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Flag raising event to commemorate Iwo Jima survivors set for Sunday

By Staff | Feb 15, 2018

A flag raising to honor survivors of the battle at Iwo Jima is set to take place Sunday at Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve.

The event will begin at 11 a.m. at the Veteran’s Area near the Felix de Weldon monument. The event will include local veterans, color guards, guest speakers, music and more.

Iwo Jima was the deadliest battle in World War II, leading to the capture of the Island from the Japanese Imperial Army. The commemorative event will be hosted by the PFC Paul E. Ison Marine Corp League Detachment #60 of Lee County.

“In 1999 we had 51 people that survived Iwo Jima, two years ago we had 21, last year we had about 10, now we are down to about five to seven,” said Korean War veteran, Sgt.George Colom on the remaining survivors of Iwo Jima. “Whoever shows up, we will announce their names, and they will stand up and we will identify what unit they served with.”

The Iwo Jima battle took place from Feb. 19 to March 26, 1945, lasting 36 days. Colom described it as a 24/7 bloodbath, resulting in 26,000 Marine casualties. The survivors alive today are now in their 90s.

“We are cognizant of the fact that we’re running out of survivors, so we want to do something going forward because as a detachment we are not giving up on this celebration,” said Colom said.

This is the 73rd anniversary since the original flag raising on the island of Iwo Jima. Cape Coral has been home to the Iwo Jima memorial since 1967. This will be the 27th year since beginning the flag raising ceremony. The memorial was sculpted by Felix de Weldon based off a photo taken by Joe Rosenthal, who photographed six soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima, three days after the battle ensued. Taken in the heat of bloodshed, the Iwo Jima flag raising became the single most famous photo of World War II.

“When the flag first went up, it was celebrated as a ‘Marine Corps’ thing. Before the war was over it became a symbol of World War II. It was the most photographed, most popular picture of World war II. Now, it’s a symbol that goes beyond that. It’s a symbol of all the armed forces that put a uniform on, whether they serve in the war or not,” Colom said.

Colom is the former commandant of Lee County’s Marine Corps League’s Detachment #60, which is the position now held by Vietnam War veteran Donald Proto.

“We have Marines that are coming out of the Middle East now that are joining organization. That is what keeps the Marine Corps League around for many years. It’s the next group that is going to be coming in that will be replacing myself,” Proto said of passing the torch from former Marine generations to the next.

The two veterans prepared for this weekend’s flag raising at the Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library in downtown Cape Coral, where various artifacts will be extracted from the museum’s Iwo Jima exhibition to be displayed during the event. The museum is essentially a time capsule of American war history, adorned with relics, artifacts and memories of soldiers.

Proto pointed to a World War II Marine Corps recruitment flyer hanging on the museum wall.

“See what it says here? It says that ‘We don’t need a lot of people. We just need a few good men.’ and that’s what makes the Marine Corps the Marine Corps. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but when you see Marines, they say ‘Oohrah!'”

Proto got goosebumps as he recalled the Marine battle-cry.

“That’s the brotherhood.”

Colom and Proto welcome the entire public to the flag raising event on Sunday.

“We do the celebrations because we don’t want you to forget what was done on behalf of the nation and how many people died for the freedoms we have now, become disabled, and are continuing to die. It’s happening now as we speak.”

In addition to the Marine Corps League, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8463 will be present during Sunday’s event to raise the flag. Also at the event will be the Guns n Hoses Pipes N Drums of Southwest Florida, where they will play bagpipes and fire guns during an honorary gun salute for all service personnel that protect our country. This will be accompanied by the Cape Coral Color Guard to perform a marching band ensemble.

Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve is at 2500 S.E .24th St. The park sits on the right side of the Cape Coral exit off Midpoint bridge, toward the end of Southeast 23 Terrace.