Memory Monday

Memory Monday: Exclusive Trip to Iwo Jima

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.

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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…

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‘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.

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Some of the areas are inaccessible because of the remaining shells and ordinance.

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Throughout our hike, we saw a lot of these memorials …

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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 …

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We ate. Breathe. And we were ready to go back to hiking, heading to the beach …

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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.

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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.

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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 …

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58 replies »

    • Actually, it was only after the experience when it really fully sunk in the emotional elements. I mean being there on the island, at that moment, you can’t help but to think how it was, what happened there, but we were also focused on the present time on the island.
      The most that hit me is that beach. Even when I was writing about it, really struck a cord a bit to me.

    • I had to sound smarter than I led on with that letter. 🙂 I talked about how Philippines was invaded by Japan and occupied it for three years. That’s the remote connection I used. What I included was when parents told me to be careful with the Japanese people, and that you can’t really blame them for that kind of mentality because of our history with Japan. I reasoned saying that being on that island I can deliver a message to my relatives, my grandparents esp., that the war is a thing of the past. In all actuality, it didn’t mean anything but I wanted to be picked so I used that. I razzle dazzled around those things. 🙂

  1. hi rommel, it was a tiring adventure but i’m sure it was worth it.. i am curious about the last photo..where was it taken? it’s in iwojima but where is it located? i presume those are dogtags of US soldiers right? they speak a thousand words.. i love the photo.

    • Hi elizz, thanks for the comment and visit.
      The dogtag and other military accessories are hanged on a wooden cross located on top of Mt. Suribachi. They belong to those who have climbed it. I wished I knew about it. I could’ve brought my own even if it’s not military issued.

  2. Indeed, much more respect, Rommel. Glad you had the first-hand opportunity to be on such hallowed ground and to literally feel history. Thank you for sharing your story and photos. Very much appreciated.

    • Ow, we knew about the tunnels, but we have to be with people who have the know-how’s on getting into that tunnel. Those tunnels can be dangerous to go inside. The Captain, who flew us, does a lot of caving on the island but unfortunately wasn’t available for us that day.

  3. How fortunate you were to walk through hollowed ground. In my head I tried to put together the monument we visited in DC and your photos of the actual mountain and the brave souls that fought over there. Great post Rommel and thanks for sharing.

  4. What what an honor to be chosen, Rommel! Hope they picked a right person… (Just kidding 😀 )
    These a fantastic shots. Beautiful beach views, sobering history… Thank you for sharing the story and your special trip.

    • You laughing but uhm … I am not the right person to be there. It should be someone with direct connection or relative who fought in war. Well, a lot of them just didn’t submit their pitch.

  5. Hi Rommel!
    Thanks to your excellent photography, and beautiful narration, we are able to see places that many of us will never be able to experience first hand. You are truly blessed. Take care.
    Mike Limon
    Ventura, California

  6. How fortunate you are to have been able to get up close to that iconic beach and hillock Rommel!! I can only imagine how fascinating and moving the visit must have been. Your photos are beautiful and evocative of the silence. Thank you for sharing.

  7. It is special and unique event for you. Good to keep in mind all the terrible things that any war bring to people. Unfortunately, nothing is changed and nothing is teaching people, they still fighting around the World.

  8. It must be both an amazing and an emotional place with the beautiful wild scenery and the remnants of war. It makes me think of the time I visited a graveyard in northern France with white crosses that went on forever. I love the photo of the dog-tags. Thanks for sharing Rommel.

  9. What an opportunity!! You are so lucky to get to experience that and have photographs as mementos to keep for life! Reading your post reminded me of the movie Letters from Iwo Jima. It was a great movie directed and co-produced by Clint Eastwood. The movie showed the other side of war we sometimes don’t realize. I have to admit, I cried watching that movie :). Just like you, I gained much more respect to those who knew first-hand how it’s like to be in that battlefield and to their families as well as they too made a huge sacrifice.

  10. Most of Japanese know this isdland but have never been there. I learned this place at the junior high school. You must have been able to learn a lot of things. If I have an opportunity, I want to visit the place.

  11. how fortunate you are to have been able to visit this historic place, Rommel. what a great read and your beautiful photographs speak volumes of sacrifice and love for country. thank you very much for sharing.

  12. What a fascinating post, Rommel. And what a once-in-a-lifetime privilege for you to have been able to experience what few will ever have the chance to do. I’m glad you were chosen because here you are sharing your incredible experience with the rest of us and doing it in such a touching and memorable way. I find it very interesting that there are those beautiful memorials on the island marking various historical episodes — in a place where few will ever see get to see them. I had goosebumps just reading through it. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  13. I really appreciated this post, thank you Rommel. I didn’t know Iwo Jima was not open to the public. It’s always profound to visit a former war site, and appreciating the hardships of soldiers is a difficult but important exercise. Thanks so much for sharing your hard-earned trek. 🙂

  14. Wow, what a trip… Great write up and photos, the stories around this site are terrifying and moving and to walk those grounds is really a honor, and this post so poignant. Congratulations on achieving something so rare and moving. Incredible Rommel.

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