In 2005, after years of anticipation I was to retrace the steps of those heroes who stormed Iwo Jima sixty years ago to engage in the most savage battle in Marine Corps history.
Iwo Jima is where all Marines aspire to visit once in their lives. This was not to be a victory celebration of the battle, but a dignified memorial to honor the men, Japanese as well as American, who fought and died on Iwo Jima. More Marines (27) earned the Medal of Honor on Iwo Jima than during any other battle.
I will never forget the sight of those Marine veterans eagerly searching for the exact spot where they landed, or fought, or got hit. Some wept. Others earnestly hugged each other as the images of sixty years ago came flooding back.
It is very hard to describe the sensation one feels standing atop Mount Suribachi looking out over Iwo Jima. It is even more difficult to describe standing on the very spots where the first and second flag raisings took place. I let my imagination run wild with visions of the landing and subsequent struggle.
To visit Iwo Jima, site of one of our country's most fabled battlefields was inspirational. However, to witness it alongside veterans who actually were there sixty years ago added a measure of realism and made it more emotional than I could have ever imagined.
I came away from Iwo Jima impressed with the notion that war surely is not just a clash of arms but of cultures. It showed me that no matter what uniform you wear, we are all driven by the same emotions and aspirations.
Reading the Iwo Jima chapter in White Sails is the next best thing to being there.