Monday, February 11, 2008

Feeling At Home

February is a special month for the Marine Corps. It marks the anniversary of one of the most pivotal battles of the 20th century, for the Corps, any way. It also marks the anniversary of one of the most iconic images from World War 2, the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima. It seems that we have been getting quite a few more Iwo veterans/survivors visiting the museum with their families lately.

Now, I say Iwo veteran/survivor because these men were survivors. The US Marines lost more men per square mile (about 800 per sq mi) on Iwo Jima than in any battle before it and any battle that has followed. Over 6,000 Marines and Navy Corpsmen perished taking this Island. That was 6,000 Americans in 30 days (that was how long the battle for the island was). That is 200 men killed per day. There were many more thousands of men wounded.

Why did the US have to take Iwo Jima? Because of the air fields. Capturing the island and its airfields would cut the distance in half for US bombers en-route to mainland Japan.

The man pictured above and to the left, is an Iwo Jima veteran. He along with his 4 brothers and a sister all enlisted in the Marine Corps during World War 2. Six out of the seven children in that family joined the military during the war and all joined the Marines. That is pretty amazing in itself.

This gentleman was 20 years old when he landed at Iwo. As I opened the doors to the Higgins boat in the Iwo Immersion and he walked through, he said, "Boy, I feel like I'm ready to storm the beach again."

I replied, "That is what you are going to do next." and I shut the door behind him, closing him into the cramped Higgins boat with his two sisters, two daughters and brother-in-law.

As I stood outside the doors, I wondered, "Should I have told him if he found the boat ride too emotional, he could exit through the same doors he entered the boat through?"

I worried for the entire three/four minutes of the "boat ride" when I knew the ramp had gone up for them to "storm the beach" area of the Iwo display, I walked back to see how he did.

He was wiping tears away from his eyes.

I asked while giving him a warm reassuring pat on the back, "How'd you do?"

"O.k." he said.

"Bet you didn't expect to ever be 'storming' the beach again."

He said, no he didn't, tears were still rolling down his cheeks.
And then,
he said,

"I feel like I'm right at home."

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