Inside the Capitol

Thursday, April 05, 2007

You Can't Set Foot on Iwo Jima

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Clint Eastwood's two award-winning movies depicting the Battle of Iwo Jima, one from the American and one from the Japanese side, has increased American interest in visiting the island.
But all Americans can do is cruise around the island and look at it. In 1968, we gave Iwo Jima back to Japan, which established a military base that denies visitors. Only in very special circumstances, such as reunions of those who fought there and serious film projects, are visitors allowed.
Two years ago, my wife and I visited World War II battlefields in the Pacific on the Princess Cruise Line. The circumnavigation of Iwo Jima was the highlight of the four-week cruise even though we couldn't set foot on the island.
That 60th anniversary cruise was so popular that Princess has continued it the past two years and other cruise lines have added it to their itineraries.
On our recent trip to the Caribbean, Silversea Cruise Line announced it has added Iwo Jima, along with some other Pacific battlefields to its itinerary for next year.
It was a popular addition. One of our traveling companions said he couldn't wait to set foot on the island. When I informed him that wouldn't be possible, his extremely even temper gave way to some very stern comments about his disappointment.
He suggested that Japanese tourists not be allowed to visit the Battleship Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, which is a very popular site for Japanese visitors to Hawaii.
My friend's outrage is indicative of the strong feelings many Americans still have about Iwo Jima. It is a desolate, isolated island but it has a very tender place in many hearts.
Many battles of World War II claim the title of the greatest, but Iwo Jima must be the winner. More medals for valor were awarded than in any other battle. Of the 84 medals of honor Marines were awarded in four years of war, 27 of them were in that one-month battle.
Iwo Jima was one of the most intense and closely-fought battles of any war. The victors suffered more casualties than the vanquished for the first and only time in the war. The Japanese did suffer more fatalities than we did, partly because of our superior medical treatment, but mostly because the Japanese bushido code required warriors to fight to the death.
Controversy surrounded the battle for Iwo Jima. The Navy wasn't enthusiastic about it, but the Army Air Corps wanted it for disabled B-29s on their return from bombing Japan.
Everyone knew it would be a major battle, but no one guessed how major. We estimated Japan had 12,000 defenders. It turned out to be more than twice that.
And they were all underground in a sophisticated system of caves, tunnels and dugouts. Most of our troops never saw a live Japanese soldier. They lived in blockhouses and pillboxes from which they could fire on any advancing troops.
Our Navajo code talkers played a major role in taking the island. Three of them were killed in the action. This also is the battle in which the Pima Indian, Ira Hayes, from Arizona, gained fame as the only person to be a part of both flag raisings on Iwo Jima.
In fairness, it might also be said that Midway Island, the site of another major battle, also is very difficult to visit. It is controlled by the U.S. military because of its strategic location midway across the North Pacific. It is the only island in the 1200-mile Hawaiian archipelago that isn't part of the state of Hawaii.
For the Navy and the Army Air Force, Midway was the turning point of the war. Three aircraft carriers and a heavy cruiser were destroyed and more than 100 of Japan's top fighter pilots.
In the 1993 round of base closings, Midway's population was reduced from 4,000 to 40.
MON, 4-09-07

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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