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About 25 World War II Iwo Jima veterans were in attendance at the 68th Anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima luncheon ceremony at the Marine’s Memorial Hotel March 13, 2013. The event was an opportunity to accentuate the connection between the WWII-era 4th Marine Division with today's 4th Marine Division and Marine Forces Reserve. More than 100 veterans, modern Marines and guests were in attendance.

Photo by Sgt. Ray Lewis

Iwo Jima veterans meet modern Marines at annual luncheon

26 Mar 2013 | Sgt. Ray Lewis

World War II veterans met current Marines to commemorate the 68th Anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima during a luncheon ceremony at the Marines’ Memorial Hotel here March 13, 2013.

The event accentuated the connection between the WWII-era 4th Marine Division members with today's 4th Marine Division and Marine Forces Reserve troops.

 “We want the Marine Corps community to know that we haven’t forgotten… the Marines who were lost at ‘Iwo’ and the boys that were still serving.” said Dale Cook, 86, Iwo Jima Veteran and Purple Heart recipient.

The Marine Memorial Association has been running the annual event since 1995. The ceremony is traditionally at the Golden Gate National Cemetery. However, because of rain,  the MMA offered to hold the annual observance with a luncheon at the hotel.

“We had two admirals that were there and there were generals down to privates,” said Cook about the approximately 100 attendees. “We were pleased that some men that were still serving that showed up, honoring these men that died. I think it was very successful especially with the speaker.”

This year’s guest speaker was Col. Christopher C. Starling, a combat veteran who is also the commanding officer of the 23rd Marine Regiment, Marine Forces Reserve.  He brought along his color guard and Marines from his Headquarters and E Company to meet Marine and Navy veterans attending the event.  

The Marines brought with them historical photos from the Battle of Iwo Jima.  Veterans of the historic battle took the opportunity to journey down memory lane, identifying themselves and fellow service members before the ceremony.

“It’s not in words,” said Cook, who is from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. “It’s an emotion. You feel … even though you haven’t met some of these guys. You haven’t seen some of them but it’s a brotherhood.”

Colonel Starling detailed the 23rd Marines’ role from Yellow Beaches 1 and 2 through the airfields and through the “meat grinder” as Marines cleared northern land with 24th and 25th alongside Col. Wensinger, his erstwhile predecessor. He also spoke about the tenacious war fighter and Navy Cross recipient Harry “The Horse” Liversedge, whose 28th Marines raised the flags on Mount Suribachi.

“Colonel Starling is an outstanding speaker and he has a basic understanding of the warrior.” Cook said. “He had the feeling of what the warriors went through. He put it into perspective and he seemed to touch on the right things and hit the highlights that made it impressive; the camaraderie of the men working together to crack an almost impossible defense line.”

During the ceremony, the Marines were afforded the unique opportunity to share lunch and mingle with the WWII vets. For Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, Cpl. Cesar W. Rivero, it was like a story come true.

“We always talk about the Battle of Iwo Jima in boot camp, but to actually meet the vets themselves, to me it was great,” said Rivero, 25, an administrative specialist assigned to Headquarters Company. “Being an OIF vet myself, we’ve seen things, but nothing compared to what they’ve seen.”

Most of the Iwo Jima Marines endured fierce combat for 36 days. More than 6,800 Americans died on that island.

“You feel like their expenditure of life wasn’t in vain,” said Cook, who was assigned to Fox Company, 23rd Marines at 17-years-old. “You feel like we’re remembering them. My company lost an awful lot of men… we all lost a lot of men. These were young guys. This was a tough place and these guys had the backbone to do it.”

Sergeant Brandon C. Balentine, a radio technician, was lucky enough to sit with a WWII veteran who shared his occupation. He said it wasn’t planned, it just happened.

“I got fortunately seated with a radio operator that was on Iwo Jima,” said Balentine, 26, who is from Germantown, Md. “I also talked to him about what he experienced. He had a few good stories.”

The veteran spoke to him about being pinned down in a hole. He was trying to take cover from the sniper that was attempting to pick off the Marines.

”He got stuck and he was hiding in a bomb crater and there was a sniper in there taking shots at everybody and he didn’t know what to do,” Balentine said. “He was waiting there for hours and he was by himself. So he eventually ran out in a zig-zag. He said they took some shots at him but he eventually got a way… he had the same radio the whole time.”

The veteran told Balentine and other Marines about their radio equipment at the time.  It was primitive compared to today’s Marines gear.

“They used to use this… crank to generate energy for the batteries,” he said. “We were telling him how we use rechargeable batteries and solar power.  It was a good time. I think it was good that we got matched up with that radio operator.”

Barbara Bregoff, a female Marine who served as a clerk with the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing during WWII, was also there. She said she was stationed in North Carolina and served under the command of Medal of Honor recipient Gregory “Pappy” Boyington.

 “We trained the pilots before they went over there,” said Bregoff, 94, who got to fly with the Marine pilots on occasion. “I felt like one of the Iwo Jima boys.”

Colonel Starling concluded his speech by showing photos of his personal friend Richard Burress' visit to 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines.

 “He hit a lot of the points about what was going on the island,” Cook said. “He understood what we were going through – the toughness. He really had praise for the spirit of the Marines that were in battle. I thought he captured it all. He knows we gave our all and weren’t buckling under… not so much about the flag, because it was covered in other things, but the toughness of the battle and how this has been an inspiration to the Marines in the Decades since.”

Following the ceremony, the veterans took photos and autographed a framed copy of an Iwo Jima tactical map. The art will be displayed in the 23rd Marines headquarters.  

“My favorite memory was seeing the veterans come up and point to the map saying they ‘landed here,’ ‘I went to Surabachi,’ ‘I was there,’” Rivero said. “For them to come up to the unclassified map and say ‘I landed here, I was here’… is going to stick with me.”