CAMP SCHWAB, Okinawa, Japan – At 2 a.m., Feb. 19, 1945, U.S. Naval battleships opened fire on Japanese positions throughout the island Iwo Jima, triggering the Marine Corps most legendary battle in the Pacific. Over the next four days, nearly 6,800 U.S. Marines and 18,500 Japanese made the ultimate sacrifice there, transforming the small Pacific Island to one of the Corps’ most sacred landmarks.
Newly promoted Sgt. Cody R. Gannon, a mortarman with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, Company B, never imagined that the legendary island would be the site of his meritorious promotion to sergeant. Gannon, a native of Muskegon, Michigan, was visiting the island with a group of 67 Marines in his company, Feb. 2, while forward deployed in the Pacific from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Although he was taken by surprise, he’s no stranger to excellence. When it was time for his platoon to graduate basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., in 2013, he was awarded a meritorious promotion to private first class. From then to the time he pinned on lance corporal, it was obvious to his peers and leadership that he was a faithful and dedicated Marine.
“If you would have met him as a lance corporal, you would have probably thought he was a sergeant because of the way he conducted himself,” said Lance Cpl. Johnathan A. Davis, a mortarman with 1/2, Company B, from Wilson, West Virginia.
“He always tries to better us,” he continued. “As a corporal, when he started speaking, you better pull out a notepad because you’re about to learn something that you didn’t know, and it’s probably important.”
From his military appearance – he stands at 5’9”, compressed into a muscular, 195-pound frame — to his command presence, Gannon has advanced through the ranks at a substantially faster rate than his peers, according to Sgt. Craig A. How, the 1/2 weapons platoon mortar section leader, from Palm Bay, Florida.
The infantry is a competitive occupational field where many competent Marines leave active duty after only achieving the rank of lance corporal. Gannon, on the other hand, has earned sergeant in three years, with one year left on his initial contract.
“A lot of Marines get to the fleet and are just trying to retain all of the knowledge,” said How. “Once he started realizing he had a lot more to bring to the table than his peers, he started using that leadership ability more and more.”
After Gannon entered 2nd Marine Division’s meritorious sergeant board, he learned that he won both company and battalion boards. However, no one told him that he had also won the Division board.
“One of our staff sergeants told me Gannon was going to be promoted,” said How. “I wanted to tell him, and it was hard not to spill the beans.”
When the Marines with 1/2 departed for Iwo Jima, Gannon still hadn’t caught on. As they hiked to the top of Mount Surabachi, everything seemed routine, Gannon said. A handful of Marines held their reenlistment ceremonies atop the sacred ground and spent time in personal reflection. Suddenly, their reverie was interrupted when at-the-time Cpl. Gannon was called to the front.
Gannon was taken aback at the magnitude of what was happening. He said that the promotion was one of the most meaningful experiences of his Marine Corps career, and only would have been better if his wife Stephanie A. Gannon were there.
Nevertheless, he curbed his enthusiasm momentarily when he realized someone was missing.
“The Marine I wanted to promote me wasn’t at the summit with us,” said Gannon. “So we hiked down to Invasion Beach to hold the ceremony.”
Gannon said he is glad his promotion was held on the beach instead of the summit. Invasion Beach, known for its historic landing of U.S. Marines during the Battle of Iwo Jima, is covered in coarse, pebble-like volcanic black sand that would have swallowed the boots of the Marines taking the beachhead that fateful day in 1945. When he imagines the bravery of the Marines who charged into a hail of gunfire and chaos, struggling to advance yards at a time through crimson sand, he is humbled.
“Being promoted there was life changing,” he said. “It really opened my eyes up to the war, and it’s something I’m going to be able to tell my kids.”
Although Gannon achieved the rank of sergeant, he remains grounded in the sense that his Marines are — and always will be — his main priority. He explained that personal advancement never has been his immediate goal, and that he did nothing special to prepare for the meritorious board.
“I care more about how my subordinates see me,” he confided. “I want them to think that I’m approachable, and know that they can rely on me.”
Gannon said his experience on Iwo Jima was unforgettable – one he will pass on to his grandchildren one day. Like all Marines, Iwo Jima has a special place in Gannon’s heart, but now Gannon has a special place on Iwo Jima: the historic beach where Marines bled and died and where a legacy of faithful service continues today.
Story by Cpl. Natalie Dillon