The “Ring of Fire” is a circular geographic region of great volcanic and seismic volatility stretching from America’s west coast to Alaska along the coast of Russia to Japan. Volcanos and active thermal vents are lining the perimeter of the Pacific Ocean, evidence of age-old geological volatility in the region. The tiny island of Iwo Jima is part of that circle but that is not what this island is famous for.
On February and March of 1945 Iwo Jima was the site of an intense battle between Japanese and American troops. Equipped with three airfields, it acted as an early warning station able to notify the Japanese air defenses on the mainland of approaching US planes and to intercept enemy aircraft. The US needed the island as part of their staging area for an eventual invasion of Japan, as a landing site for planes damaged during attacks on mainland Japan and for re-fueling and servicing aircraft.. Prior to the land invasion, the island was surrounded by 450 US navy vessels which pounded the Japanese defenses intensely for several days, 6 hours at a time. The heavy artillery attack had limited success because the Japanese army had an entire year to prepare for the US invasion. They constructed bunkers, tunnels and other fortifications to hold off the attackers. When the first wave of 30,000 American Marines finally landed on the beaches of Iwo Jima, they were mostly greeted by eerie silence. It was only after the majority of the Marines incl. equipment had landed on the beach that the Japanese started firing from their defense positions, inflicting heavy losses.
However, the outcome of the battle was a foregone conclusion. Despite their fierce defense, the Japanese were totally outnumbered and outgunned by the US Forces. Put yourself in the shoes of a Japanese soldier on Iwo Jima, watching as 450 !! war ships surround and start pounding the island for days. You know very well that eventually you and your comrades will be flushed out of your trenches by close to 70,000 invading US Marines.
Of the 22,060 Japanese soldiers entrenched on the island, 21,844 were killed. The US suffered 26,000 casualties, including 6,800 dead. Two Japanese soldiers continued to hide on the island and evade capture. They finally surrendered in 1951. After having seen the barren (tiny) island of Iwo Jima I wonder how they managed to evade capture and survived for so long.
The heavy losses on the US side caused many to question the feasibility of the attack on Iwo Jima and criticize this part of the American war strategy. What the critics did not know at that time was the top-secret reason for securing the island: Iwo Jima was to play an important role in the delivery of the atomic bombs by B-29 bombers.
Many years have passed since the attack but the respect for the bravery of the men who battled each other on this small island remains. As a gesture of reconciliation, groups of Japanese and US war veterans regularly meet on Iwo Jima to commemorate the events of March 1945. The power of forgiveness and grace!