Remarks Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Iwo Jima in Arlington, Virginia
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I think we should give Colonel Barber a round of applause for his remarks and for his service. [Applause]
General and Mrs. Mundy, Secretary and Mrs. Brown, honored veterans and families, distinguished guests, my fellow Americans. Today on this wonderfully quiet morning, within sight of so many of our Nation's great monuments and on the edge of our national cemetery, where some of those whom we honor today are buried, we recall the fury of war and a landmark in our history that is one of both loss and triumph. We gather in the company of heroes, those who served at Iwo Jima. Many of them do rest nearby, but we thank God that many are still here today.
Fifty years ago, with their lives before them, they left everything, their families, their loved ones, the serenity and security of their homes, to fight for a just cause. They departed on a journey to places they had never heard of to confront dangers they could not have imagined. But they never wavered or faltered. And when they were done, our liberties and our homes were safe again.
Last year at Normandy, I was privileged to say something I would like to say again because I think that the rest of us can never say it enough: To all of you who served at Iwo Jima, we are the children of your sacrifice, and we are grateful. On behalf of a grateful nation, I would like to ask all of those here who served at Iwo Jima to stand and be recognized. [Applause]
Today the dimensions of their struggle still stagger us. As we have heard, when they attacked Iwo Jima, the enemy was so deeply dug in as to be invisible and all but impregnable. The carnage on the beaches was almost unimaginable. The sands were black and deep and so soft that one man said it was like walking on coffee grounds. Trying to claim just a few hundred yards, troops were raked by gunfire and pinned down. And as Secretary Brown said, on the first day 2,400 were killed. On hearing of the casualties, President Roosevelt was reported to have gasped with horror for the first time since Pearl Harbor.
Securing Iwo Jima was supposed to take less than 2 weeks, but it took 5. Progress was a yard's advance. But never were the words "issue in doubt," the call for withdrawal, uttered. The 75,000 who went ashore pulled together. Privates rose and took command. In just one case of many, a platoon suffered so many casualties that command passed to 12 different marines. Navy corpsmen saved one life after another, pulling the wounded from battle. The Seabees did their vital construction work under constant fire.
But 13 days into the battle, the first crippled B-29 touched down on an island landing strip. And eventually more than 2,200 of those B- 29's made emergency landings on their return from bombing runs. Nearly 25,000 airmen owed their lives to the troops who secured Iwo Jima.
Admiral Nimitz put it perfectly: "Among the Americans who served on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue." Our country saw the true definition of courage. Everyone who waded ashore on Iwo Jima shared that quality.
Captain Robert Dunlap scrambled to an exposed position 200 yards ahead of our lines at the base of Mount Suribachi. Amid constant enemy fire, he directed the attack on pillboxes and emplacements, not for 1 or 2 hours but for 48 hours. His extraordinary action helped to make it possible for the marines to sweep through the island's western beaches. "All in a day's work," he said.
Douglas Jacobson, a private first class from Rochester, New York, showed what real strength of body and spirit can do. When a fellow marine was shot, he grabbed the man's bazooka and sprinted through the area called "Meat Grinder," destroying 16 positions before he ran out of ammunition. The bazooka, by the way, that he had was a two-man weapon, but he shouldered it alone.
Captain Joseph McCarthy showed us the meaning of determination. With his company under merciless fire from several enemy strongholds, he charged through an open field to one of them and knocked it out with a carbine and grenades. He then repeated the feat three more times, using his bare hands when necessary. He cleared an essential ridge on the way to one of the island's airstrips.
And Jack Lucas, whom I had the privilege of introducing at the State of the Union Address, was 17 years old when he threw himself on two grenades to save the lives of his comrades. Not long ago he said, "It didn't matter who you were or where you were from, you relied on one another. And you did it for your country."
These are just a few of the countless feats of heroism from that distant place in time, deeds all of you who served performed for your Nation. And these stories are just 4 of the stories of the 27 Medal of Honor winners on Iwo Jima, the largest from any single battle in American history. We are honored to have these four winners today with us. And I ask them to be recognized at this time. [Applause] Thank you. Thank you.
This is their legacy. This is the legacy of all of you who served. To those in the units that took Suribachi, to the nurses and doctors who worked under constant fire on the beachfronts, to the sailors on the hundreds of support ships, to the African-American Montford Point marines who fought off the last desperate attack by the enemy, to the families who so courageously endured at home, this is the legacy of bravery and dedication you have given us.
To be worthy of that sacrifice, we must determine in this time to remain the strongest nation in the world so that our freedom is never again threatened. And we must work to create a nation worthy of the generation that saved it for our freedom. We must do it together.
Ultimately no lesson from Iwo Jima looms larger than the one behind me. This image of the flag-raising over Mount Suribachi, known around the world from Joe Rosenthal's picture and captured before us in Felix de Weldon's great bronze memorial, tells it all. Instantly it became the symbol of our effort in World War II. It was published and republished until every American could see it with his eyes closed. Six men straining together, giving all they have, faces turned to the task of planting our flag: Block, Sousley, Hayes, Bradley—the Navy corpsman—Gagnon and Strank. A real picture of America, a Texan and Kentuckian, a Wisconsin farm boy, a Native American, a New Englander of French Canadian stock, a kid from the coal country of Pennsylvania.
Hard men wept when they saw the flag fly over Suribachi. President Roosevelt wanted the flag-raisers brought stateside as heroes to boost morale on the homefront. But three of them never got the chance. They were on Iwo Jima, their faces still turned to the task, when they were killed days later. They gave us still forever this picture of common purpose of striving together, of the unity that our Nation forged out of the many who make it up.
For all Americans today, for those who still defend our liberty in uniform and those who fight for decency and civility in our towns and communities, the men and women of Iwo Jima will forever stir our hearts, spur our conscience, and summon us to action. With our eyes closed, we can all still see the flag rising atop the hill.
May God bless them all, and may God bless America.
NOTE: The President spoke at 11:25 a.m. at the Iwo Jima Memorial. In his remarks, he referred to Col. William Barber, USMC (Ret.), Iwo Jima veteran; Gen. C.E. Mundy, Jr., USMC, Commandant, Marine Corps; and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jesse Brown.
William J. Clinton, Remarks Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Iwo Jima in Arlington, Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/220870