Dozens of U.S. veterans returned to the Japanese island of Iwo Jima Wednesday to mark the 65th anniversary of one of the fiercest battles of World War II.
The elderly veterans, now in their 80s and 90s, flew to the island to stand on the famous black-sand beaches where more than 28,000 Japanese and American troops lost their lives.
"I was here for the entire mission, start to finish," said Richard Rothwell, 97, of Catonsville, Md. "I had people killed next to me and around me and I was just very fortunate I made it out alive."
Rothwell was the commander of a 4th Marines Division battalion when the invasion began Feb. 19, 1945.
"It's a paradise," he said. "I see no resemblance at all. Even the beach seems different."
Iwo Jima was finally secured on March 26, 1945.
"Iwo Jima is a unique place in the history of the United States," said Gen. James Conway, Commandant of U.S. Marie Corps.
"It was not the bloodiest fight in the Pacific campaign," he said. "It was not the most operationally sound, not the longest and arguably not the most important. But Iwo is burned into our national psyche in a way that no other battle in the U.S. was."