The Transylvania Times -

Local ROTC Students Learn History Of Iwo Jima


December 7, 2017

Courtesy Photo

ROTC students listen to Hawkins' presentation.

ROTC students from Rosman High School and Brevard High School took a field trip to the Western North Carolina Military History Museum to listen to ex-Army officer Frank Hawkins speak about the WWII battle for Iwo Jima and the war in the Pacific.

In 2016, Hawkins participated in the 71st Memorial Service of Marine Corps and Japanese veterans of that battle. He climbed to the top of Mt. Suribachi, the scene of the famous photo of six Marines raising the flag (retold in the book and movie "Flags of our Fathers.")

To add context, Hawkins started with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Hawkins explained that at the time of the attack, the United States had only the 34th largest army in the world, just behind Uruguay. Compared to Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan, U.S. armed forces were tiny.

Hawkins also alluded to how the industrial might of the U.S. helped win the war. In July 1942, Japan dominated the Western Pacific, but was only building one new aircraft carrier. The United States was building 17 carriers.

Explaining the ferocity of the fighting and the high casualty rate, Hawkins cited the "Death before Dishonor" code taught to all Japanese soldiers and civilians. Surrender was not an option for the Japanese. For example, the Japanese commander at Iwo Jima, General Kuribayashi, ordered his troops to "kill 10 Americans before you die!"

Iwo Jima was an island of roughly 8-square miles – just a bit larger than downtown Brevard. Yet it took 36 days of bloody fighting against 22,000 Japanese defenders to conquer it. Seven thousand Marines were killed. That's about the entire population of Brevard.

Hawkins also covered the atomic bomb raids from the island of Tinian. Planners for the invasion of Japan estimated 1 million deaths of American and Japanese, due to the 'death before surrender' philosophy of the Japanese. Anticipating massive casualties, planners manufactured so many Purple Heart medals that even today Purple Hearts awarded are from that WWII batch. So, the atomic bombs led to a surrender that actually saved Japanese and American lives.

Today, Hawkins said, Iwo Jima is sacred ground for both Japanese and Americans. In closing, he shared a thought he gave to his grandsons: "If you don't know history, you know very little. You are merely a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree and that the tree is part of a forest... Think of history as a vast early warning system..." A timely reminder for all.

The next educational event at the Museum is Dec. 7. Pearl Harbor survivor Craig Kirkpatrick will speak about his experiences at 2 p.m. and sign his book. Details at The public is invited.


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