By Paul Bedard, Washington Whisper
On the stage at the National Museum of the Marine Corps across from the Quantico Marine base, retired Lt. Gen. Larry Snowden, the senior ranking Iwo Jima veteran still alive, turned over his 1945 orders for the invasion. Snowden told a crowd of about 600 in the main museum hall that he stashed the papers in a seabag back when he was a captain and company commander in the 4th Marine Division at Iwo Jima. He never really looked in the bag, forgotten after the battle and the atomic bombings of Japan, for which Iwo Jima opened the door, until he finally retired more than a dozen years ago.
After rediscovering them, Snowden said, he spend years poring over the tattered and yellowed battle orders, many pages with his notes still visible. "This is a precious document to me," he said. "But the time has come to give it up."
After he said that, he asked that the current Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Conway, come up the podium set before a Marine helicopter landing display and take them for safekeeping. Both he and Conway joked that the documents were still considered "Top Secret." The commandant offered a promise: "We'll get that order declassified so neither of us goes to jail."
Conway gave what former Virginia Sen. John Warner called a stirring speech that included what Conway said were the three lessons that Iwo Jima has instilled in the current corps: Courage, sacrifice, and determination. That battle, he said, drawing smiles from the mostly 80-to-90-year-old vets, "is the gold standard." He added: "I want to thank you for setting the bar so high."
James Jones, a former Marine commandant who is now the White House national security adviser, brought the wishes of President Obama, who was in Las Vegas. "Your legacy still burns bright for all to see," said Jones.
The anniversary ceremony lasted just one hour. But for the few remaining veterans who trekked to the event, it brought back a life of good memories. Most talked about how Japan and the United States have become allies since World War II. "We are now allies and we work together," said George Alden of Fort Worth, who was a sergeant in the first wave of attackers.
Others talked about how their cadre is growing smaller by the day as veterans die. There are no Japanese Iwo Jima veterans alive.
Paul Bedard's father was a seaman in the Navy and aboard the USS Mertz, DD-691, which played a role in the Feb. 19, 1945, landing on Iwo Jima. Albert Joseph Bedard was 18 and right out of high school.
(Photo by Johnny Bivera)