HARLINGEN — Colonel Christopher S. Dowling, President of Marine Military Academy, took out from his peaked cap a letter after addressing the crowd on the MMA parade grounds.
Dowling was speaking Wednesday at the academy’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima. The letter was written by Iwo Jima survivor Hersel E. Williams, soon to be 95, who had attended the academy’s Iwo Jima ceremonies for the past six years.
The Battle of Iwo Jima was a major battle in Pacific Theater in which U.S Marines and Navy Corpsmen landed on the island and eventually captured it from the Imperial Japanese army.
It lasted from Feb. 19 to March 26, 1945, with 28,851 U.S casualties, including 6,825 killed.
In the letter, Williams wrote he could not attend this year because his daughter and son-in-law had medical problems.
“Not him, but his daughter and son-in-law had medical problems,” Dowling said.
Then Dowling read from the letter: “I watched from the bottom of Mount Suribachi when both flags were raised. The first one small carried by a young Marine.
“They sent for one from a Navy support ship that was huge. When the giant flag fluttered into the air and could be seen by all, the island erupted with thunderous applause. I am grateful that the Marine Military Academy celebrates this day of victory and remembrance,” the letter ended.
His daughter, Martha Williams Oglesby, wrote to Dowling asking him to please read the letter at the ceremony.
“The first year we came there were 13 survivors, last year there were three, a Seabee, a Navy man and my dad the only Marine,” Dowling read.
“Telling their stories to a jam-packed crowd in the museum gift shop was a shining moment for dad who hadn’t talked about the war even to his family. It is important we hear about and remember the price of our freedom,” the letter by Williams’ daughter said.
Dowling asked veterans to rise to receive recognition.
“We have not forgotten you guys. God bless you,” he said.
Dowling mentioned sculptor Dr. Felix W. de Weldon who created the Iwo Jima monument at the academy.
“This monument is the cast that produced the national one. It is larger, older and it looks pretty darn good,” Dowling said.
The ceremony was composed of a drill team and band performance, as well as a wreath laying ceremony.
“This statue represents so many things. There’s two flags that have been planted, one on the moon and then the one flown five days after the landing,” he said.
“It represents the greatness of America and their spirit. I want to thank everyone today for coming out to honor the men who died on that island and served,” Dowling said.