Battle of Iwo Jima remembered at Eco Park ceremony
The raising of the stars and stripes on top of Mount Suribachi is one of the most iconic images in the history of this country.
Thousands of U.S. soldiers died in the Battle of Iwo Jima so that image could be burned into our collective subconscious, but as the years pass the number of survivors dwindle, and with them the first-hand accounts of a defining moment in history 66 years ago.
A ceremony at Eco Park on Sunday attempted to keep those memories alive, bringing together past and present military personnel to honor the raising of the flag.
Guests of honor included 14 survivors of the Battle of Iwo Jima, and the ceremony was an emotional trip through that history.
“It brought a whole lot of tears to my eyes,” said Truitt Bradley, Iwo Jima survivor and North Fort Myers resident. “It also brought back memories of good friends. There’s fewer and fewer of us each year.”
Organized by Gary and Judy Bowler, the event packed hundreds of people in Eco Park to honor the fallen and the raising of the flag.
“We do it in their honor, they’re the heroes,” said Gary Bowler, a Vietnam veteran. “I can’t imagine how tough they had it, or what they went through. To lose their friends, their comrades.”
The ceremony was graced but some of the city’s public officials. Councilmember Bill Deile, an Army colonel, shared a few words, as did Councilmember Kevin MGrail, who’s grandfather served in World War II. Mayor John Sullivan also signed a proclamation declaring Feb. 20 Iwo Jima Day, honoring all of those who fought, and fell, in battle.
Ret. Marine Corp Maj. Timothy Kenny, who acted as the event’s master of ceremonies, told the crowd that the image of the flag being raised is perceived differently from those who were there.
“All we see is the monument, when all they see are horrific images and experiences,” he said.
The Iwo Jima monument at Eco Park, which as become an unofficial symbol of the city, is one of three condensed copies of the original at Arlington Cemetery, with the other two placed at Qauntico, Va., and on Parris Island, S.C.
The statue was placed at Eco Park in 1999, and since fallen into severe disrepair.
Cape Coral City Council unanimously approved financial help to repair the Iwo Jima statue on Dec. 14, committing roughly $35,000 to the project.
The community has also provided help, as the Craig Fuller family has established a fund with the Cape Coral Community Foundation with a balance of more than $48,000, and a fund has also been established by Boots Tolles to maintain the statue once it’s repaired, making a $5,000 donation to get it going.
Now all that’s left to do is actually start repairing the statue, but the city’s Parks and Recreation Department was still taking proposals as of Feb. 12.
For Bradley, the opportunity to revisit those memories was bitter sweet. He was brought to tears during the ceremony as he recalled the past.
He said he wants to see the statue repaired and kept in better condition than it has previously.
“It’s important we keep the statue in good order. Maybe the community can keep helping with that through contributions,” Bradley said, adding, “The park is a beautiful place.”