For those of you who are unacquainted, noone can just book a ticket to fly to Iwo Jima. Well, it is just off limits. Not open to tourism. Plus, there’s just no accomodation there. You need to have pretty darn good reasons to be there. And the requirements are limited, but hard to be qualified to.
Well… I had the very rare opportunity to be on this island with exclusive access.
It is mostly exclusive for military personnel. Of course, government researchers and historians get to go there too. There is this group, Iwo Jima American Association, that also arrange once a year reunion tours by chartering war veterans. The trip to get there costs to almost $4k! https://www.miltours.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=96
Well… I was able to get to there for free! 🙂
My employer just happened to get 12 people to fly and visit Iwo Jima. Now, there are more than 300 of us vying for those 12 slots. What my company have us do was to write a 100-word essay. The more connection you have with the WW2 veterans and how direct your connections are, the better your chances are. Me, I don’t have direct relation to WW2. It may be slim pickings but I still wrote an essay. I still badly wanted to go. I don’t want to get in details on how I convinced them that I was the person they should choose, but yes! I did get picked. Otherwise, this would be a terrible, terrible post. 😀
We were entered in a military base in Kadena. There we got weighed in, and we got orientated about some safety on the flight, what we can and can’t do on the island, some information on the background, and just basically details on what the day would entail for the 6 of us. It was only a 6-passenger plane. We had a captain, co-pilot, and a flight crew with us. I felt like a rock star, a president even. 🙂
It was a bumpy ride with the plane that small. But, it was so awesome!
When the plane approached the island, the pilot circled the plane around the whole perimeter of the island.
That’s it. That is how small the island. It fits into a cellphone screen. It probably took less than 10 minutes for the plane to do the sweep.
Keep that ‘from the plane’ picture in mind. I’ll go back to it again and again.
As soon as we stepped foot on the island, we were ready to go. We only had 4 hours there on island, and we had to get to and climb Mt. Suribachi on foot. Mt. Suribachi is that mountain where the iconic ‘Raising of the Flag on Iwo Jima’ took place.
If you go back to the ‘from the plane’ picture, you can see Mt. Suribachi which is that big bulk on the south of the island. That’s where we were heading.
We started walking…
‘From the plane’ picture shows how empty the island is. Japanese military personnel operate the island for maritime, ground, and air defense. Zero civilians. No trading port. Everything there is to only maintain and protect the island. Ow, also for explosive-ordinance disposal. That’s it.
Some of the areas are inaccessible because of the remaining shells and ordinance.
Throughout our hike, we saw a lot of these memorials …
It was scorching hot. We were in military attires, in boots and trousers. When we were walking on flat ground, I was trying to keep up, trying to keep it cool …
But by the time we hit the incline up the mountain, keeping it cool was out the window… 🙂 I wasn’t gonna hide it. I was sweating profusely, and I was exhausted!
We got to the top, and it was a sigh of relief.
We didn’t have much time to relax. We still have to go to see the beach area.
We took pictures while we heat our military MRE’s (Meal-Ready-to-Eat) packages.
The beach area is close to Mt. Suribachi… more on this later …
The flag was taken down for obvious reason that this is still a territory of Japan. US occupied it once, but it was regained by Japan. As a matter of fact, Iwo Jima is now Iwo To.
We ate. Breathe. And we were ready to go back to hiking, heading to the beach …
This beach is significant because this is where the US military troops approached in entering the island. In a war strategy standpoint, the Imperial Japanese Army pointed so many weapons on this beach knowing that this is basically the only naval entry point the island has. Basically, the US troops wanted to take down Mt. Suribachi because most of the attacks were coming from it. Japan used Mt. Suribachi for that higher terrain advantage. Japan was very, highly impressive in designing the defense. They were very strategic in pre-positioning their heavy weaponry on this island. The overall commander was General Tadamichi Kuribayashi. He wanted the beach to be filled with Marines before he attacked them with heavy machineries.
There’s one very strict rule in the island for visitors. We cannot take anything from the island, esp. the used rounds, but we can take as many sands as we want. We all carried with us ziplock bags to fill it with sands.
Marines took a lot of casualties from the beach, but they made considerable advances. I don’t want go in details on how this war was won. I don’t even want to include figures of the death tolls. In the end of Battle of Iwo Jima, Japanese combat deaths were thrice those of the Americans throughout the battle.
Our limited time in the island was running. Our legs were hurting. The bottom of my feet was aching. Still, we rushed back to the plane.
We got back panting for breaths, all sweaty, with sand-filled ziplock bags, and with new-found respect for those who fought the war for freedom.
Having gone through it, I couldn’t imagine how they managed to fight through that war. I was there on the island for a limited time! But I didn’t have to carry weapons. I didn’t have to dodge bullets. I was walking with ease compared to those who fought the war. They had to go through the terror of war. I even joked why they have to choose the highest point to place the flag. Having gone through it, I couldn’t imagine the physical, emotional and mental toll they had to go through to win that war. Having gone through it, I gained much more respect to the men and women of our military, past and present, to defend freedom and democracy around the world.
Exhausting it may be, I am so grateful for this experience that only few people are able to have.
We were so slow-moving that we were an hour past our return time back to the base.
Last Call …