Immortalized in Joe Rosenthal’s photo of five U.S. Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman hoisting the American Flag on Mount Suribachi, the battle for Iwo Jima remains one of the most iconic and bloody fights of World War II. February 19, 2021 marks the 76th anniversary of the start of the five-week struggle. Retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lawrence F. Snowden was a 23-year-old Captain and commander of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 23 Marine Regiment, 12th Marine Division in the battle. He was among the first waves of Marines going in and today is the most senior ranking survivor.
“The fighting was fierce and there was tremendous carnage on both sides, but it was for a very important strategic need,” said Snowden. “Iwo provided the proximity for our new B-29 bombers to reach mainland Japan. It also became crucial for the emergency landings of 2400 of the planes. Also of key importance was that it marked the first capture of Japanese homeland and the psychological impact on them was tremendous.”
Iwo Jima was the largest Marine amphibious operation of the war, and the costs of victory were extremely high. There were nearly 27,000 Marine casualties and 23,000 Japanese and was the only battle of the war where the Marines suffered more losses than the Japanese. The struggle was described as “being something out of Dante’s Inferno” in Hyper War: Closing In: Marines in the Seizure of Iwo Jima by Col. Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret.).
After the surrender Snowden was called for duty in Guam and then returned home to Marine headquarters in Arlington, VA. In 1950 he helped create the Marine Corps Development Center in Quantico, which charted operations and concept development for the future. Snowden served as a Major and Executive Officer in the Korean War. In the Viet Nam War he commanded the 7th Marine Regiment.
“We did a lot of anti Viet Cong missions, chasing those guys who were farmers in the daytime and Viet Cong at night,” Snowden said. “It was pretty horrific; we lost a lot of arms and legs because of their trip wires. Now we call them IEDs.”
Snowden received five Legion of Merit medals for his service in Korea and Viet Nam, including two for combat. He was made Chief of Staff of U.S. Forces in Japan from the early to mid-1970s. He was promoted to Lieutenant General on 1 September 1975 when he assumed the billet at Marine Headquarter as Marine Corps Operational Deputy to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Snowden retained the rank when he served as Chief of Staff at Marine Corps Headquarters in the late-1970s. He received a Distinguished Service Medal for each of his posts as chief of staff and retired in 1979.
Snowden played a big part in two AFR events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Iwo Jima. He and other battle veterans, families, friends and dignitaries gathered for the anniversary of the Iwo Jima Association of America’s Reunion and Symposium in Arlington, Washington D.C. and Quantico, VA. On Feb. 19 there was a memorial service and a wreath laying at the WWII Monument and the Marine Corps War Memorial. The reunion featured a wide range of activities and speakers, including U.S. government officials and the Ambassador of Japan. Snowden was a moderator for many of the symposiums and interviewed by the media at his home in Tallahassee, Florida before and after the event. The reunion was managed by Armed Forces Reunions, Inc., parent company of BookMyReunion.com, and which has managed many reunions for the association and other military organizations Snowden was a member of.
“Armed Forces Reunions does a very good job of organizing and administrating the events, they have a lot experience,” Snowden said. “This will be a very important gathering, with media from around the world.”
General Snowden was also heavily involved in The Reunion of Honor, a joint ceremony and gathering of Iwo Jima veterans from the U.S. and their Japanese counterparts. Founded by Snowden in 1995, the event draws hundreds of veterans, families, friends and military and government officials from the both countries. The early seeds of the concept for the reunion came to Snowden when visiting Japan during the Korean War and meeting former Japanese soldiers. It was the start of an attitude transformation for him and ultimately became a platform for a new understanding between the former enemies.
“I changed my mind in Korea about who were my enemies and who were becoming friends,” he said. Forty years after the battle, Snowden and other veterans of the struggle decided to visit the island. On the 50th anniversary in 1995 he and the group officially established The Reunion of Honor.
“We didn’t and don’t go to Iwo Jima to celebrate victory, but for the solemn purpose to pay tribute and to honor those who lost their lives on both sides,” Snowden said. “It is a real alliance between the two countries. What I hope is that everyone understands that enemies can become friends, and that there is no more important bilateral relationship than between the U.S. and Japan.”
Scott McCaskey is a contributing writer for BMR.com, former Account Director at Goldman & Associates Public Relations and former staff writer for the Virginian-Pilot newspaper.