Paying tribute to Iwo Jima veterans at LAX
On February 19, 1945, two divisions of U.S. Marines invaded the Japanese stronghold on the tiny island of Iwo Jima. What followed were weeks of some of the most intense fighting of World War II, with casualties from both sides measured in the tens of thousands. The iconic photo of the American flag being raised on Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi stands today as one of the most indelible images of the war. And last week at Los Angeles International Airport, we had the distinct honor of saluting three of the men who fought so valiantly on those eight-square-miles in the Pacific Ocean, as they departed for the same beaches that they stormed more than 70 years ago.
On March 20, World War II veterans Carl DeHaven, George Cattelona and Francis Jackson (who also served in Korea and Vietnam) boarded a United charter aircraft bound for Guam, where they will tour battlefields before visiting Iwo Jima for a memorial ceremony. United Customer Service Representative Cindy Good, who has helped organize these veteran charter tours for more than 20 years, and who has traveled to Iwo Jima on four occasions, works hard to ensure that the veterans always receive a worthy send-off.
"An honor guard that included officers from the TSA, the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, along with members of the Young Marines, led a procession to the gate where delegates from the USO held the World War II flag, the [50-star] American flag as it is today and the 48-star 'Old Glory,' that flew over where these men were fighting," she said. "Mr. DeHaven took out his harmonica, as he often does, and played the "Marine Corp Hymn," and the passengers around the gate area gave them a standing ovation before they boarded." Cindy became emotional when she recounted overhearing a young boy in the crowd talking to his father. "He asked him, 'Daddy, who are those men?' and his dad answered, 'Those men went to war and fought for our freedom.'"
To cap it all off, Flight Attendant Sharon Mason, whose father fought at Iwo Jima, gave a speech at the gate that talked about the significance of the battle prior to the groups' departure.
Today, Iwo Jima is a Japanese military base, but their government allows veterans to return one day each year to honor the fallen at the top of Mount Suribachi, where there is a monument to the American and Japanese troops who fought there. When asked about her most vivid recollections from her trips to the island, Cindy doesn't hesitate. "When you get to the top of the mountain and you look down at the beach and envision the landing, you realize that the fact that anyone survived is a miracle. When we get up there, you can see in the veterans' eyes that the memories come flooding back to them."
Perhaps the best part of the trip for both the veterans and those traveling with them is the opportunity to share their stories with new generations. "Young Marines – who are high school-aged students – are assigned to each veteran during the trip," said Cindy. "The veterans always say that they enjoy being around the young people the most. They're all in their 90s now, so it's more important than ever for them to pass on that history."