News: Vets, Miramar remember Iwo Jima
Story by Lance Cpl. Lisa Tourtelot
Twenty-one Iwo Jima veterans celebrated their annual reunion aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Feb. 18 to honor the day the Battle of Iwo Jima began on Feb. 19, 1945.
The octogenarians and their families traveled from places as far as Maine, Wisconsin and Hawaii to meet with their battle brethren and socialize with today’s Marines.
Participants explored the history of Marine Corps aviation at The Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum, enjoyed a chow hall lunch and then took the pilot’s seat aboard some of the modern aircraft flown at MCAS Miramar today.
“They were infantry guys,” said Daniel Zepeda Jr., the public relations specialist for the Iwo Jima Commemorative Committee. “They like seeing something different. They appreciate what the Marines are doing now.”
The event was the first time many of the veterans had been aboard Marine Corps aircraft.
Pilots and crew from various squadrons showed the veterans their aircraft, including the newest addition to the Miramar flight line - an MV-22 “Osprey” from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161.
The reunion was an opportunity for active-duty Marines to meet with the veterans while they explored the aircraft.
“I like being able to watch documentaries,” said Sgt. Matthew Basso, an ordnance technician with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165. “Nothing beats being able to sit down and talk like this.”
The active-duty Marines and younger veterans who joined the tour shared a mutual awe for the heroes of Iwo Jima.
“You have only heard about what these guys did,” said Jim Stewart, a former Marine who participated in the reunion. “To actually sit down and talk with them is amazing. It makes you appreciate where you came from.”
Veterans like Robert Bergen shared stories with each other and young Marines. Bergen spoke quietly over lunch with several active-duty Marines of the smoke and booming noise all around before he exited the landing craft on Iwo Jima as a Corpsman with the 5th Marine Division. He was among the first to land on the island.
Long trips get more difficult as the veterans age and fewer attend each year, explained Zepeda. The drive to make the journey remains strong, however.
“They come to honor each other,” said Zepeda.
As The Greatest Generation shrinks, the reunions will get smaller but the memories will live on.