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WWII vets headed back to Iwo Jima

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Iwo Jima Anniversary
Retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Larry Snowden presents Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, with a war document he carried home from the Battle of Iwo Jima at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, Triangle, Va., Feb. 19. The men spoke at a 65th anniversary commemoration of the battle.

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. – Medal of Honor recipient Herschel “Woody” Williams will be among the 15 World War II veterans headed back to Iwo Jima next month, and he has the Young Marines to thank for it.

The veterans will be among those making the Iwo Jima Association of America’s “Reunion of Honor” trip next month. The weeklong trip, which will also include a stop in Guam, will take the aging warriors and several of their family members back to the site of some of the fiercest combat of the entire Pacific Theater.

“This is probably the last time some of those guys will be able to go,” said Mike Kessler, the retired Marine lieutenant colonel who serves as the National Executive Director for the Young Marines. “We’re going to make sure they get the chance.”

Now 91 years old, Williams was among the 22 Marines and 27 service members overall to have received the nation’s military honor from the bitter fighting at Iwo Jima that resulted in more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 fatalities, in 1945. The return trip to the rocky island just south of the Japanese mainland will be Williams’ first in the 70 years since the pivotal two-month battle that will forever rank high in Marine lore.

But it almost didn’t happen.

It’s not cheap getting all the way across the globe, especially to an area as remote as Iwo Jima, and Williams and several other veterans needed some financial assistance in making their dream a reality. Leaders of the Young Marines, the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit youth organization that promotes character building, leadership and healthy lifestyles to youths, and others wasted no time in offering a helping a hand when they heard of their hero’s predicament.

“This guy is a legend, a Medal of Honor recipient,” Kessler explained.

Williams, who was unavailable for comment, was a corporal when he single-handedly braved withering enemy fire to silence a number of Japanese bunkers with his flamethrower. He retired from the Marine Corps Reserve in 1969 as a chief warrant officer 4 and is the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from Iwo Jima.

The Young Marines say they take pride in ensuring the legacy of America’s veterans, especially those from the so-called “Greatest Generation” of World War II that preserved world freedom by defeating the Axis powers of Germany, Japan and Italy. Several selected Young Marines will make the “Reunion of Honor” trip with the WWII veterans, Kessler said.

United Airlines has graciously provided vouchers that will arrange for the veterans’ travel from their hometowns to Guam and back to their hometowns, Kessler said. Even with that help, the cost to travel to Iwo Jima was still nearly $4,000 each.

The Iwo Jima veterans are scheduled to gather in Washington, D.C., for a 70th Reunion and Symposium from Feb. 18-22, with plans to visit the National Museum of the Marine Corps on Feb. 20.

The IJAA has set up a scholarship fund to help defray the cost of an Iwo Jima Veterans trip. For information about making a tax-deductible donation, call 703-212-8128 or e-mail Director@IwoJimaAssociation.org.
Writer: By John Hollis, jhollis@quanticosentryonline.com

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