Speaker Focuses on Iwo Jima
Shaped like a pork chop and known as "sulfur island," Iwo Jima is a small volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean.
Joe Riley, a World War II Marine veteran, drew a vivid picture of more than the geographical specifics of Iwo Jima in a Saturday address at the Moore County Veterans Memorial. The man who led a platoon in the American invasion of the island took members of the audience into the volcanic ash and tunnels during a battle that marked a turning point in the war.
"Believe me, it was a merciless bombardment," Rliey said. "It was pure hell."
Hundreds gathered at the Veterans Memorial in the Carriage Oaks Complex in Carthage for the ceremony, staged annually by the Moore County Veterans Memorial Committee.
Riley, the keynote speaker, described his arrival on Iwo Jima during the early morning hours on Feb. 19, 1945. He was a platoon leader assigned to L Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, 4th Marine Division. His service during the battles earned him both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for Valor.
But Riley described the agony of battle as thousands of Japanese fighters emerged from pillboxes, bunkers, caves and tunnels to fire on American forces as they landed on the beaches of black volcanic ash. The Marines had been advised that Japanese soldiers on the island numbered 13,000, but the actual number was closer to 26,000.
"The Japanese had constructed a complicated network of tunnels from one end of the island to the other, and there were miles of railroad track in this mountain," Riley said. "They rolled out the artillery and fired on our troops on the beaches."
Riley said the Japanese general had ordered his men to kill 10 Marines for every Japanese soldier killed. Nor were the Japanese to cry their traditional "Banzai" greeting, which translates into a wish to live 10,000 years.
"He ordered them never to surrender and to fight to the end," he said.
Only 1,200 of the Japanese survived. By the end of the first week, the Marines had suffered 13,000 casualties.
Riley recalled the raising of the American flag atop Mount Suribachi, an act immortalized in the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph by Joe Rosenthal. That was on the fifth day of the invasion.
"Little did we know that we had 30 days to go," he said.
In addition to stumbling over black rocks on unfamiliar terrain, the Marines found themselves sinking knee-deep in volcanic ash, mired so deep that no vehicles could be operated.
George Hunt, Moore County veterans service officer, announced that the U.S. flag would fly at full staff throughout the program but would be lowered at the conclusion as a gesture of respect for victims of the shooting tragedy at Fort Hood, Texas. A moment of silence was observed for remembrance of those victims.
Among the special guests were two other World War II veterans introduced by Hunt as special friends. They are John Mims, a survivor of the Bataan Death March, and Ed Black, who was among the American forces that landed in Normandy. All WWII veterans were asked to stand and received an ovation from the crowd.
Raymond Doby, chairman of the Veterans Memorial Committee, welcomed everyone, then turned the program over to Hunt as master of ceremonies. The Union Pines Junior ROTC presented the colors. Sisters Ebony and Kyrin Walker-Johnson, students at Union Pines, sang the National Anthem without accompaniment.
Members of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 966 laid a wreath at the monument. Personnel from Fry-Prickett Funeral Home released 21 doves as a symbol of peace, replacing the 21-gun salute. Members of Brownie Scout Troop 584 distributed poppies to the audience.
John Harding, a friend and fellow member of the Marine Corps League, introduced the speaker. Both Harding and Riley wore their distinctive red jackets as league members. Riley, a retired FBI agent, lived in Seven Lakes until 2005, when he moved to Pinehurst.
The playing of Taps by two members of the Union Pines band closed the ceremony. The buglers, Cierra Bunell and Matthew Rock, were stationed at separate points in order to create the melancholy echo required for Taps.
The Saturday ceremony also marked the addition of 104 names, including two killed in action, to the memorial, located at the intersection of U.S. 15-501 and N.C. 24-27. This addition brings the total to 7,408 names.
Names of those killed in action are engraved on two 3,000-pound black granite slabs flanking the monument inscribed with the five military branches, Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, and topped with an American Eagle. The flags of the United States and North Carolina fly above the monument along with the official POW/MIA flag.
The names of other veterans, both living and deceased, are inscribed on 21 light gray granite slabs that fan out from the centerpiece.
Committee members Ruby Hendrick, who is treasurer, and Joanne Atkins report that about 2,500 Moore County veterans are eligible for inclusion but their names have not been submitted. Interested persons may call the county veterans' office at (910) 947-3257 for more information.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at (910) 693-2479 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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