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Ceremony marks completion of Iwo Jima restoration project

By Staff | Sep 25, 2011

An intimate ceremony was held Saturday morning to honor everyone who played a crucial role in the restoration project of the Iwo Jima monument.

Bonnie Harcleroad Willey, the mother of Craig T. Fuller, whose love of the statue spurred its rejuvenation, said the ceremony meant everything to her.

“My son loved the statue and he wanted to see it restored,” she said. “It was his big dream. This was his passion.”

Craig T. Fuller, 33, was ambushed and killed on April 25, 2010 in a roadside attack in Afghanistan. He had served overseas in the U.S. Marine Corps before going back to the country to work as a private contractor. Fuller had worked as a security and construction contractor for five years before he was killed.

Willey said it was when he was training at boot camp at Parris Island that her son saw the Iwo Jima monument and fell in love with it. Once he arrived in Cape Coral and saw what kind of condition the statue here was in, he wanted to make sure it was restored.

She thanked everyone for what they did to make her son’s dream a reality.

“This is absolutely wonderful,” Willey said.

George Colom, commandant of the Marine Corps League, was able to obtain sand from Iwo Jima for the ceremony in which 31 people participated at Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve Saturday.

Each was escorted by a United States Marine to a table under the pavilion, which had a glass bowl full of sand, three flags and an urn donated by Fort Myers Memorial Gardens. Once the individual was in front of the table, they took a scoop full of sand and poured it into the urn, which will be permanently placed in a sleeve on the east side of the lava rocks of the monument after the granite base is complete.

As a token of appreciation for their dedication in the restoration project, they were given a small container of sand to take home.

The first to pour sand in the urn was Iwo Jima survivor Kenneth Stone. After he poured, a long-time Marine tradition was implemented before the next person was escorted to the table.

Colom said he wanted the Marine Corps birthday ball tradition to be a part of the ceremony Saturday morning. He said every year on Nov. 10 a birthday cake is cut with an officer sword and the first slice goes to the oldest Marine. The second slice is handed off from the oldest Marine to the youngest Marine to pass on the traditions.

The same tradition was held during the ceremony, with the values of the Marine Corps passed on to the youngest Marine, Jordan Hess, to remember what the people did on Iwo Jima.

Stone was on Iwo Jima when the flag was raised. He said they were cutting across one of three air fields as they were making their way towards the action when they spotted the American flag in the air.

“Everyone applauded like mad and turned around and cheered,” Stone said.

Shortly after the flag was raised he was evacuated to Hawaii with an injured leg.

Although he enjoyed being a part of the ceremony he said he still has mixed emotions of what happened at Iwo Jima.

The sand that he received will be put on display in his bedroom.

A gentleman who had found the famous monument replica vandalized in the Rose Gardens in the late 70’s was also at the ceremony on Saturday.

Michael Geml said he was walking through the Rose Garden, which was abandoned in 1978-1979. He said as he was wandering through the woods he discovered this huge stone monument missing its heads and more.

“I recognized it was the Iwo Jima monument, but couldn’t believe what happened,” he said.

His findings piqued his curiosity so he began researching the monument. Geml said through his research he discovered that the statue was one of only three original replica castings in the world. He said the monument he found in the Rose Gardens was cast from the same molds as the ones in South Carolina and Virginia.

Geml found sculptor Felix de Weldon in Washington and told him what happened. He said the Marine Corps sent a group down to inspect the statue because they did not believe the monument was in Cape Coral.

As the story hit national news, Geml said they received letters from around the world from people who wanted to help restore the monument.

The monument was restored and moved to North 1st Bank where Geml worked in 1980 where a dedication was held. He said hundreds of people showed up at the intersection of Del Prado Boulevard and Viscaya Parkway.

Unfortunately, the statue again fell into disrepair, hence the latest effort.

The ceremony Saturday brought Geml to the end of his goal to see the monument restored to its rightful recognition and to make it a focal point of the community for all ceremonies related to the military.

“I’m thankful for that,” he said.

Jerry Hess, a retired Navy veteran helped in the restoration process by providing consultation for the John Bradley image of the monument.

“Something a long time coming and it was needed,” he said about the restoration project that should make the residents proud. “It’s one of our nation’s symbol.”

Hess said the ceremony Saturday morning was fantastic.

“It was a very nice gesture,”he said about the sand he received. He said he will add it to his trophy case with all his other memorabilia.

The last piece of the monument, the granite slab, is expected to begin to be installed the first week of October.

The rededication of the Iwo Jima monument will be held on Feb. 25, 2012 because the flag was raised over Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945.