Iwo Jima: Where uncommon valor was a common virtue

On Feb. 17, 1945, Marines invaded a small island in the Pacific Ocean, defended by 22,000 Japanese Imperial soldiers. During the month-long battle, almost every Japanese soldier would be killed, and the devil dogs would suffer approximately 26,000 casualties – making it one of the biggest battles in the history of the Marine Corps.

Service members from various units aboard station visited the island of Iwo Jima to remember past heroes and get a better understanding of the battle, during a battle site study group, Jan. 14-15.

“It is important to know where we’ve been in order to get where we are going,” said Gunnery Sgt. Rob L. Warmbir, Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting material chief and native of Canon City, Colo.

During the visit, the Marines broke off into different groups to explore the island. Many went straight to the top of Mount Suribachi, where “old glory” was raised, while others explored the black sands, where the “old breed” Marines first landed.

“It was epic for me,” said Warmbir. “I have been back East and walked along Gettysburg and the Vietnam memorial. But when I went to those places, I wanted to be by myself – because it is such a personal thing. Being in a small group and being with Marines, makes it much more special and I still had time to myself and not be overcrowded with a bunch of tourists.”

During the trip, the Marines were able to sleep under the stars and lay on the same ground where Marines fought and died during the battle.

“I had a little bit of trouble sleeping,” said Warmbir. “I was thinking about, not ghouls and goblins, but how many Marines had died there and how small I felt looking up at the beautiful starry night. It made me feel small and insignificant. I felt like a tourist in an honorable place.”

In the morning, the service members met on top of Mount Suribachi to enjoy the sun rise and see where the Marines raised the flag, which was captured in Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photograph.

“Being at the top and seeing the famous plaque that says ‘uncommon value was a common virtue,’ – was surreal to me,” said Warmbir. “I taught that as a drill instructor, and to actually be there and put my hands on what I had taught to countless recruits is huge.”

After climbing up Mount Suribachi and seeing where the flag was raised, the service members explored the rest of the island. There were a lot of sites to see, including tunnels and old cannons. Many of the Marines felt that exploring the tunnels was one of the most interesting parts of the trip.

“Going in the tunnels was the best part … it was like a maze,” said Lance Cpl. Drew L. Wright, station commanding officer’s driver and native of Wheat Ridge, Colo. “It was crazy to think this is where so many enemies hid during the battle, waiting to kill Marines.”

The service members left Iwo Jima, thinking about their experience and what they had learned. On the plane ride back, it was common to hear a Marine say, “Iwo Jima was awesome,” and how they would remember the trip for the rest of their life.

“I had a blast, I would do it again in a heart beat,” said Wright. “It is such a limited experience. Not that many people get to go to Iwo Jima and climb Mount Suribachi.”



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