Sixty-eight years ago today, the first of what would be more than 70,000 Marines poured ashore on Iwo Jima, a Pacific island held by a fortified Japanese force determined to keep it or die trying.
Four days later, already having suffered heavy losses in a battle that would not be over for more than a month, U.S. forces raised the flag on Mount Suribachi in a moment that would capture American grit and become a patriotic icon that still resonates.
Nearly seven decades later, the heroes who took part in that tide-turning battle are disappearing, along with their brethren who took the war to the Germans in Europe in the Battle of the Bulge or faced down the Italians and Rommel’s tanks in Northern Africa. Those who survived bullets and bombs are being taken from us by the inexorable march of time.
The Sun News’ obituaries over recent years have paid tribute to hundreds of World War II vets, including a number who fought at Iwo Jima. We owe debts of unimaginable gratitude to each of these brave men – and women. Ongoing efforts such as Honor Flight and Military Appreciation Days do much to pay homage to these folks. But there’s little more meaningful than a personal show of thanks.
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If a World War II veteran – or any veteran – crosses your path today, offer your thanks. Shake their hand. It’s because we’re the home of the brave that we stay the land of the free.