26 survivors of grisly WWII battle remember iconic flag-raising moment on Feb. 23, 1945
Marine Sgt. Major Michael "Iron Mike" Mervosh who served in WWII, Korea
and Vietnam spoke with passion about his time as a Marine and his
support for building the Iwo Jima Memorial at Camp Pendleton.
— John Gastald
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.
— Seventy years ago Monday, five Marines and one Navy corpsman raised a
U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima during the waning days of
World War II.
For the 23
Marines and 3 Navy corpsmen honored at a 70th anniversary luncheon in
Newport Beach on Monday, the famous flag-raising became a rallying cry
for a grisly battle with the Japanese that would drag on for another 32
days and leave more than 26,000 Americans dead or wounded.
Sgt. Major Mike Mervosh of Oceanside didn’t see the flag go up that
morning — “I was too busy saving my butt and killing the enemy” — but
the 91-year-old Iwo Jima survivor appreciates how the iconic image has
come to represent the bravery of the men he fought beside during
February and March 1945.
was the most demanding, toughest, fiercest and bloodiest battle in the
history of the Marine Corps,” Mervosh said. “It was the perfect battle
on the perfect battlefield … fighting man against fighting man, kill or
More than 450 people attended Monday’s luncheon, the inaugural fundraiser for Operation Home of the Brave.
The new nonprofit hopes to raise $3 million to buy and install a
full-size flag-raising monument at Camp Pendleton in 2016. Many of the
Marines who fought in Iwo Jima were trained at Camp Pendleton, but the
Oceanside Marine Corps base has only a small memorial of the battle near
its South Mesa Club.
Dietz, who founded the nonprofit and is leading fundraising drive, said
she’d like to see the monument and adjacent memorial garden built in a
prominent location near the new Navy Hospital Camp Pendleton along
image speaks to Americans in a way like no other,” said Dietz, a Corona
Del Mar resident. “It’s about empowerment, courage, dedication,
commitment and all the good things America stands for.”
Jima is a barren volcanic island 660 miles south of Tokyo that U.S.
forces hoped to use as staging ground for a full-scale invasion of
Japan. But the island was heavily fortified by Japanese troops, who were
deeply nested in foxholes, underground tunnels and caves, and refused
to surrender (nearly all of the island’s estimated 22,000 Japanese
soldiers were killed).
resident Jim Scotella, a radio man in the Fifth Marine Division, landed
in the first 35 minutes of the Iwo Jima invasion. He said he wasn’t
afraid until he saw his first dead body, a fellow Marine on a hilltop
just 150 yards from shore.
Four days later — at 10 a.m. Feb. 23 — he was elated to see the flag going up on Mount Suribachi.
was whooping and hollering. We had no idea it was going to be such an
important thing until we got back home again,” Scotella said.
Among the hundreds of people gathered at
the luncheon Monday were several dozen active-duty Marines from Camp
Pendleton. Sgt. Timothy Harshfield, 28, said he has great respect for
the veterans of Iwo Jima because of their bravery and sacrifice. When
local Marine recruits are finishing boot camp, they must complete a
72-hour exercise known as The Crucible. Several of the stations of this
exercise are named for Marines who earned the Medal of Honor at Iwo