Faughn, just 18 years old, was one of the first Marines to land on the tiny Pacific Island, where he would remain until the battle ended in late March. Trained as a Scout sniper, he served with the 5th Division, 26th Regiment.
“We expected the battle to last five or six days,” Faughn said. “Instead it went on for weeks. I wish I could tell you some hero stories but I was not a hero. The most memorable thing about Iwo Jima was not what I did there but what being there did for me.”
Faughn was one of eight survivors to gather in Arlington over President’s Day weekend to mark the 78th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima.
“Three years ago we had more than 50 Iwo Jima survivors gather at the 75th reunion,” said David Fields, a board member of the Iwo Jima Association of America that sponsored the gathering. “This year only eight veterans were able to return.”
The Battle of Iwo Jima was an intense, 36-day battle that became one of the major turning points in WWII. The raising of the American flag on Feb. 23, 1945, atop Mount Suribachi was immortalized in a Pulitzer-Prize winning photograph by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal.
“We don’t call them the Greatest Generation for nothing,” said Marine Corps Commandant David Berger. “They have done so much more after they fought against a determined foe. They have inspired generations of Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen. They forged the spirit of this nation and today they embody the American spirit.”
Approximately one-third of all Marines killed in action during World War II were killed on Iwo Jima. More than 100,000 Americans fought there and 6,821 died as a result — 5,931 of them Marines.
Former Marine Corps Commandant Alfred Gray was presented with the IJAA’s Woody Williams Award, named in honor of Herschel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, a Marine survivor of Iwo Jima and the last living Medal of Honor recipient from WWII prior to his death in 2022.
The four-day series of events for the reunion included a veterans panel, a visit to the National Museum of the Army at Fort Belvoir and wreath-laying ceremonies at the WWII Memorial and the Marine Corps War Memorial.
Iwo Jima veterans attending the reunion at the Crystal City National Landing Hilton included Ivan Hammond, Louis Bourgault, Juan Montano, Marion Noel, Dale Faughn, Roy Earle, Mathias “Matt” Gutman and Ted Below.
“I took in the third wave of Marines, when the Japanese opened fire,” said Montano, who piloted one of the landing vehicles. “Marines were dying getting off my boat. Then I turned around and took our casualties back to the hospital ships.”
Marion Noel, 98, was on LST 779 which provided the flag raised on Mount Suribachi.
Theodore "Ted" Below came ashore in the first wave on Iwo Jima, where he was pinned down on the beach before eventually working to destroy the elaborate cave system built by the Japanese.
Mathias “Matt” Gutman served 22 years in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Navy Reserves beginning with World War II where he served in six invasions including Iwo Jima.
Preston White, a Plebe at the U.S. Naval Academy, traveled from Annapolis to meet the Iwo Jima veterans.
“I saw this was happening and wanted to come be a part of it,” White said. “Hearing the stories from Iwo Jima, Okinawa and other Pacific battles gives you a sense of the personal cost of war. It drives home how important it is to remember their sacrifice.”
Seeing the flag raising inspired Faughn to embark on a writing career, which included poetry and his being named as the Poet Laureate of Kentucky in 1986. He closed the veterans panel with a reading of his poem “I Met the Flag on Iwo Jima.”
“I was so moved by what I saw it became the genesis of my poetry writing,” Faughn said.
“While we know who these men are here tonight, we need to make sure our children and grandchildren know their stories,” Berger said. “We need to talk more about it and not just on Memorial Day or Veterans Day. These stories can’t stop with them.”
Berger recognized and praised the younger veterans in the room as he closed out his remarks at the reunion gathering.
“From the beaches of Iwo Jima all the way to Afghanistan — every story has the power to inspire the young people who will lead us into the future,” Berger said. “The Greatest Generation may be getting smaller, but we need to make sure they will never be forgotten. Thank you for courage, sacrifice and ideals of freedom. We will make it our mission to make sure that your legacy doesn’t stop here.”