U.S. Marine Corps veteran Earl Flatt remembers that 66 years ago the assault on the small island of Iwo Jima was expected to last less than a week.
“We thought it would last four to five days,” Flatt said Tuesday.
The 36-day battle resulted in more than 23,000 U.S. casualties, including 6,503 killed, and is known as one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.
Having survived that battle, Flatt told an audience in the House Chambers of Louisiana’s Old State Capitol that he considers himself one of the luckiest people in the world.
“Folks, it wasn’t easy,” said Flatt, who served with the 26th Regiment, 5th Division. “We learned nothing is easy in war.”
Flatt said more than 60,000 Marines invaded the tiny volcanic island of about 8 square miles — “smaller than some of the subdivisions in Baton Rouge” — on Feb. 19, 1945.
Though outnumbered, the 22,000 Japanese soldiers, in deep bunkers in a complex network of underground tunnels, put up a fight that resulted in more Marine casualties than enemy soldiers occupying the island.
All but 262 of those Japanese soldiers either died in battle or by their own hands.
Flatt proudly recalled his experience at the second annual “Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive” event, honoring the 66th anniversary of Japan’s surrender on Aug. 14, 1945, bringing an end to World War II.
“It’s not about celebrating the victory (over) Japan or Germany, it’s just about recapturing the spirit in America after the war ended,” said Maury Drummond, an event organizer and the executive director for the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum.
“It’s a time to say, ‘Thank God we survived,’ and to remember the lost souls in the war,” he said.
The spirit of war heroes persists in people such as Jan McCurdy. Her son Ryan McCurdy died five years ago in Iraq while saving the life of a fellow Marine.
McCurdy, a breast cancer survivor who offered a tribute to fallen soldiers, told the audience that recovering from her son’s death is like recovering from breast cancer.
“It’s a scar. At first it’s very sore and very tender and your focus is so on that, but you know you have to go on and live,” she said. “The scar in my heart is healing. But it’s still there and it will be there until the day that I die.”
Baton Rouge is one of many cities across the country holding events to remember the anniversary of the war’s end this month.
Last year, Congress unanimously supported a resolution to observe a day of remembrance on the second Sunday every August.
Drummond said he compares the feeling of the end of WWII with the months following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, where Americans came together in unity.
“We’re trying to keep that sense of unity,” he said.