Last Friday, I left my job early and was driving home. I was excited that I would get to relax an extra hour or so and beat all the rush hour traffic. On my way home, I always pass the Iwo Jima Memorial on Route 9 (located on the town line between New Britain and Newington, Connecticut).
It's a beautiful, enormous and inspirational memorial statue that you can see from the highway.
For those not familiar with our history, the battle for Iwo Jima took place February 19 - March 26, 1945. 6,821 American servicemen were killed in approximately one month! The valor and sacrifice of the Marines and Sailors who fought on Iwo Jima is that of true heroes, who we should never forget.
I hadn't stopped there in a few months, and I like to leave their Foundation monetary donations to keep their eternal flame going, so I pulled off the exit and went. It's a very quiet spot. I go there alone to pay respects and put things in perspective. I know how important that battle was and all the lives that were lost for us, and when I am there - the world stands still. Well, at least for me it does. Above the park, the Route 9 highway is always filled with cars and trucks racing to their destinations, but when I'm at the park, all that's a blur to me.
Anyway, I didn't see any cars when I pulled in to the parking lot, but as I got closer, I saw one small black sedan and was honestly a bit disappointed. I like to go alone, but the park is open to the public. I deposited my donation check in the metal donation box and was set to go to my usual bench under a tree when I saw 2 little old men seated on "my" bench.
I didn't want to bother them, so I nodded to them and sort of smiled and then I headed for another area - a section which is dedicated to the many Navy Corpsmen and Navy Chaplains we lost at Iwo Jima. After 10 minutes or so, I felt like someone was behind me - and I was right...
One of the gentlemen, Mr. Matava (he later told me his name) asked me if I came to the site often. I told him I did. He asked me if I knew about the Iwo Jima battle and about the memorial statue.
I rattled off a lot of what I had read off the monument and from "Flags of Our Fathers" and other books. I knew the monument was erected to salute the 6,821 Americans who died fighting on the last strategic stronghold before the planned invasion of Japan.
As for the monument, I told him about the real rocks taken from the mountain summit at Iwo Jima that the bronze soldiers were standing on; about the actual sand from the landing beach that was mixed into the concrete base; about the gas which keeps the flame lit 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, as a reminder of the sacrifices made by all those who defended freedom during the second World War; and I told him about the time capsule which is supposed to be opened in the year 2045, etc.
He seemed impressed that I knew so much, but then again, I have learned a lot by going there. Then he told me that he was one of the original 17 builders of the monument and that he is an Iwo Jima Survivor. Mr. Matava (now age 87) lost his younger 18-year-old brother, Edward Matava, at Iwo Jima and he showed me the memorial stone for Edward that he had personally laid in the ground years ago.
I told him I normally sit on the granite bench under the tree and Mr. Matava said he had erected that bench in memory of his wife who died 26 years ago. I didn't know if I should be sad or happy that I always choose that bench to sit on each time I come. Nonetheless, I think he was pleased to hear that I always chose that bench.
Then the other little man joined our conversation. His name was Fred or Frank Cifaldi (or something like that) - he was also in his late 80's and was one of the builders. He had hearing aids and weighed about 100 pounds. But they were both sharp and had great posture - as I would expect from such noble and humble Marines...
I mentioned to them that I had previously written in this web site blog about one of my visits there and they were so ecstatic. They wanted to know the web site and I gave them my business cards.
I ended up staying there for nearly 2 hours, and didn't get home until well after my normal time, but it was well worth it.
I called my U.S. Marine husband (who has already been mobilized for his second tour for Operation Iraqi Freedom). I saw on my cell phone's "Missed Calls" that he had called me and I didn't want him to worry about my whereabouts. Later that night, he told me he was inspired by my visit and by the 2 heroes I met.
Sometimes folks need a reminder of who our heroes are and what they gave up for us. I don't need that "shot in the arm" because I remember every day. It was such an honor to meet these 2 men and exchange hugs with them. I had tears in my eyes when I left.
I am telling you this story because we at Give2TheTroops understand about our deployed troops' hardships and sacrifices.
We often tell our troops and their families that we are all in this together, and while we may not be there with them physically, we're with them in heart, mind and soul, during their deployment.
A few friends begged me to post this story on our blog as they felt that it serves as a reminder for us as to what is important in life and that perhaps it might help people not to take for granted those who laid their lives down for us and our future.
This 40-foot bronze and granite monument depicts the sacrifice and courage displayed by Americans in one of the greatest battles of our military history. If you haven't been there, I recommend you go ... help keep the eternal flame going and do me a favor ... save me a seat on "my" bench under the tree.