ARLINGTON, Va. --
To commemorate the 65th anniversary of the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima, servicemembers, veterans, and supporters gathered at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., Feb. 23.
Roughly 150 guests attended the event hosted by Marine Barracks Washington. The ceremony featured a performance by the U.S. Marine Band, ceremonial marchers, a firing party, and the Marine Corps Color Guard.
Cpl. Stephen Brewe, a body bearer, performed in a wreath laying ceremony at the base of the memorial.
Several notable guests turned out for the event, including Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar. Lt. Gen. Duane Thiessen, Deputy Commandant for Programs and Resources and guest of honor, presided over the event with several veterans who fought on Iwo Jima.
James Wheeler reflected on his experiences while fighting on Iwo Jima 65 years ago. Sporting the signature red Marine Corps League ballcap, the now 83 year-old Marine veteran had turned 19 just three days before the assault on Iwo Jima. Wheeler landed on the second day, where he climbed to the top of Mount Suribachi and witnessed the original flag raising.
“When they raised the first flag, that’s when we all cheered and everything,” Wheeler said. “We thought, ‘Well that’s probably then end of the battle, and we can all go home now.’ By the time the second flag was raised when I was up on Suribachi, we didn’t even pay much attention to it because it was a replacement flag.”
AP Photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the image, which remains an icon of the Marine Corps to this day. Wheeler stayed on top of Mount Suribachi spotting for his artillery battery and witnessing the rest of the battle unfold. With a bird’s eye view of the battle, Wheeler endured a “rough 30 days” until the Marines had finally captured the island.
“Those were tough days, really tough days,” Wheeler said. “We never knew when one of those shells was gonna come in and get us.”
Throughout the battle, Marines and sailors were motivated enough to pull through their hardships and take the island.
“We were young,” said Wheeler. “We could take it. We were gung-ho Marines.”
Many children and teens involved with the Young Marines organization came out to the event to assist veterans and learn about the history of Iwo Jima directly from the men who fought there. Most of the surviving veterans of the battle were young men in their teens, and so meeting face to face helped veterans and youth make an instant connection, said Mike Kessler, Young Marine executive director.
“I’ve always felt that it’s important that our youth understand the sacrifices of particularly America’s greatest generation,” Kessler said.
Thousands of veterans are passing away each day, and it is important to keep the history alive by inviting them to such memorial ceremonies, he added.
The sacrifices made by the “greatest generation” were a gift to future generations, Thiessen said.
“What they did, they did for the future of the United States, and that future is us today,” he added. “They handed us the standard, and we will not fail their confidence.
Marines and sailors continue to uphold that standard as they continue fighting America’s battles, Wheeler said.
“I think they continue to exhibit the valor and courage that Marines showed on Iwo Jima,” said Warner, whose father is a survivor of the Battle of Iwo Jima. “They’re showing that courage in Iraq and Afghanistan now.”