For nearly 30 years, World War II veterans have traveled long distances to come together for the annual Iwo Jima reunion in Wichita Falls which opened Thursday.
The battle of Iwo Jima was a major battle of the Pacific between the U.S. Marines and Japanese soldiers during World War II and played a part in helping the United States win the war.
Of the 27 Medal of Honor recipients who fought on Iwo Jima, only one survives today.
On Feb. 19, 1945, Marine stormed the black lava beaches of the small island of Iwo Jima. It would take a month and thousands of casualties before the Leathernecks finally took total control. The battle of Iwo Jima was young Woody Williams second campaign as a Marine, but that doesn’t mean the fear of dying was gone.
“To say I wasn’t scared, I would be telling a falsehood. I was scared and anybody that tells me that if you’re being shot at and you don’t have fear, then there’s something wrong with you, because it is very natural to have fear,” Williams said.
Williams was the last of six flamethrowers in his unit and he risked his life to help comrades break through enemy lines. His heroism earned Williams a Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration the nation grants. Like so many of his generation who served, this marine said he was only doing what any marine would when called upon.
“Two Marines sacrificed their lives that day protecting me. They didn’t have to do that but they did and as a result, gave their life,” Williams said.
Aaron Russell with the Southwest Iwo Jima/WWII reunion helps put together a reunion with the survivors from that battle each year. He said it is important to remember what those Marines and sailors did for our country.
“Part of it is honoring their sacrifice, their families sacrifice, their brothers and sister that didn’t come home, their sacrifice, but again I think a big part of it is paying it forward and making sure that we don’t forget our history. We don’t forget where we’ve come from,” Russell said.
Each year the number of survivors goes down, but because of what they did and the sacrifices they made to defend this country, their legacy will never be forgotten.
They are expecting 12 Iwo Jima veterans at the reunion this year, down from 17 last year.
Woody Williams turned 95 this past October and is the last surviving Marine who was awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II.
For the full schedule of events, click here.