One memory of my childhood growing up in the small Indiana town of Loogootee is a large, framed picture that hung on the wall of our downstairs family room.
The image in the color photo was of the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial located in Arlington, Virginia, near an entrance to Arlington National Cemetery.
The monument, dedicated in 1954, depicts the raising of the American flag atop Mount Suribachi on the small Pacific island of Iwo Jima during World War II.
The bronze figures raising the flag were real G.I.s, mostly Marines, who stormed the beach on the morning of Feb. 19, 1945. The flag-raising occurred on Feb. 23, a few days after the invasion began. While it was symbolic of the taking of the island from the Japanese military, the battle continued for several weeks.
The photograph upon which the monument's image is based was taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal. It is perhaps the most famous war photograph ever made and is emblematic of the courage and sacrifice it took to overcome the grave threats posed to mankind during World War II.
I don't recall how the photo of the Marine Corps monument came to be placed on the wall of my boyhood home. But I do know why it was there.
My dad, Joseph L. Jones Jr., was a World War II veteran. As a 23-year-old Marine in 1944-45, he participated in three invasions of Pacific islands: Saipan in June of 1944; Tinian in late July of 1944; and Iwo Jima in February of 1945.
As a member of the 4th Marine Division, he was part of a battalion whose job it was to establish communications links between various segments of the battle group. My dad's fiercest combat came on Saipan, where the 4th Marines was the first wave of the invasion force. The 4th Marines provided second-day support at Iwo Jima, where the 5th Marines were the first wave.
Dad was on the island when the flag-raising atop Mount Surbichi took place, and he could see the mountain in the distance. But unlike his counterparts in the 5th Marines, who stormed the beach and charged into the hills and up the mountain on the south end of the small volcanic island, his mission took him in a different direction. His communications group, after hitting the beach, turned toward the north end of the island and set their sights on two airfields (and a third under construction).
The strategic value of Iwo Jima to the Allied Forces were the airfields and the island's proximity to mainland Japan. Having control of those airfields put the U.S. in better range for air attacks on Japan.
Like many World War II veterans, my dad offered little about his experiences. But he would answer questions briefly and without elaboration. Among his more vivid memories was of the commanding officers telling the troops that Iwo Jima would be a "mop up" campaign and only take a few days.
It didn't work out that way. Within the first hour, my dad said his small unit was forced to halt its advance amid enemy gunfire and hunker down in the rocks and scraggly trees at the base a hill. His unit remained pinned down for three days before they could make progress toward the airfields.
In rare moments of reflection when the topic of Iwo Jima came up, my dad would offer only glimpses into his memory of that awful time. He and his fellow Marines witnessed the carnage, devastation and death of war as they left their troop carriers and headed onto that beach. The lifeless bodies of his Marine brothers were strewn across the landscape. He would talk softly about that moment.
"Those guys never had a chance," he would say as he slowly shook his head.
The 36-day Battle of Iwo Jima finally ended on March 26, 1945. U.S. casualties totaled more than 26,000, including 6,800 dead.
The U.S. invasion had succeeded in its mission, but there was much more to be done. In early April, the 5th Marines invaded Okinawa, which would be the final, decisive battle of the war. Meanwhile, my dad joined his 4th Marines comrades back in Hawaii to await their next assignment, which they all believed would be an invasion of mainland Japan. Thankfully, that never happened. The war ended in August of that year after the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs.
I've been thinking about that picture of the Marine Corps Memorial in recent months as America has been observing the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. In fact, I started this column in late February with the plan of publishing it sometime during the month-long Iwo Jima anniversary.
Life in 2020 had other plans.
We've all had lots of other pressing matters to think about the past three months amid the coronavirus pandemic. But on this Memorial Day holiday weekend, it's time to take a few moments to turn our attention back to observing this special anniversary and honoring the memories of the generation of Americans who sacrificed so much to beat back the evil 20th century forces of Nazism, fascism and imperialism.
A full-page graphic about the Marine Corps War Memorial was published in our weekend print edition on Saturday, page B6.
I've never visited the Marine Corps Memorial. I hope to someday. When I do, I will be thinking about my dad, as I am this weekend, and the courageous, heroic Americans the memorial represents.
Max Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarMax.
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