Ms Dietz and her organization hosted the event at the Marriott to kick off their efforts to raise an estimated $3 million to purchase the monument, transport it across the country, and build a permanent home for it at Camp Pendleton. Following the opening benediction and Pledge of Allegiance, a succession of speakers praised the Iwo Jima veterans and inspired the audience to help the cause.
Although many veterans of horrible battles lose their voices when they return, one Iwo Jima veteran seems to have found his. He regaled the audience with vivid images of the fighting he witnessed while tending to the wounded on board. Although just 19 years old at the time with no medical training, he successfully operated on a seriously wounded young Marine. After reconnecting at a reunion, he recounted that this Marine referred to him as “doctor”. The Iwo Jima veteran never corrected him. He didn't want the man to know that a 19-year old kid operated on him.
The wounds of war run deep, just how deep was evident when some Iwo Jima veterans had to leave the room while war stories were told. Thankfully, the speakers, though interesting, didn't have the skill with words scare others in the audience. However, for the Iwo Jima veterans, their words were keys unlocking memories hidden away these seven decades. They conjured ghosts that deserve to rest in peace.
Following the closing benediction, again delivered by a Marine chaplain, the audience was ready to disperse. Two and a half hours of speeches and stories is a chore to endure especially for those whose aged joints must be reminded regularly of their proper function. However, there was one ancient Marine who must have felt that something was forgotten. He began singing the Marine Hymn.
The Marine's voice was frail. It no longer bellowed parade ground orders or battleground cries. Few heard him. I did. As I looked, his family hushed him, but he persisted for another verse. It occurred to me that one strong voice joining him would most likely prompt the entire audience to join in. I was tempted. However, I feared that my voice would not evoke the desired response. I've been told that I sing like a wounded turkey caught in a barbed wire fence. So, I allowed the moment to pass. The Marine was silenced and we exited the banquet room.
Therein lies my insomnia. Like all others, I am neither a hero nor a coward. When put to the test, I sometimes rise and sometimes fall. In that moment I fell. I allowed my fear to dictate my action. It may seem to be a small matter now, to you. But, in that room full of heroes, I succumbed to fear.
Thank God they didn't succumb to their fear when the landing crafts beached and the ramps splashed in the surf. Thank God their will prevailed as they rushed onto the beaches on the day following my second birthday. Thank God they fought and lived and died so that I could reach my seventy-second birthday on this day and shake their hands, each and every one I could reach. I thanked them for you as well as me.
Now let's get them their memorial. Visit the Operation Home of the Brave and Iwo Jima Monument West website http://www.marinesoniwojima.com/index.html and donate now.