Flash Back Friday: Day Trip to Iwo Jima

Iwo To, better known as Iwo Jima, is located approximately 750 miles south of Tokyo. The island’s inhabitants are entirely Japanese military. There has not been any civilians living on Iwo Jima since summer 1944. In recent years, there has been an increase of the number of tourists to the island. Iwo Jima is known mostly for the Battle of Iwo Jima. This was a horrific battle that lasted just over a month from mid-February through March 1945. Over 26,000 Japanese Imperial Army soldiers and United States Marines died during the 36-day battle. This week serves as the 74th year anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima so I thought that I would share some pics from my visit in October 2011.

At the time of the trip, I was stationed at Kadena AB on Okinawa, Japan. A short notice tasking for a training sortie to Iwo Jima came down and I was selected for the trip. After preparing the jet, we (pilot, co-pilot, boom operator, and I) made the two and a half hour flight to the island. The first thing that I noticed about the island was its size. Having read about the Battle of Iwo Jima and the intense fighting that occurred there, I expected the island to be bigger. The island was only eight square miles.

Trip to Iwo Jima
Iwo Jima

The next thing I noticed was Mount Suribachi (suribachi means grinding bowl in Japanese). The mountain on the southwest end of Iwo Jima was home to the first major clash during the Battle of Iwo Jima. The mountain was the location of the famous picture of the raising of the United States’ Flag by Marines. The picture went on to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Trip to Iwo Jima
Iwo Jima
Trip to Iwo Jima
Mount Suribachi

I could not help but notice the black sand on the beaches surrounding Iwo Jima.  The color was due to the sulfur in the dirt, hence the name, Iwo-To or sulfur island.

Trip to Iwo Jima
Iwo Jima Black Sand beaches

We made a few passes over the island and then some touch and go landings on the 8,500 ft runway before lining up for a full stop landing. The runway sat atop Iwo Jima, which made for some interesting crosswinds.

Trip to Iwo Jima
Runway at Iwo Jima
Trip to Iwo Jima
Runway at Iwo Jima

Trip to Iwo JimaTrip to Iwo Jima

The pilots made the landing of our KC-135 look easy. After landing, we back taxied to parking.

Trip to Iwo Jima
KC-135 on Iwo Jima

We were welcomed to the island by a contingent from the Japanese military. The flight crew went into mission planning with their Japanese counterparts, while I serviced the aircraft with mine. It made for a great day.

Trip to Iwo Jima

Trip to Iwo Jima
Iwo Jima Tower

Final Word
I never thought that I would be able to visit Iwo Jima. To have the opportunity to visit a place with so much history was overwhelming. I have had the chance to visit a few places during my life, but none have made me feel like Iwo Jima.

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