MAYPORT, Fla. (NNS) -- On Feb. 19, 1945, the first American forces landed on the island of Iwo Jima, southeast of mainland Japan.
Bombarded by U.S. air strikes and bombings, the Japanese had taken to an intricate network of caves and tunnels, popping out to ambush U.S. forces as they inched their way across the scarred and battered land.
A little more than 72 years later, former Marine Cpl. Bob Gasche, an Iwo Jima veteran, visited the Navy ship which carries the island's namesake -- amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) homeported at Naval Station Mayport, Florida. Gasche took a few moments during his visit for an all-hands call with the crew on the ship's flight deck.
"It was quite a trip," said Gasche. "We landed on February 19. The wave I went in was under light fire, but that wasn't what got to me and the others -- it was the casualties from the fire we took from Mount Suribachi where they fired down upon us."
It was just the fifth day of battle when Mount Suribachi was captured and the iconic photograph of the flag being raised at the summit was taken.
"On February 23, one of the significant acts of our history was the raising of the first American flag on the top of Mount Suribachi," said Gasche. "What it meant to us was not only the symbolism of our nation's flag flying there, but the fact that they were no longer shooting down on us and causing casualties not by the dozens, folks, but by the hundreds. So we were thankful to see the American flag flying above us -- that's something I'll never forget as long as I live."
For the crew of Iwo Jima, hearing the words of Gasche was an overwhelming experience.
"Immediately after he spoke, the first thing I wanted to do was shake his hand," said Senior Chief Aviation Electronics Technician Mark Petersen. "To listen to someone from that era describe the battle in such detail, and on the ship named after it, was truly a moment I'll never forget."
The Battle of Iwo Jima continued until March 26, 1945, when combat operations officially ended. Once secured, the island served as an emergency landing strip for Air Force bombers in the Pacific Ocean, saving countless lives.
Iwo Jima is currently at her homeport acting as the flagship for Exercise Integrated Advance.
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