Paying tribute — Cape remembers Iwo Jima anniversary
Exactly 75 years to the date that Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured his iconic photo of five United States Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman raising the United States flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima, hundreds gathered at the Veteran Memorial Area at Eco Park to pay tribute to those who fought one of the bloodiest battles in World War II.
Sunday morning, the 75th Iwo Jima Anniversary Ceremony, presented by the PFC Paul E. Ison Detachment #60 Marine Corps League, was held at Cape Coral’s most prolific veteran honor area where three Iwo Jima survivors were in attendance.
The Battle of Iwo Jima spanned from Feb. 19 – March 26, 1945, where the United States Marine Corps and Navy eventually captured the island of Iwo Jima — after thousands of casualties — from the Imperial Japanese Army. The battle is said to have involved some of the most fierce and combative action of the Pacific War of World War II.
“It was a very nice day,” said Maj. Tim Kenny of the PFC Paul E. Ison Detachment, who emceed the event. “To recognize these guys, the living history, it means everything in the world to me.”
As over 100 veterans and residents gathered at the Veterans Memorial Pavilion, the scene was backdropped by just one of three original, one-third-scale models of the Marine Corps War Memorial Iwo Jima statues by sculptor Felix de Weldon. The two others are in Liberty, Virginia, and Parris Island, South Carolina.
“That belongs to the city of Cape Coral,” Kenny said of the Iwo Jima monument. “I always said when they were looking to give it to the Marine Corps League and we talked about it, I said, ‘Let’s give it to the city.’ Because I knew somewhere down the line some general somewhere would say, ‘I need that at my base.’ You can’t take it from my city. It’s going to be here in perpetuity.”
Guns N Hoses Pipes and Drums followed the color guard made up of representatives of VFW Post 8364, Cape Coral Police, Lee County Sheriff’s Department and the Knights of Columbus.
Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello read a proclamation of the remembrance of Iwo Jima in Cape Coral.
Letters of gratitude and remembrance from Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott were also read by Kenny.
Mike Geml, who was instrumental in the DeWeldon statue finding a home in Cape Coral, read a speech depicting the importance of the battle and detailed the journey of 70,000 Marines who advanced upon the small Pacific Island of Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945. More than 6,000 Americans were killed and 25,000 wounded.
“Iwo Jima was a very pivotal battle. It provided a safe haven,” Kenny said. “We were able to stage B29s there, launch from there, provide fighter escorts. We saved some 22,000 air crew coming back. This was a very, very big battle.”
Three Iwo Jima survivors who were present were honored at the ceremony, that included Harold “Pappy” Wagner, Michael Giveau and Edward C. Anderson.
“It’s great to see,” Wagner said of the anniversary remembrance. “I appreciate it.”
Wagner was a private first class and spent 35 days on Iwo Jima. His friend and comrade was killed by mortars in the same bunker.
“War is not pleasant,” he said as he recounted unfortunate happenings on the battlefield 75 years ago.
Wagner is thankful for his days in the Marine Corps and has been a resident in Naples since his time served.
“The brotherhood of the Marines has been great. It’s been great,” he said.
Patriotic songs were sung and the colors were retired and a day of remembrance concluded.
“Beautiful day, wonderful park and facility, it’s great to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Iwo Jima landing,” said Gary Bowler, who, with his wife, Judy, oversee The Veterans Midpoint Memorial Charitable Trust Inc. that is included with all veteran affairs at Eco Park.
Bowler, a Marine veteran himself, said the day is to help tell the story of the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedoms we have today.
“For any Marine, it’s the eagle, globe and anchor — that’s everything,” Bowler said. “We believe that the Marine Corps will last forever. For me to see the Second World War guys — Iwo survivors — honored, that’s the best. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what we do. We take care of our own and we honor them.
“Today, all of these people are present to see it. They’re going to take it with them, they’re going to share that, and hopefully their patriotism will grow. They’ll go home and fly their flag.”
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