When it was time for me to become one of America's finest, I was trying to decide between the Air Force and the Marine Corps. After the Marine recruiter asked me if I wanted to look like a Greyhound bus driver when I was in my 'Charlies,' I made my decision then and there and didn't look back. My name is Drew 'Perk' Perkins. As you can see, 'Perk' is a pretty cool nickname for a Marine in my family!
Marines have varying interests. Mine just happens to be that I'm a WWII buff. While stationed on Okinawa back in the late 80's, I was lucky enough to get offered a slot to go on a battle sights tour of Iwo Jima. Of course, I jumped at the chance.
Within a few days, I was in the belly of a C-130 with about 30 other jarheads headed to the tiny porkchop-shaped island in the Pacific.
As we approached Iwo Jima, I started to fill with a great sense of pride. (You know the one where the hair on the back of your neck just rises to the occasion).
I could see the black volcanic beaches that were used as the spearhead for the assault on the island. Faintly, I could make out the older airstrips that the Japanese used for their aircraft.
Upon landing, we were trucked to our bivouac area near the Coast Guard station. I didn't envy those guys...they were there a year and only got on six-pack every two weeks!
After setting up the area, our Staff NCO told us we were on our own and that if we went into any of the caves to go in pairs or more just in case the flashlight went out. He wasn't kidding! Couldn't see your hand in front of your face!
The 30 of us clamored all over that island for four days and three nights. We looked up the side of Suribachi where our brothers before us had to climb. Could have sworn that it was at a 60 degree angle...now it's grown over with underbrush and looking serene. Somehow we managed to take the easy route and walk the road up to the top.
Looking down on Invasion Beach, I could have imagined the carnage of bodies and landing craft strewn on the beach. I tried to picture Joe Rosenthal atop the mountain and where he would have been positioned to take 'the picture.' I think I may have found it!
We went into the caves that intertwined beneath Suirbachi and found all sorts of memorabilia to take home with us. Then we remembered that this was a sacred place to the Japanese people and that it was not right to disturb the resting-place of fallen soldiers. We left things secured as we found them.
We went down to the beach with all the volcanic sand that we heard so much about. It has changed since those days. We were told that the island has risen over the years and you can see a 'tier effect' as you head to the water's edge. I found a small bottle on the beach and filled it with the sand. It now sits quietly in my office.
People ask me, 'What's with the bottle?'
I tell them it's the 'Sands of Iwo Jima.' The former Marines I work with get a real kick out of seeing it. They didn't get the chance I had.
I look back fondly on my days in the Marine Corps. I also look back and think that if it hadn't been for the Marines that took that tiny island in the Pacific, we wouldn't have the freedom we have today.
I didn't fight in any wars when I was in the Corps. I didn't have to...my brothers had made it a safe place for my family and me to live.
The hair is standing up on the back of my neck...the pride is swelling again!
For my family and myself, I salute you!
"My memories are the bones of the men that served on this island; skulls and other parts were rampant on the island; 5" rounds still stuck in the rocks; the ever-shifting sands of Iwo Jima machine gun sites with spent shells; traces of humanity gone wild.
We found relics, canteens, and skeletons in uniforms within the caves of the island, a world gone wild, but with a purpose.
It was a sad scene, but one with the ultimate honor for the men of both sides whom fought for love of country."
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In the commands apparent obsession to keep us in the air,
we were ordered to fly Iwo Jima military personnel to the Empire
on "Snooper" missions. These flights were actually sight seeing
missions honoring soldiers who had served on Iwo Jima. During the
operation The Boomerang crew R.O.N.'d (rested over night) on Iwo
and toured the island. An experience that no one would ever forget.
A strange island, Iwo Jima. Almost everywhere you looked, you could see steam rising from the volcanic ash soil. I enjoyed a hot shave and shower without the benefit of a hot water system. The volcanic ground was just naturally hot, and it was enough to heat the plumbing.
Photo on left USMC Archives; Photo on right taken in 1995 J.A.
The roads sparkled brilliantly in the bright sunlight, looking as though they had been sprinkled with diamonds. The "diamonds" turned out to be shrapnel. The rain of enormous firepower on Iwo has been well documented, but you had to see it to believe it. Japanese live rifle shells were all over the place. I picked up as many as I could carry.
We climbed Mt. Suribachi and stood at a raised U.S. flag, the same spot where Lieutenant Schrier and five men, including an Indian, Ira Hayes, raised the Stars and Stripes for the Fifth Marines Division. It was a solemn moment of reflection and appreciation for our Marine buddies.
Part of the volcanic symmetry of Mt. Suribachi was missing on the ocean side, and when I asked about the strange formation, I was told that the ocean side of Suribachi had been blown away so that further eruptions would flow out to sea. These engineers are pretty crafty guys, I thought.
The Place Where Young Dreams Died
The crew climbed back down Suribachi and walked to the American
cemetery. Thousands of head stones dotted the area. A good number
of the stones showed memorials and mementos left there by fighting
buddies: personal effects i.e. rosaries, pictures, combat knives,
notes, poems, statements of love and Bible verses. We were all numbed
by the evidence of ultimate sacrifice.
No one spoke as we studied the individual head stones. Thousands of young men and their young dreams died here. An overwhelming sadness fell on all of us. We all gave silent thanks to the fallen American heroes, and went on our way.
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