII by the V Marine Amphibious Corps, with the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions, and was the largest number of Marines sent to fight than any other battle - more than 70,000.  Marine and naval planners underestimated the Japanese fortress and thought that Iwo Jima could be taken in five days.  It took more than a month and 23,573 Marine casualties to take the island.

Twenty-two Marines and five Sailors received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their heroic actions in taking the island.

"I think Maj. Gen. Graves Erskine's words best summarize for us what it means to be standing here today on this most hallowed ground in Marine Corps history," said Col. Christopher J. Gunther, commanding officer of the 13th MEU (SOC), during the ceremony atop Mount Suribachi.  "He said to the battle-scarred veterans mourning their comrades in late March 1945:
'Only the accumulated praise of time will pay proper tribute to the valiant dead ... they are the nation's loss.  Victory was never in doubt, its cost was.  What was in doubt, in all our minds, was whether there would be any of us left at the end to dedicate our cemetery.'"

"What kept going through my mind was all the blood shed by Americans and Japanese on this island, soaking into the beaches," said Sgt. Jaime Camarena, a 23-year-old landing support specialist from El Monte, Calif., serving with MEU Service Support Group 13.  "Not many people get to come here, so I feel fortunate.  This has definitely been a great experience and a privilege to honor the Marines who fought here."

13th Marine Expeditionary Unit