MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY --
The Marine Corps is steeped in history and heroism.
Three touchstone battles where Marines left their mark on history and distinguished themselves as a fearsome fighting force are the battles of Belleau Wood, France, during World War I; Chosin Reservoir, North Korea, during the Korean War; and Iwo Jima, Japan in World War II, according to Kent Morrison, executive director, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany.
One battle Morrison often discusses with other Marines is Iwo Jima because of its notoriety as one of the most brutal and illustrious battles that Marines have fought.
“More than 72 years ago, Marines fought 36 straight days to secure Iwo Jima, a small, pork chop-shaped volcanic island, during World War II,” Morrison said. “Just the mention of the name Iwo Jima evokes strong emotions, pride and sadness to anyone that has ever worn the eagle, globe, and anchor."
The historic battle for Iwo Jima, now known as Iwo To, took place Feb. 19 - March 26, 1945.
“What makes Iwo Jima stand out is the flag raising on Mount Surabachi, February 23, 1945,” he said. “(Most people) can relate to the photograph in that it was the raising of our flag, a flag of a free nation on the island of Iwo Jima.
“This photograph became the symbol of American freedom for World War II,” he continued. “It helped sell war bonds and everybody in America could relate to the volcanic island called Iwo Jima. Iwo Jima became a namesake.”
Morrison, who retired from the Marine Corps with the rank of lieutenant colonel, said some people don’t realize there were two flag raisings on Iwo Jima.
“Marines with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division, raised both flags just hours apart on the same day, February 23, 1945,” he said. “The reason the second flag was raised is because the first flag was not big enough.”
The first flag raising was photographed by Marine photographer, Louis Lowery, and the second, the iconic photo known throughout the world, was taken by Associated Press photographer, Joe Rosenthal, Morrison added.
“(Although) Iwo Jima was (an important battle, it is) no different than any other place the United States Marines have fought and died,” he said. “Iwo Jima is not singled out as any greater or any deadlier than any other battle anywhere in the history of our Corps. It’s just more easily related to by all Americans because of the flag raising.
“Wherever a Marine dies in the defense of this country, we know that Marine gave his life for the cause of freedom,” he added.
“The battle of Iwo Jima was the only battle during World War II where there were more American casualties than Japanese,” Morrison pointed out. “About 7,000 Marines were killed and nearly 20,000 wounded. Those are incredible numbers for America.”
According to Morrison, Gen. Charles C. Krulak, 31st commandant of the Marine Corps, once said, “Every two minutes for 36 days a Marine fell killed or wounded.”
Morrison noted there were 27 Medals of Honor awarded for heroic actions during the battle of Iwo Jima, 22 to Marines and five to Sailors, which helped lead to the famous quote by then-Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, “Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
“Iwo Jima was taken to build airfields to strike Japan and to get our bombers closer so we could end the war sooner,” he continued.
About 2,000 B-29 Bombers landed on Iwo Jima after the island was captured and the airfield built, Morrison said.
“Many of these bombers returning from missions were damaged and might have otherwise had to ditch in the sea had it not been for the airstrips on the island,” he explained. “You take 2,000 airplanes, each with a 10-man crew, that’s 20,000 airmen. Iwo Jima is very important to those airmen as well. Iwo Jima gave us a staging base as well as a return base.”
One of the many highlights of Morrison’s career was when stationed at Parris Island, South Carolina, in 1989; he met Medal of Honor recipient, Pfc. Jacklyn “Jack” Lucas, who fought on Iwo Jima.
“Private First Class Lucas was the youngest Marine to receive the Medal of Honor in the Marine Corps,” Morrison revealed. “He used his body to shield members of his squad from two grenades thrown by Japanese soldiers. He was 17.”
Morrison also recalled attending an Iwo Jima reunion in Thomasville, Georgia, several years ago with Marines from the 28th Marine Regiment.
“They were humble men who did not talk about the glory or gore,” he said. “They just said, ‘we were just doing our job.’”
During his visit, a reunion member talked about losing his brother on Iwo Jima. Morrison called it “a story of patriotism.”
“When the war broke out, a father and his four sons all joined the Marine Corps together,” he said. “They were dairy farmers from Minnesota. The father served in the United States while all four of the sons served overseas, with two eventually fighting on Iwo Jima side-by-side.
“The brother, who survived the battle of Iwo Jima, said he received notification that his brother had been killed in combat,” Morrison recalled. “The brother left the front line and went back to the division cemetery aboard the island, visited his brother’s grave site and then went back into battle.”
Morrison said while the battle of Iwo Jima may be more common than others, combat operations in Fallujah, Iraq, in A Shau Valley, Vietnam, or wherever Marines have so courageously fought, are just as important.
“Iwo Jima was one of the many ferocious battles Marines have fought to preserve freedom,” he said. “It’s all Marines who give us the honor to be called United States Marines and we should continue to educate ourselves on our glorious history and preserve their legacy.
“All wars, conflicts and battles are significant to the Marine Corps’ legacy of valor,” he concluded. “Marines -- then and today -- have and will always have a selfless commitment to the Corps and their country.”