- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2005

For those who remember and revere World War II, 60 is the magic number.

Six decades have gone by since the raising of the American flag over Iwo Jima, the war’s end in Europe and the Pacific, and other pivotal military events of 1945.

Beginning this week, the Department of Defense will honor all of them in a six-month-long salute that includes patriotic fanfare and heartfelt remembrances in a half-dozen cities. There will be swing music, vintage uniforms and the close harmonies of Andrews Sisters impersonators.

But the visceral side of the war has not been overlooked.

“We remember and honor our World War II vets. These men and women have a real special place in our hearts. But we also intend to make sure the lessons we’ve learned from them are not lost to future generations,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jack Dunphy of the Defense Department’s World War II 60th Anniversary Committee.

The mission got under way in a lofty spot.

The Virginia-based office was established by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz last year to honor the veterans and reacquaint Americans with their nation’s four years in World War II with an eye on decorum.

All events and activities “will be conducted in a dignified manner, displaying sensitivity and appreciation for the tragedy of war and the losses suffered by all nations,” the committee noted.

“What’s the biggest lesson we can bring to the public?” asked Cmdr. Dunphy. “It’s that America should always be prepared, we should always have a high state of military readiness. Freedom isn’t free. We knew that 60 years ago and in Korea, and we know it now.”

Through the end of August, the committee will stage large-scale events in Tampa, Fla., San Antonio, San Diego, Boston, Chicago and Vancouver, Wash.

“We’re bringing these commemorations to the veterans, particularly those who may not have the funds or the health to journey elsewhere,” said Cmdr. Dunphy. “These cities have the highest concentrations of veterans in the country.”

One event will transpire in a more desolate region, however.

The Bataan Memorial Death March takes place March 20 at the Army’s White Sands Missile Range though hilly New Mexico terrain and at elevations as high as 5,300 feet. The event recognizes 76,000 U.S. and Philippine troops overwhelmed by Japanese troops in the Philippines in 1942 and forced to walk 75 miles to a prison camp without food, water or comfort.

Only 56,000 made it.

Meant for military teams in full field gear but open to the public, the 26.2-mile march is somewhere between runner’s marathon and basic-training nightmare: those competing in the “heavy” category must carry a 35-pound rucksack.

More than 1,400 have signed up, said public affairs spokeswoman Monte Marlin.

“We get folks from all the service branches, including sailors from the USS Bataan,” she said. “But we also get families of those who were there. This course is very rugged. But it’s also profoundly meaningful for those who take the challenge.”

Meanwhile, Tampa hosts the first of the Defense Department’s urban commemorative events Saturday, set to recall that moment at 2 a.m. on Feb. 19, 1945, when Navy guns opened up the island of Iwo Jima, which eventually provided a vital link in the U.S. chain of bomber bases.

Under heavy Japanese fire, 100,000 Marines struggled through the volcanic ash of the tiny island about 650 miles southeast of Tokyo. The conflict that ensued resulted in 26,000 casualties and almost 6,800 deaths.

The American flag was raised by members of “Easy Company” upon 550-foot Mount Suribachi over Iwo Jima four days layer. A photograph that captured the moment has since inspired millions and become the most reproduced photo of all time, said James Bradley, author of the 2000 best seller “Flag of Our Fathers.”

Mr. Bradley’s father was one of the six Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, who raised the flag.

“History turned all its focus, for 1/400th of a second, on them. It froze them in an elegant instant of battle: froze them in a camera lens as they hoisted an American flag on a makeshift pole,” he wrote.

The Tampa event will include Iwo Jima veterans, members of all military services and the Merchant Marines, the U.S. Navy Band and a host of political and press dignitaries.

“It’s clear we’re remembering not just the people, but the ideas and lessons learned that help assure freedom continues to flourish around the world — much as the soldiers of today are doing in the Middle East,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Ed Soyster, executive director of the World War II 60th Anniversary Committee.

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