The locale is a small, remote volcanic island with sparse vegetation consisting of wild grasses and desiccated shrubs and trees. The sand is black, and plumes of sulfuric vapors can be seen rising from the earth. On the south side, Mt. Suribachi dominates the island, standing as a solemn memorial to the fallen troops from both sides of one of the most arduous battles of WWII - the Battle of Iwo Jima. In February 1945, after a 72-day bombardment of the island by the United Navy and Army Air Corps, the Marines landed only to discover that the effort had amounted to very little damage. The 20,000+ strong Imperial Japanese forces had bolstered their positions inside caves and underground, turning what was expected to be a three-day siege into a battle that lasted 36 days. The number of American casualties, including men killed, wounded, and MIA, reached approximately 25,000, while most of the Japanese fought to their death.
On the weekend of March 25th, Marines from the III MEF Band traveled to Iwo Jima, known today as Iwo To, to participate in the Reunion of Honor Ceremony commemorating the 72nd anniversary of the battle. The Marines performed alongside musicians from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Central Band throughout the ceremony, which places equal emphasis on remembering the past as it does on celebrating the strong friendship forged between the United States and Japan in the war’s aftermath. For many Marines in the unit, this annual performance epitomizes the calling of the Marine Musician. LCpl Victor Boyda, who performed Taps at the ceremony, reflects on the occasion as “the most rewarding experience I’ve had in the Marine Corps. From the site’s one-time infamy to its current sanctity, I could feel the gravity of it all.”
During the trip, two sergeants from the III MEF Band enjoyed the once-in-a-lifetime experience of reenlisting in the Marine Corps on Iwo To. Sergeants Steve Frigiola and John Rosal took the oath of enlistment atop Mt. Suribachi, overlooking what many consider to be “holy land” in the annals of American military history. “I love the Marine Corps,” says Sgt Frigiola, “and to be able to stand where our flag was raised and dedicate four more years of service was the proudest moment of my career.” For Sgt Rosal, his reenlistment symbolized a culminating moment in his family’s longstanding legacy as Service members.
The Reunion of Honor ceremony beautifully demonstrates the ever-important lesson of committing the events of the past to the memory of mankind, while overcoming the horrors of war and creating a mutually beneficial friendship between former foes.