used with permission by D. J. Richter ©2013
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The wheels hit the steaming tarmac on my island – Iwo To, they now call it. Outside of the scratched Plexiglas, a line of Japanese officers stand in the sun. Eyes wide, I steal a glance across the aisle, seeing him lost in thought as he views my island.
On his island, the sheets of rain obscure the view - Iwo Jima, they were told. The boat to starboard collapses under strain, as he watches friends sucked under, not yet paralyzed by fear nor numb to the pain. His knuckles whiten on his rifle as he turns back, staring towards the men and officers hidden in the mountain.
I carry his arm and his briefcase into the hanger on my island, abused in the seventy years since its creation. We take our place amongst the small group – file onto buses, row by row, until we embark on the dusty roads paneled on each side by man-high vegetation. I watch him, eyes ahead, preparing for the day to come.
On his island, the boat shudders as he’s propelled into the black sand. Ranks and rows are destroyed, eyes glancing not left nor right, but locked ahead into the silence. The feet and knees of strong men sink into the black sand bereft of vegetation, struggling to move towards the mountain.
A silence loud enough to be tangible exists on my island as the nations meet.. The first, widows in all black dresses, perpetual in their mourning. The second, men in varying shades of coats and ties, trapped in their memories. My ears drag my eyes to the violent crash of waves one hundred yards below, breaking the peace of the small hilltop reunion.
On his island, the first sound struck, a bullet that shattered the beach head, noise deafening. The enemy’s artillery met them at the gate of the sulfur-smelling hell. Boys, now men, drop dead along the black sand, marked green, red, yellow, and blue. On maps aboard ships, colors emanate from Suribachi’s base. On the sand amongst Marines, blood rains amongst those below mountain.
In both languages, we are asked to bow our heads on my island. A moment passes as the chaplains offer messages for the thousands fallen and those they left behind – the wives and brothers standing beside me. The grey stone of the memorial lays in stark contrast to the red, white, and blue wreath beside it. Above the congregation, my eyes venture to the flag flying atop the mountain, pure white save a gleaming red center.
On his island, voices in daylight scream in all dialects of the English language. In the darkness, those voices pray softly, sob silently, to the God of their choosing. As the sun rises, his eyes take faith in the battered flag, raised on that point most high by his brothers. The stars and stripes wave a prayer over the men below, a cross for those still dying under the watchful eye of the mountain.
A murmur begins to rise from the front of the plane as we leave my island. Slowly, surely, the voices of men seventy years beyond the trial of a lifetime raise in unison to a familiar tune. Tears, held closely throughout the ceremony, fall freely in the comfort of individual seats. Heart in my throat, I steal a glance across the aisle, see him smile. I smile too, relieved. One thousand feet above the summit, I know that he has finally conquered his mountain.
D. J. Richter ©2013
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My heart aches for the silent, unfathomable suffering of this humble hero.
A false paradise of recovering vegetation surrounds us, struggling
to hide the scars and memories that two nations not long forgot.
Just as cartridges creep up through the sand, so does
the anguish of those who spent them - sentenced
to a sulfuric eternity on this hellish tract of land,
alone but in the minds of those who escaped.
Save this one day, no, one day each year,
where the soon to be redeemed return to pay
a final memorial to those lost long ago.
At three and ninety, I watch him in the sand
struggling to regain the young cowboy
that at three and twenty so faithfully stormed,
rifle in hand.
This false paradise, this hell, refusing to relinquish both the living and the dead.
The black sand will never be covered, the howling hearts never silenced.
His memories, once imprinted by blood, are now refreshed in life.
D. J. Richter ©2013