Ceremony marks anniversary of Iwo Jima
On Feb. 23, 1945, five United States Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman raised the American flag atop Mount Suribachi during the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.
That moment, preserved in a photograph by Joe Rosenthal, has become one of the iconic moments in American history, signifying American might and what turned out to be the beginning of the end of World War II.
On Sunday, at the pavilion at ECO Park in Cape Coral, near the monument that captures that moment in time, the PFC Paul E. Ison Detachment No. 60 Marine Corps League presented its 23rd annual ceremony for the 74th anniversary of that day, with four survivors of that battle in attendance.
Anita Carroll, junior vice commandant at the detachment, said the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima is the most recognizable picture from the war and has iconicized the Marine Corps.
“It’s what made the Marine Corps what it is and what it will be for 500 years – uncommon valor was a virtue,” Carroll said. “Our statue is one of only three by Felix de Weldon and we were an important factor in its refurbishment.”
The four Iwo Jima survivors, Gerard Pigeon, Wister Baisch, Harold Crispi and Edward Anderson, were celebrated and had a front row seat, telling each other stories of their time in the war.
The importance of what they did was never lost on them.
“It’s important that people learn about it so they don’t forget. We did a lot out there.” Pigeon said. “After the war we decided to test atomic bombs. I would rather have gotten shot on Iwo Jima then being faced with atomic bomb exposure.”
The event featured The Lee County Sheriff’s Office and VFW Post 8364 Color Guards, the Knights of Columbus Assembly 2115 Color Corps and the Guns & Hoses Pipes & Drums.
Speakers included Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello and guest speaker George Colom, life member and past commandant of the Ison Detachment.
“The monument is a solemn reminder of commitment and sacrifice. It serves the community as a gathering place to reflect and give thanks to those who have made our nation strong,” Coviello said. “Never forget their legacy and what they mean to this country.”
Colom talked about the impact of the flag-raising, the battle and what happened to the six soldiers who raised the flag on that day.
“It’s a representation of a moment in time and became a world-recognized image. The monument means the emotional impact, the courage, the sacrifice is what the monument means to me,” Colom said.
That picture was later used by sculptor de Weldon to sculpt the USMC War Memorial adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., at the front gates of the U.S. Marine Camp on Parris Island, and one here in Cape Coral.
The Cape Coral monument was built in 1965 to sit in the Rose Garden. The garden closed in 1970 and the monument fell to disrepair and vandalism.
Mike Geml, who served as the master of ceremonies for the event (the first time a civilian has emceed), found the statue crumbled beyond recognition and located de Weldon, who in 1979 agreed to restore the statue, which was moved outside the Cape Coral North First Bank.
“I was asked why I was doing this, and I answered because it was worth it and it was reflective of a time when we can all look back as a better time,” Geml said in his speech. “More importantly, I wanted to have a location in the city of Cape Coral where every time there was an event honoring the military, they would have a worthy place of conducting it. Today is that day.”
The statue was eventually moved to ECO Park and has undergone several more facelifts, the most recent in 2011. The Marine Corps League has held an annual ceremony for Iwo Jima since 1997.
For that first ceremony, nearly 50 Iwo Jima survivors attended. On Sunday, it was down to four as many of them have passed away or become too ill or frail to attend.
Which makes a ceremony like this all the more important, especially as the 75th anniversary is next year.
“The ceremony was awesome and the makings of all that statue represents to our country and to the city as it’s one of only three. To see all these fine folks from Cape Coral come out and participate is great for us,” Coviello said.