Joined by aging heroes of Iwo Jima, President Clinton honored soldiers bloodied and killed 50 years ago in the savage World War II battle. “The dimensions of their struggle still stagger us,” he said Sunday.
The president, in keynote remarks commemorating the 50th anniversary of the pivotal battle, paid tribute to four Iwo Jima survivors by name and urged Americans to honor the memories of all soldiers who had fought for the tiny Pacific island.
“To be worthy of that sacrifice, we must determine in this time to remain the strongest nation in the world so that our freedom is never again threatened,” Clinton told a crowd of about 3,000.
With the monuments of Washington visible through a misty haze over the Potomac River, the president said, “And we must work to create a nation worthy of the generation that saved it for our freedom.”
He spoke beneath a 78-foot bronze statue depicting the famous wartime photograph of U.S. soldiers hoisting a flag atop Mount Suribachi. “Hard men wept when they saw the flag fly,” Clinton said.
The Battle of Iwo Jima, one of the nation’s bloodiest, gave the United States an air base for long-range bombing missions against mainland Japan.
In 36 days, U.S. casualties numbered 26,000, including 6,821 dead. For the Japanese, the toll was even more gruesome. Of the island’s 20,000 defenders, only 1,083 survived. Thousands of the dead still are missing, their bones hidden in the volcanic island’s intricate web of tunnels.
Introducing the president, Medal of Honor winner Col. William E. Barber shared his memories of “that eightmile chunk of rock and volcanic ash.” In a halting voice, he told dozens of fellow veterans in the crowd: “I am older now, as are you, but I can still see the colors of that February morning. The sky. The island. And sometimes I think I can still hear the noise of battle.”