Lt. Gen. Lawrence F. Snowden USMC
Senior Ranking Survivor from Battle of Iwo Jima on 70th Anniversary
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, 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the five-week struggle. Lt. Gen. Lawrence F. Snowden USMC (Ret.) was a 23-year-old Captain and commander of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division. 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, 93, who lives in Tallahassee, FL. “Iwo provided the proximity for our new B-29 bombers to reach mainland Japan. It also became crucial for emergency landings of 2,400 of the planes. 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. With nearly 27,000 Marine and 23,000 Japanese casualties, it 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.).
In 1950 Snowden helped create the Marine Corps Development Center in Quantico, which charted operations and concept development for the future. He served as a Major and Battalion Executive in the Korean War, and in Vietnam he commanded the 7th Marine Regiment. “We did a lot of anti-Viet Cong missions, chasing 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 awards over his thirty-seven years of service, two for combat. He was 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 as the Marine Corps Operational Deputy to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He received a second Distinguished Service Medal for his service as Chief of Staff and retired in 1979.
Snowden will play a big part in two upcoming events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Iwo Jima. He and other battle veterans, families, friends and dignitaries will gather for the anniversary of the Iwo Jima Association of America’s Reunion and Symposium in Washington D.C. from Feb. 18 – 22. On Feb. 19 there will be a memorial service and a wreath laying ceremony at the WWII Monument and the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington. The reunion will feature a wide range of activities and speakers, including U.S. government officials and the Ambassador of Japan. Snowden will be a moderator for many of the symposiums. The reunion is being managed by Armed Forces Reunions, parent company of BookMyReunion.com, which has managed many reunions for the association and other military organizations Snowden is a member of.
“Armed Forces Reunions does a very good job of organizing and administering the events; they have a lot experience,” Snowden said. “This will be a very important gathering, with media from around the world.”
The annual Reunion of Honor, a gathering of Iwo Jima veterans from the U.S. and their Japanese counterparts, will be held on Iwo Jima and Guam March 16-23. Founded by Snowden in 1995, the event draws hundreds of veterans, families, and officials from both countries. The idea for the reunion came to Snowden while 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 our enemies were,” 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 to and 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, Account Director at Goldman & Associates Public Relations and former staff writer for the Virginian-Pilot newspaper.