Today is the 66th anniversary of two historic United States military actions, one of which most Americans know nothing about and one of which is among the best known of all Marine battles. That they happened on the same day, one in relative anonymity and one very much in the public, is both interesting and instructive.
The Battle of Iwo Jima began on February 19 and lasted for more than a month. Near the end of the battle, and contributing not only to that victory but ultimately to victory in the war, an American flag was raised on Mount Suribachi. Joe Rosenthal’s picture of the flag raising is the most reproduced photographic image in history.
Almost 6,800 Marines were killed in action on Iwo Jima, giving the “last full measure of devotion.” On the positive side, it is estimated that more than 24,000 American airmen were saved by their sacrifice.
Half way around the world, on the same day, men from the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division were fighting in Italy. The 10th Mountain is the only division sized unit (10,000-15,000) formed specifically for fighting in harsh weather and terrain. These men led the way for brave Brazilian Expeditionary fighters, climbing 2,000 feet at night to assault Riva Ridge, taking out the German artillery that had been entrenched there and winning a battle that was a key in bringing down the Gothic Line in Italy.
Here in Silicon Valley, 66 years later, we have been known to complain when the weather is less than perfect for more than two days in a row, or if we have to take a detour around the route we know best to get a latte at our favorite coffee shop. No one is trying to kill us, and we aren’t climbing a mountain at night to face the enemy, so it is hard for us to wrap our minds around these historic events.
Likewise it is sometimes difficult for us to grasp the greatest sacrifice ever made by one for many, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who climbed a hill called Calvary. He did not plant a flag there, but he himself was raised up on a cross. He did not break through the enemy defense line, but he broke the bonds of death.
I’m confident the airmen who landed on Iwo Jima after it was under American control were thankful that they did not have to ditch their planes and crew into the Pacific. I’m certain the allied forces in Europe were relieved that the last line of defense for the German army in Italy had finally fallen, making the outcome of the war sure and the end near. It is more than fitting that we remember those particular Marines on this particular day, thanking God for those who gave much for us.
And while we’re at it, we might just say a word of thanks for Jesus, who gave his all on his very own mountain.