More than 850,000 eager spectators came to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Air Show, themed “uncommon valor,” to honor the 65th anniversary of the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi.
The 2010 theme was to remind air show participants of the sacrifices made by Marines and sailors in the Pacific campaign of World War II. The Iwo Jima veterans also enjoyed VIP treatment.
“The Marine Corps has treated us superbly,” said Gail Chatfield, Iwo Jima Reunion Committee ticket chairperson and author of “By Dammit, We’re Marines!”
Col. Frank A. Richie, MCAS Miramar commanding officer, contacted the committee to invite the veterans.
The VIP service allowed many Iwo Jima veterans to enjoy the air show who otherwise would not have attended.
Col. Richie arranged a shuttle service from the parking lot to a VIP chalet centered on the flight line. The veterans and their families enjoyed catered drinks, snacks, meals, and desserts as well as a front row seat for the air show.
“That’s really what I came down here for, to see the flying,” said Art Strobel, an Iwo Jima veteran.
“I think it’s great, and it’s great to see all these young people out here,” added Strobel.
“I’ve been here several times. It’s great that we’re getting this today. It’s wonderful,” said Nelson S. Gerhart, an Iwo Jima Silver Star recipient.
Gerhart served with the 5th Marine Division, which raised the flag on Mount Suribachi, and hit the beach on Iwo Jima in the same landing craft as Sgt. John Basilone, a Medal of Honor and Navy Cross recipient.
“It was time to be afraid,” Gerhart said of hitting the beach.
Gerhart shared why he was awarded the Silver Star.
“I guess I was foolish, or just excited,” said Gerhart. The young Marine led a tank on foot within 70 feet of a fortified Japanese position. The tank was able to destroy the position because of Gerhart’s valor.
“I don’t want to do it again, but I don’t regret doing all that I could at the time,” said Gerhart of his time on the small Pacific island.
Today, Gerhart uses a cane, but he still stands tall when the national anthem is played at the opening ceremony.
Though not as sharp and crisp as they were when they were younger Marines, the veterans stood at attention for the playing of Anchors Aweigh and the Marine’s Hymn, and held salutes for The Star-Spangled Banner.
Station Marines listened attentively to the Iwo Jima veteran’s stories of shell shock, triumph, and happy returns to their homes.
Gerhart’s eyes glistened as he retold his experiences on “that little rock.”
For those who took the time to listen, it’s difficult to imagine how any honor can ever repay these veterans for the sacrifices they made on Iwo Jima.
The air show served as a visual reminder for more than 850,000 people of what Marines and sailors have done in the past, and what they continue to do today.