IWO TO, Japan (NNS) -- In a limited four-hour tour, Sailors and Marines visited the historic island of Iwo To, Japan, formerly known as Iwo Jima, exploring caves, walking the famous black sand beaches and climbing Mount Suribachi.
On June 14, 63 military personnel from Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, Commander, Naval Forces Japan, and USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) attended the professional military education event to develop leaders through a better understanding of military heritage and history.
After arriving on a Navy C-40 aircraft from Naval Air Facility Atsugi, the members attended a safety brief on the hazards of the island. Intense rain added to the team's experience, increasing the difficulty of the participants travels throughout the island.
In order to picture what took place in the 36-day battle for control of the Island, where 6,821 Americans and 19,900 Japanese troops died, Team 7th Fleet took part in an approximately 9-mile trek from the airfield to Mount Suribachi and back.
"I thought it was important for our service members to actually have the opportunity to visualize what our Sailors and Marines went through, some sacrificed everything so that we can enjoy freedom today," said the event organizer Chief Cryptologic Technician (Technical) Kevin Murphy.
The group passed Rusting B-29 propellers, World War II era artillery batteries, and a former war cemetery while trekking across this island. The 7th Fleet Team members were challenged by consistently strong rain that flooded some paths with knee-deep water.
The highlight of the trip was climbing Mount Suribachi for most of the group. They were able to see where the landing craft first came ashore and stand in the exact spot where the famous "Flag of Our Fathers" image was taken on Feb. 23, 1945
"Just wanting to hike up the mountain, and see what those who have gone before us saw; Some of them gave their lives here, It pushed us to make it up to the top," said Lt. j.g. Bria Jones, assigned to CNFJ. "The weather was crazy all day but it made us appreciate it that much more,"
"As a chief, we're the keepers of our Navy's history and heritage. It's especially important for us to help educate younger Sailors who never knew World War II veterans. This type of trip gives them the chance to see one of the most well-preserved World War II battlefields up close." emphasized Murphy. "It gives them a better understanding of the challenges and sacrifices made defending freedom and democracy in our Navy's darkest hours."
For most people, even in the military, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to go to a place with so much significance to our military history.
For Cryptologic (Collections) Technician 2nd Class Petty Officer Cody Whitehead, assigned to 7th Fleet N2 Directorate, this trip had a special significance. On Feb. 19, 1945, Invasion Day of the Battle of Iwo Jima, Whitehead's grandfather, then Marine Corps Sergeant Charles E. Foster, was wounded as his unit came ashore under heavy machine-gun, and artillery fire.
Whitehead never had the opportunity to talk to his grandfather about the Battle of Iwo Jima, he passed away when Whitehead was fourteen-years-old. "I knew he received a Purple Heart on Iwo Jima and heard about it growing up," said Whitehead.
"For me, I've watched documentaries and movies about Iwo Jima, showing how difficult it was for both sides. To get a chance to come here and walk where someone close to me was wounded, is just very humbling," said Whitehead. "It gave me goosebumps. I really appreciate Chief Murphy and Chief Gorni giving me the opportunity to come here."
"Through all the chaos and death, it baffles me how anyone could have survived at all," expressed Whitehead. "My grandfather never talked about it. I would have liked to have heard some of his stories but it was very difficult for him to speak about his combat experiences. Grandpa was so kind to me and my brother. He was a big influence in my decision to join the military and truly a hero to me."
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