Iwo Jima Memorial draws veterans back to remember battle

(Poto: Cliff 1066)

For John Huffhines and Ivan Hammond, a brief, annual stroll near the Marine Corps War Memorial is also an emotional walk down memory lane.

It's a reminder for the veterans of the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima, which claimed nearly 7,000 American lives, of where they've been and what they've been through.

“We’re reaching the age where all of us are going to be gone pretty soon,” Hammond said.

The battle is remembered by its surviving veterans at least once each year with a simple gathering and a wreath laying at the memorial. But unfortunately, each year, it's a bit different and a bit smaller.

This time around, only 20 Iwo Jima veterans could make the trip.

"You don't forget your buddies," Huffhines said. "The ones that didn't make it."

Hammond calls the annual trip to the memorial therapeutic, similar to the cathartic return to a place he hadn't been since he was 19 years old: Mt. Suribachi, the mountain where American troops raised the Stars and Stripes, leading to the iconic photo that is depicted at the Memorial.

Huffhines is making the trip for the first time this year, while Hammond went in 1995. They say they're tough trips to make, to say the least, but the bonds they've made here in the nation's capital make it a bit easier.

"I have none of my other buddies left; they're all gone, and so I enjoy visiting with Ivan and the other men," Huffhines said. "It's a privilege to be here."