Monday, October 23, 2006

Walking The Sands At Iwo Jima – Randy Anderson Shares His Thoughts

My friend, Randy Anderson, served as a naval officer. I first met him when he was studying at Harvard Business School, where he was Co-President of the Armed Forces Alumni Association. Reading last week’s posting in The White Rhino Report about “Flags of Our Fathers,” prompted Randy to e-mail and share with me his personal connection with the sands of Iwo Jima. With Randy’s permission, I share those thoughts.

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You don't know this, but I am one of the few people still alive that has had the chance to actually tread through the sands of Iwo Jima. As I read this book, my memories transport me to the very locations vividly described in Bradley's prose. I am attaching a copy of an e-mail I recently wrote to a friend (currently serving in Iraq) when he recommended the book to me; I think that you'll find it interesting.


Did I ever tell you that I've been to Iwo Jima? I went on a det there just before I left my first squadron tour in Japan (Feb 1995 - almost 50 years to the day of the invasion). Our airwing went there to do a week of FLCPs (field carrier landing practice, aka "bouncing") to avoid the excessive noise of day and night flying at low altitude over the heads of the natives who lived around NAF Atsugi (about 20 miles SW of Tokyo). I think that they (my old airwing, CAG 5) may go there all the time now. The US Coast Guard had administered the island up until the early '90s (there was an old LORAN station there). They turned it over to the Japanese Self Defense Forces just about a year before I got there. Anyway, when we weren't flying, we were exploring the island and crawling around in the few remaining tunnels. Eerie place. Of course, now it is covered with lush vegetation in most places except the beaches, Mt. Surabachi, and a few areas of raw volcanic rock. At the time of the battle, there wasn't a blade of grass untouched after the air and sea bombardments before the land campaign. Iwo Jima means "sulfur island" and there is a smell of rotten eggs in many parts of the island where sulfur gas vents from the ground.

There's much to tell about the few days I spent there, but I'll tell you about one thing that stands out most in my mind (besides going to the top of Mt.Surabachi where the flag was raised). While walking on the beach (the one the Marines hit), I noticed a little green plastic toy soldier half buried in the volcanic sand. It must have washed up ashore with the usual debris one finds on just about any ocean beach these days (bits of commercial fishing gear, plastic bottles, wood scraps, etc.). This particular piece of beach debris was missing its head. I picked it up, looked at it, said "Huh!" to myself and tossed it aside. After taking a few more laborious steps through the deep sand (it was the toughest sand to walk on that I ever experienced - it was black too), I stopped and thought about the significance of finding a toy soldier missing its head on the very beach where so many Marines died 50 years prior. I turned around, picked it up, and brought it back with me. I sent it to a buddy, a Marine, who was then serving at Camp Pendleton.

I wrote him the story of how I found the toy soldier and asked him to burry it on the base. He was about to PCS to HQ USMC in DC. He forgot to bury the toy soldier at Camp P, but did one better; he buried it at the Iwo Jima memorial in Alexandria, VA! I remember having an odd feeling when finding that toy on the beach, the symbology of it. What are the odds of finding something like that? Something that was thrown away by some kid's mother in a far off land and dumped off-shore with tons of other garbage and then finding its way to the sands of Iwo Jima? Too rare to be brushed off as mere coincidence.

I felt like it was part of the spirit of a young Marine who very likely may have lost his head at that very spot on the beach where it was washed ashore. If it was, I wanted to give it a proper burial. Having it brought to the memorial was very fitting. You know that I'm not a very religious guy Paul, but finding that toy was one of those instances when it made me wonder if divine intervention was at play.

Stay safe and be sure to keep all of your body parts my brother.

Randy Anderson

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Thanks, Randy, for bringing Iwo Jima and its symolic significance closer to home.


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