USS MAKIN ISLAND, Pacific Ocean -- Marines and sailors with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Amphibious Squadron 5 were afforded a rare opportunity to visit Iwo To (formally known as Iwo Jima) while transiting through the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility Aug. 16, 2014.
Through the natural course of transit while deployed during WESTPAC 14-2, the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group sailed close enough to the remote island to make the visit possible.
“We’re extremely grateful to the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force for the opportunity to visit this hallowed ground where warriors from both nations fought with honor, discipline, and devotion,” said Sgt. Maj. Troy Black, sergeant major of the 11th MEU.
For Lt. Cmdr. Bradley Hayes Abramowitz, Amphibious Squadron Five Cryptologic Resource Coordinator, and one of six members of the group whose relatives fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima, the visit was especially meaningful.
“This place holds a double meaning for me,” said Abramowitz. “First, as a military historian, it represents one of the sacred locations very few have the prospect to visit. More personally, it is an opportunity to visit a location where my great-uncle, William Hayes, fought as a member of the 5th Marine Division and attempt to vicariously re-live an event that would impact him, and our family, for the rest of his life.”
With the majority of the 11th MEU’s Marines based out of Camp Pendleton, California, the chance to visit the iconic Pacific island steeped in Marine Corps lore was an opportunity of a lifetime.
“You could see how much everyone wanted to be there,” said Lance Cpl. Laura Raga, a production specialist with the 11th MEU. “Everyone wanted to climb the mountain.”
While on the island, Marines and sailors visited numerous memorials emplaced throughout the battlefield. Their route included Mt. Surubachi and the island’s famous black sand beaches.
During the 36 days of combat on Iwo To, 27 Medals of Honor were awarded for actions of the men who fought there. Admiral Nimitz further immortalized the battle with his famous summation: “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
The 11th MEU deployed from San Diego on July 25 and is currently deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations as a sea-based, expeditionary crisis response force capable of conducting amphibious missions across the full range of military operations.
The MEU's major subordinate elements are Battalion Landing Team 2/1, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (Reinforced), and Combat Logistics Battalion 11.