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Marine Corps museum commemorates 75th anniversary of Iwo Jima

Feb 19 2020
Mark Walker |

It’s not common knowledge, but there were two flags raised on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945, during World War II.

The first flag—the smaller of the two—was raised at 10:20 a.m., three days after the U.S., Marines and Navy landed on the Pacific island to face the Japanese forces amassed there.

Later that day, the small flag was replaced by the larger flag, which was raised by six marines.

Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the Marines raising the flag in a photograph that became the model for the iconic Iwo Jima Memorial standing today outside of Arlington National Cemetery.

A replica of the memorial sculpture, which symbolizes the fighting spirit of the U.S. Marine Corps, stands at the main gate of the Quantico Marine Corps Base.

Both of the flags will be on display in the exhibit “Heroes Among Us—Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Iwo Jima” at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle through March 30.

Iwo Jima Marine Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient who fought in the battle, will give the keynote address at 1 p.m. Saturday at the museum.

The citation that accompanied the award for Williams’ Medal of Honor showed he fought to help clear the way for the tanks that were trying in vain to open a lane for the infantry through concrete reinforced pill boxes, buried mines and black, volcanic sand under withering machine gun fire.

The citation read in part: “Covered only by four riflemen, he fought desperately for four hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flame throwers, struggling back, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out one position after another.”

Throughout the event Saturday, historians will be on hand to talk about the battle, said Gwenn Adams, the chief of public affairs at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

Edward Nevgloski, director of the Marine Corps History Division, will give an overview of the battle on Saturday.

Artifacts at the event, presented by the museum, the Marine Corps History Division and the Naval History and Heritage Command, will include a M-55 submachine gun, an M-1 carbine, aviation artwork, uniforms, letters, maps, battle orders, logbooks, helmets and an original “Sands of Iwo Jima” movie poster, among other things, Adams said.

“Some of those artifacts will include portraits of Medal of Honor recipients painted by Col. Charles H. Waterhouse, who was a combat artist. We’ll also have artifacts associated with Purple Heart recipients. It could be everything from their uniforms, to their weapons, to their medals,” she said.

People who visit the museum will have the chance to learn more about the bravery of all who fought on Iwo Jima, Adams said.

“I believe that people, in many cases, will gain a better understanding of the Battle of Iwo Jima and that they will come away understanding even more the courage and commitment that it took from Marines, soldiers and sailors to be in that battle and to persevere,” Adams said.

The museum will give away copies of “Investigating Iwo,” a book published by Marine Corps University Press, while they last.

On Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., “Family Day: Iwo Jima 75th Anniversary” will continue the commemoration at the museum with activities for children that will include making “stained-glass” replicas of the topography of Iwo Jima using colored tissue paper in place of glass, Adams said.

There will also be things for children to see and touch, as well.

“Our outreach team will be here with replica uniforms that the kids can try on. They’ll love that. We have the true artifacts that you can look at, but you can’t touch. The replicas are things that they can try on and touch and feel,” Adams said.

Also on Sunday, the museum’s Uniforms and Heraldry curator Owen Conner will talk about the history of the flag and where it’s been since Iwo Jima.

“The President’s Own” Marine Corps Band will perform from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday in the museum’s Leatherneck Gallery to memorialize famous Marine Corps campaigns from WWII to the present day. Seating is first-come, first-served. No tickets are required.

“The President’s Own are absolutely one of the premier musical organizations in this country,” Adams said. “By and large, each one of them holds at least a master’s degree in music, and if they’re good enough to perform at the White House, that’s pretty much the pinnacle.”

Adams said the two-day celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima will illustrate the ethos of the Marine Corps.

“Iwo Jima, for most Marines, represents that fighting spirit of Marines and the Marine Corps,” Adams said.