The battle of Iwo Jima is recognized around the world as one of the most brutal struggles in the most costly war in history. For thirty-six days, over 70,000 U.S. Marines and Sailors, aided by tens of thousands of Airmen and Sailors at sea, fought a tooth and nail battle against the 22,000 entrenched Japanese defenders led by Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi. This titanic struggle, waged on eight square miles of volcanic soil and hellish terrain, has captured the imagination of generations since the battle.
The Iwo Jima Association of America (IJAA) and their tour partner, Military Historical Tours (MHT), are returning veterans to Iwo Jima for a 75th Anniversary Commemoration of the battle. Corporal William “Billy” Byrd, a local Iwo Jima survivor and a companion, Lieutenant Colonel Ed Jones, have been given the opportunity to attend the commemoration, which is scheduled for March 2020 on Iwo Jima.
Cpl. Byrd is a member of the Marine Corps League General Louis H. Wilson, Detachment in Pearl. They meet every third Thursday at Simply Southern Restaurant at noon. IJAA is providing funding for Cpl. Byrd, now age 93, to attend, but they require a companion to accompany him. The detachment is raising funds for Cpl. Byrd’s companion expenses.
There will be a Joint Ceremony with the Japanese at the Memorial above Red Beach. Visits to Mt. Suribachi and the Landing Beaches to walk the "Black Sands" are scheduled. MHT is the tour partner of the IJAA and, in cooperation with United Airlines, has chartered jets for the day-long visit to walk the battlefields of this epic clash in the Pacific during World War II. Guam will again be the base of operations for the IJAA Battle Symposium and 75th Anniversary Banquet.
Early in the morning, the IJAA tour will depart Guam for a day-long memorial tour and observance on Iwo Jima. Upon arrival, attendees will be met by the official U.S. and Japanese Government delegation consisting of representatives from the Armed Services. The group will land on the site of Motoyama airfield #2. After visiting Mt. Suribachi and the scene of the famed flag raising captured by Joe Rosenthal on February 23, 1945, Veterans and their families will gather near the landing beaches to conduct memorial services at the anniversary monument. These services, attended by dignitaries and veterans of the United States and Japan, will remember and memorialize those young men who gave their lives during the savage campaign for the island. The group will then tour the island and the landing beaches. The day will conclude with a return to the airfield for a gathering of friendship and camaraderie on the sacred soil of Iwo Jima.
Cpl. Byrd retired from the City of Jackson in 1987. He was first hired as a tax collector and then worked his way up to sanitation supervisor. His parents were share croppers and traveled all through southern Mississippi. Cpl. Byrd is known for his song writing and guitar playing and was on the WRBC radio show “Home Towner” in the 50s and 60s. He played for the Willie Jordan band and then started his own band, writing many of his own songs. He still plays his Gibson guitar. In addition, Cpl. Byrd wrote a short book, By the Dawn’s Early Light, on his Iwo Jima experiences. He participates annually in the Trail of Honor event.
The public is asked to offer assistance to help Cpl. Byrd return to the Iwo Jima battlefield. Donations can be mailed to: Gen. Louis H Wilson, Det. 173, 854 Andrew Chapel RD, Brandon, MS 39042. For more information, call 601-260-4806.