Hundreds of US Marines landed on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima today to prepare for the 65th anniversary of one of the Second World War’s bloodiest battles.
Trucks, water and food were flown in from Washington to support next Wednesday’s commemorations of the 1945 struggle that was a turning point in the war with Japan.
It claimed 6,821 American and 21,570 Japanese lives in 36 days of intense fighting.
The commemoration will be attended by about 1,000 people, including members of Japan’s parliament and representatives of the Iwo Jima survivors’ association.
Only about two dozen American veterans of the battle are expected to go to the “reunion of honour” ceremony because few of the survivors – now in their 80s and 90s – are well enough to make the trip.
It was not known if any of the fewer than 1,000 Japanese who survived the battle would be able to attend.
Now inhabited only by about 300 Japanese troops, Iwo Jima is a maze of tunnels, caves and dense, scraggly underbrush. It is believed to be covered with too much unexploded ordnance left over from the battle to be developed, and has been largely untouched since the war.
Although dozens of remains are found every year, about 12,000 Japanese are still classified as missing in action and presumed killed on the island, along with 218 Americans.
The island formally reverted to its old name of “Iwo To” in 2006. Both “to” and “jima” mean island, but the name of “Iwo Jima” carries the stigma of the treacherous battle and subsequent two decades of occupation.
The Marines who arrived today from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force on the island of Okinawa, many of whom have been to battle either in Iraq or Afghanistan, said they were visiting hallowed ground.
“I can’t imagine fighting in this kind of terrain,” said Daniel Flynn, 24. “I fought in Afghanistan, but that was in open desert. I probably would not have had the same experience here had I not been to Afghanistan.”
Joined by Japanese troops and US Navy sailors, many of the Marines trekked down to the beach where the invasion of the island began on February 19, 1945, and filled bottles with its famous black volcanic sand.
Others jogged to the top of Mount Suribachi, where the US flag was raised on February 23 – an image captured by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal that became one of the most enduring ever taken of war.
Iwo Jima was declared secured on March 26, 1945. Japan surrendered in August of that year.