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Iwo Jima anniversary frames group’s effort to put monument at Camp Pendleton

Retired Marine Sgt. Maj. Mike Mervosh, 91, an Iwo Jima veteran, shares his memories of the 1945 World War II battle during a luncheon Monday in Newport Beach to raise money toward the purchase and relocation of an Iwo Jima memorial that would be placed at the Camp Pendleton Marine base in San Diego County.
(KEVIN CHANG, Daily Pilot)

Seventy years ago, amid what would go down in history as one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific during World War II, five Marines and one Navy corpsman raised a U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima.

Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the moment in a photo that would become not only a symbol of the war but one of the most reproduced military images in history.

Marine Sgt. Maj. Mike Mervosh was too entrenched in battle with the Japanese military to pause for the flag raising on Feb. 23, 1945.

But on Monday afternoon, standing proudly at the podium of the Marriott hotel in Newport Beach for a luncheon celebrating the 70th anniversary of the iconic event, he said the photo became a symbol of the bravery of those who fought “ankle-deep in volcanic ash” in the battle for Iwo Jima.

The grisly five-week fight resulted in 26,000 American casualties.

“It was the perfect battle on the perfect battlefield. It was strictly men fighting men, kill or be killed,” said Mervosh, now 91. “Everyone who fought in that hell hole raised that flag.”

More than 400 people, along with active military members and veterans, attended Monday’s lunch to raise money for Operation Home of the Brave. The Newport Beach-based nonprofit hopes to raise $3 million during the next several months to buy a monument to the Iwo Jima flag raising and move it from the East Coast to the Camp Pendleton Marine base near Oceanside.

The nonprofit’s founder, Laura Dietz, said many of the Marines who fought at Iwo Jima trained at Camp Pendleton but that the California coast is largely without a memorial honoring them.

“My hope is that Marines and patriots across the country will realize this image is not only iconic but that it speaks to Americans like no other,” she said.

Dietz first learned of the 5-ton monument when it was a part of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum aboard the aircraft carrier Intrepid in New York City in the mid-1990s. When the ship underwent renovations in 2007, officials asked the sculpture’s owner to remove it.

Since then, Dietz has kept her eye on the sculpture, which measures 16 feet long and 20 feet tall.

The monument, made of steel, concrete and plaster, was created by sculptor Felix de Weldon in the 1940s. At the time, it was used to promote the sale of war bonds, Dietz said.

“There’s only one place this monument belongs: Oceanside,” she said.

With about $120,000 raised so far, Dietz hopes to have enough money to purchase the sculpture, move it across the country on a flatbed truck and construct the memorial at Camp Pendleton by 2016 on a spot visible from the 5 Freeway.

A rendering of the proposed site shows the sculpture enclosed in a glass case to protect it from the elements.

“It’s a lot of money,” Dietz said. “But the benefit will be forever.”

For more information about the nonprofit’s efforts, visit marinesoniwojima.com.


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