Iwo Jima statue would be monumental for Manatee County

July 17, 2013 

Bradenton and Manatee County have the opportunity to memorialize and honor the Greatest Generation in a monumental way. The acquisition of the original Iwo Jima sculpture would brand the region as one bound to history and veterans of all ages.

Even a brief history of the 1945 World War II battle for Iwo Jima evokes memories of heroism on an unimaginable scale.

"By their victory, the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions and other units of the Fifth Amphibious Corps have made an accounting to their country which only history will be able to value fully," Admiral Chester W. Nimitz stated.

"Among the Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue."

Marines and sailors earned 27 Medals of Honor, many posthumously, during the 36-day assault on the Japanese stronghold -- more medals than any other single operation during the war.

The monument to the flag-raising ceremony atop Mount Suribachi captures the heart and soul of the forces that landed on the seven-square-mile island, a pivotal landing strip for bombers and fighter escorts en route to Japan.

Only four days into the fierce battle, a patrol of 40 men assembled at the foot of Mount Suribachi with the goal of raising the American flag at the summit. Meeting no resistance, they accomplished their mission midmorning on Feb. 23, 1945. A Marine Corps photographer captured the image.

Three hours later, another platoon was ordered to raise a larger flag. That image won Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal the 1945 Pulitzer Prize.

From that image, sculptor Felix de Weldon produced the iconic monument that symbolizes the gallantry and spirit of the Marine Corps.

Imagine that original 12.5-foot-tall cast stone piece gracing a park in Manatee County.

A duplicate monument -- much larger at 32-feet tall -- stands at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va. The original was built as a model, and it sits in storage

Kevin Henault, a veteran and Bradenton businessman, and Gregg Anderson, a Sarasota businessman, hope to bring the five-ton monument here. Wouldn't that be something?

They, too, have a steep mountain to climb. They must raise some $1.2 million to purchase the sculpture, enlist a host government and determine a site. Furthermore, the project proponents hope to establish a World War II museum to bring additional meaning to the statue.

That would require a larger site than one of the obvious places for the statue -- across from Veterans Monument Park along Riverwalk in downtown Bradenton.

Sarasota turned down this prospect, so Henault and Anderson ventured north. To the south, Cape Coral is already home to a replica. The city's original developers commissioned de Weldon in 1960 to create a smaller version of his original statue and a dedication ceremony was held in the new city in 1965.

Somewhere in Manatee County -- be it Bradenton, Palmetto, Lakewood Ranch or elsewhere -- would make a proud home for such an iconic piece of military history.

Manatee County is home to some 35,000 veterans, according to the Census Bureau. The Greatest Generation is passing away. Their heroic accomplishments and sacrifices would be well remembered for generations to come with such a memorial. We hope this project comes to fruition.

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