As the sound of artillery filled the air, about 200 performers carrying M1 carbines climbed a muddy hill on a central Texas ranch marking the nation’s largest 60th-anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Iwo Jima.
The historic scene recreated Saturday on some 30 acres represented the rugged speck of Japanese land in the Pacific Ocean where about 28,000 died during a grueling month of fighting in early 1945 — a battle immortalized in an Associated Press photo of a group of U.S. fighting men raising the American flag over Mount Suribachi.
“I’m seeing a lot of visions,” said 81-year-old Hershel Williams, who earned a Medal of Honor in the battle. He was a 21-year-old corporal at the time.
Members of the War Dog Training Patrol of Lackland Air Force Base portrayed Marines in Saturday’s flag raising ceremony at the National Museum of the Pacific War in nearby Fredericksburg. The re-enactment was put together by staffers at the museum, which has held a series of 60th-anniversary commemorations beginning with that of Pearl Harbor in 2001.
Bloodiest-ever battle for Marines
Almost 7,000 Americans were killed and about twice that many were wounded in the 36-day assault that began Feb. 19, 1945. The battle on the eight-square-mile volcanic island was the bloodiest ever for the Marine Corps. Fewer than 1,000 of the island’s Japanese 22,000 defenders survived. The Americans wanted Iwo Jima’s airstrips for use in conducting long-range bombing raids against Tokyo.
Spectators on Saturday got a taste of what both sides in the battle had to endure. It took re-enactors about an hour to scale the steep hill. The mock battle involved people portraying Japanese troops defending the site. Half of the defenders were veteran re-enactors from Japan who traveled to Texas for the event.
Many of the former Marines at Saturday’s event, however, said they came to see old friends, not to relive the fighting.
“I don’t watch war movies,” said Williams, of Ona, W.Va. “It gets to me, and I just can’t do that. I don’t sleep for a few nights afterwards.”
Doss is 100 miles west of Austin.