View from the landing craft: The famous beach of black volcanic sand.

Today is the 71st anniversary of the landing at Iwo Jima.

While the outcome of the war in the Pacific had been determined well before, the invasion of Iwo Jima marked the beginning of the end of the war for Japan: It marked the first time Americans stepped foot on Imperial Japan since December 7, 1941.

Iwo Jima is just a tiny little volcanic island about 750 miles straight south of Tokyo in what can genuinely be called “the middle of nowhere.” Looking at it, you can’t imagine what about it would be worth nearly 7,000 American lives in just over a month’s time. Aside from the volcano itself, Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima is a flat patch of nothing, filled with mosquitoes and flies.

General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the commander of the Japanese garrison there wrote six “Courageous Battle Vows,” which were printed and distributed among the Japanese soldiers. They are as follows:

1. We shall defend this island with all our strength to the end.
2. We shall fling ourselves against the enemy tanks clutching explosives to destroy them.
3. We shall slaughter the enemy, dashing in among them to kill them.
4. Every one of our shots shall be on target and kill the enemy.
5. We shall not die until we have killed ten of the enemy.
6. We shall continue to harass the enemy with guerrilla tactics even if only one of us remains alive.

The *real* flag raising atop Mount Suribachi.

When the smoke cleared, Kuribayashi was nowhere to be found. He died in the field with his men, sometime in the final days of the battle. His body was never recovered.

While the Marines have somehow managed to take the spotlight on the Iwo story, no doubt due to the famous flag raising atop Mount Suribachi, I’d like to note that the Army was there too and sent thousands ashore alongside the Jarheads.

The Marine lieutenant who led the charge up Suribachi just died a few days ago. This is a somber reminder that someday very soon, the greatest, most righteous conflict in the history of mankind will slip fully into history, our direct connections to it, through those who were there and literally saved the world, will be severed forever.

So this year give your thoughts, thanks, and prayers to all the men, the soldiers and Marines alike, who risked it all on the black sand on the other side of the world that terrible morning. The time is imminent when history books, a handful of artifacts scattered across the country in attics and museums, and these little remembrances, will be all that’s left as evidence of the sacrifices made on hard days like February 19, 1945.

God bless America. And Godspeed, Lt. Wells.

Mount Suribachi from the opposite end of the invasion beach.

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