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76th Iwo Jima Anniversary Ceremony held Sunday at Eco Park

By CJ HADDAD  - | Feb 25, 2021

PHOTO PROVIDED Attending this year’s Iwo Jima anniversary ceremony were U.S. Marine representative Walter “Wally” L. Dugan, 93; Phyllis Weaver Bartlow, a member of the W.A.V.E.S. naval unit, 95; and Bernie Lenhart, 93, also a Marine.

One of the most famous battles that resulted in one of the most iconic images of the World War II era marked its 76th anniversary this week and was remembered at Cape Coral’s most prolific veteran honor area. 

The 76th Iwo Jima Anniversary Ceremony took place this past Sunday at Eco Park in Cape Coral under the Veterans Memorial Pavilion and presented by the PFC Paul E. Ison Detachment 60 Marine Corps League. The detachment has been honoring members of the “Greatest Generation” at the local venue for nearly two decades.  

In attendance this year were U.S. Marine representative Walter “Wally” L. Dugan, 93; Phyllis Weaver Bartlow, a member of the W.A.V.E.S. naval unit, 95; and Bernie Lenhart, 93, also a Marine. All three were honored.  

Paul E. Ison Detachment Commandant Oscar Rauda felt that although the attendance would be hindered due to the pandemic, it was still important to remember those who paved the way for the freedoms we enjoy today. 

“This year with COVID-19, it took a toll on us,” Rauda said. “We just put on a small ceremony. But the biggest thing is that we have to keep on our tradition. We can’t forget that day and as Marines, the biggest thing for us is keeping the tradition alive and to celebrate the three that attended.” 

The Battle of Iwo Jima spanned from Feb. 19 – March 26 of 1945 where the United States Marine Corps and Navy eventually captured the island of Iwo Jima — after thousands of casualties — from the Imperial Japanese Army. The battle is said to have involved some of the most fierce and bloody battles of the Pacific War of World War II.  

The Veteran’s Memorial at Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve, which was constructed in 1997, features just one of three original, one-third-scale models, by sculptor Felix de Weldon, of the Marine Corps War Memorial Iwo Jima statues, the two others being in Liberty, Virginia, and Parris Island, South Carolina. 

“That statue means a lot to us,” Rauda said.  

The 20-foot statue was originally at the Rose Garden in 1965, commissioned by community founders, Jack and Leonard Rosen, before being moved to North First Bank in 1980. In 1997, it moved to its current location along the then-newly constructed Midpoint Memorial Bridge. It was also restored in 2011. 

Paul E. Ison, for which the Marine Corps Detachment in the county is named, crossed “Death Valley” on Okinawa on May 10, 1945. Ison enlisted at the age of 28 despite being married with four children as restrictions eased while the war raged. “Death Valley” was seen as a near death wish for soldiers, and Ison and his comrades crossed three times — all of them surviving. Ison retired to Fort Myers in 1981 and remained active in the Marine Corps League and other local military groups until his death. 

“Hopefully next year we get back to normal,” Rauda said. “We really missed Mayor Coviello this year.”  

Rauda also gave special thanks to detachment Junior Vice Commandant Julie Sturgeon, who he said made the event possible.  

— Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj