US veterans return to Iwo Jima for 65th reunion
IWO JIMA, Japan - The 97-year-old American’s memories of comrades blown away on both sides of him on Iwo Jima are a world away from his vision of the island after returning to commemorate one of World War II’s fiercest battles.
“It’s a paradise,’’ former Marine commander Richard Rothwell said yesterday as he sat in a wheelchair overlooking Invasion Beach. “I see no resemblance at all. Even the beach seems different.’’
Rothwell was among nearly a dozen veterans able to make the 65th anniversary trip to the tiny Japanese island because of last-minute intervention by the US Marines Corps, which flew the stranded group here after their charter flight was diverted to Haiti to help with quake aid.
Rothwell, who toured the island with Marine escorts pushing his wheelchair, was commander of a Fourth Marines Division battalion when the invasion began on Feb. 19, 1945.
“I was here for the entire mission, start to finish,’’ said Rothwell, of Catonsville, Md. “I had people killed next to me and around me and I was just very fortunate I made it out alive.’’
The US flag was raised above Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945, but fighting continued for more than a month. Nearly 28,000 troops were killed in one of the war’s most iconic battles.
Though scenic, Iwo Jima is still dangerous. It is inhabited only by about 300 Japanese troops because it is believed to be covered with too much unexploded ordnance to be habitable.
The trip was arranged by Colorado-based Greatest Generations Group.
About two dozen veterans who arrived earlier attended a memorial with US and Japanese dignitaries and the families of Japanese who were killed.