IWO TO, Japan — U.S. Sailors and Marines from the U.S. 7th Fleet staff were warned to stay on the trails to keep safe from unexploded ordinance, poisonous snakes and other hazards on the historic volcanic island.
On the island of Iwo To, formerly known as Iwo Jima — with a heat index of 95 degrees, 70 percent humidity and almost no shade — 63 personnel took the roughly 8,500 step journey, July 7, from the airfield terminal to the top of Mount Suribachi where the iconic flag was planted.
"I mainly reflected on what it had been like in 1945," said Chief Religious Program Specialist Alan Grow. "As much as I was suffering in the heat, it is nothing compared to what the Marines and Sailors went through ... the fire ... in the black sand ... in that heavy gear."
The trip took weeks of coordination by Chief Damage Controlman Andrae Sutherland, 3,000 of the steps taken were from the base of the mountain to the top.
"I thought it was important for military personnel to experience one of the most iconic and historical parts of American and Japanese history," Sutherland said. He called it a "once in a lifetime experience."
Rusting B-29 propellers, a wrecked ship still grounded on a beach, bunkers, and memorials are among some of the things 7th Fleet staff members saw on the approximately 9-mile trek from the airfield to Mount Suribachi and back.
Marine Cpl. Joshua Anair said he's glad he climbed Mount Suribachi with his squadron. His group was one of the first to reach the summit.
"The raising of the flag on Iwo Jima is one of the most iconic photos of World War II, and to be able to connect in that moment in history is ... priceless," said Anair.
For U.S. 7th Fleet Chaplain Capt. Cameron Fish, it was a spiritual experience.
"When I was walking I was praying, fully reflecting on the events that took place there from both sides and offering prayers for peace that this sort of thing does not need to happen again," Fish said.
More than 6,500 Americans and an estimated 20,000 Japanese troops died in the 36-day battle for control of the 8 square mile volcanic island located 575 miles from the Japanese coast.