By Katherine Belcher, Office of the Chief of Public Affairs May 6, 2013
TORII STATION, Okinawa (April 25, 2013) -- It is without a doubt one of the most recognizable scenes from the Pacific Theater during World War II: Five U.S. Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi during the battle of Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945. The men belonged to the 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment, 5th Marine Division, and they made history that day -- in ways they could not have imagined at the time.
Three U.S. Army Japan Soldiers stationed on Torii Station were recently given a rare opportunity to visit the hallowed ground where that iconic photo was taken. The journey was an experience they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Master Sgt. Tim Parrish and Spc. Nathan Allen, assigned to 247th Military Police Detachment, and Spc. James Sanders, of the 10th Regional Support Group, joined 65 Marines from Camp Hansen on the one-day trip to the tiny Pacific island 855 miles east of Okinawa.
Upon reaching the island, the group made the long trek on foot from the flight line to the top of Mount Suribachi, the highest point on the island. Reaching the top of Mount Suribachi was especially poignant for Parrish, who is a former Marine.
"It was very, very moving and very emotional," said Parrish. "It was a surreal moment and a great opportunity."
Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Nolan arranged the trip for the Soldiers. When he heard the Marines needed buses to transport them from Camp Hansen to Kadena Air Base, he offered Army buses from Torii Station -- in exchange for three seats for Soldiers.
Parrish could barely contain his excitement as he recounted the moment he heard that he was making the trip. As a boy, Parrish said he always knew he wanted to serve in the military and that he is honored and proud to have a career that includes service as both a Marine and Soldier.
"This was the most incredible trip … it has been my dream to go there since I first watched 'The Sands of Iwo Jima' with John Wayne," said Parrish. "It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I want to thank CSM Nolan for making it happen."
Parrish brought two American flags for the Soldiers and Marines to hold up at the same spot on Mount Suribachi where their predecessors did nearly 70 years ago. Many of the service members also left their own personal items on a makeshift memorial where dog tags, name patches, ranks insignias and unit patches hang in tribute to the men who fought and those who died. Parrish donated a uniform patch from the Army's 10th Mountain Division whose motto -- ironically enough -- is "Climb to Glory."
While walking on the stretch of beach commonly referred to as "attack beach," Parrish could not resist scooping up handfuls of sand to put it in a bottle for a keepsake. He did not wear gloves and was astounded that his hands were red after digging in the sand.
"They were red like blood … like a reminder of the men that died there," said Parrish. "It was a great, great moment."
The raising of the American flag over Mount Suribachi was photographed by Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press and is one of the best-known photographic images of the Pacific war. Rosenthal won a Pulitzer Prize for the photo, which was widely reprinted -- and statues, paintings and a U.S. postage stamp were based on it. The photograph actually depicts the second flag raising over Mount Suribachi, after a first flag raised an hour or two earlier had proved too small to be visible to other U.S. troops on the island, according to the Department of the Navy Library.
On Nov. 19, 1954, a bronze monument of the flag raising, sculpted by Felix de Weldon and located near Arlington National Cemetery, was dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives in defense of their country.
The Battle of Iwo Jima lasted a brutal 36 days and ended with the deaths of 6,800 Americans. On the other side, barely 1,000 of the 20,000 Japanese defenders that began the campaign survived, according to the Department of the Navy Library.
The Americans' success at Iwo Jima was crucial as it would provide a vital link in the U.S. chain of bomber bases. By the end of the war, 2,400 B-29 bombers carrying 27,000 crewmen made unscheduled landings on the island. Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded to Marines and sailors -- many posthumously -- more than were awarded for any other single operation during the war.
For the Soldiers and Marines who return to Mount Suribachi in the present, the words of Adm. Chester Nimitz etched into the concrete memorial are as memorable now as the day he spoke them -- particularly for Parrish, Allen and Sanders.
"Among the Americans who served on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue."