Photo courtesy of Iwo Jima West Monument/Operation Home of the Brave | On May 22, Iwo Jima veterans gather about 100 yards east of the future monument and memorial site. Pictured from left to right (not including re-enactors): Damasio Sutis; John Farritor; Col. Michael Naylor; Chuck Amador; Jim Scotella, Chuck Bahde (Army Air), Robert Bergen (Navy); Edward McHenry "Iron Mike" Mervosh, honorary national chairman of Iwo Jima Monument West; and Laura Dietz, founder.
If all goes according to plan, the West Coast will be home to one of the original Iwo Jima monuments by the end of 2016. With a location at Camp Pendleton in California, the monument will face the Pacific - the front on which the famous battle was fought and the iconic photo of the second flag-raising snapped. Millions of motorists will be able to see it as they drive on I5.
"We don't have monuments like this here. This has to change, and here's an opportunity," Laura Dietz, founder of Iwo Jima Monument West, said. "That's a void that just has to be filled."
On Sept. 4, two leading architecture firms will unveil their concepts for the Iwo Jima West Monument facilities to be placed at Camp Pendleton in California. (One of the firms designed the National Museum of the Marine Corps; the other designed the Wounded Warrior Complex at Walter Reed Hospital.)
Marines and civilians can help the selection committee decide through "likes" and comments. The winning design will be announced at an invitation-only fundraiser on Oct. 31.
Once the design has been decided upon, the money secured and the monument officially purchased, Dietz said the monument will make a cross-country tour for all to see on its way to Camp Pendleton.
The project has been in the works since 2013, when founder and trustee Laura Dietz said the idea struck her several days after hearing one of the original Felix de Weldon memorials was going on sale. She was driving up I-5, with the ocean view and the massive base in sight. Since then, she has met with stakeholders, traveled with Iwo Jima veterans to the battlefield, and worked to garner donations.
"I'm the new TARP. My TARP means I have the time, I have the acumen, I have the resources and most importantly, I have the passion," Dietz said.
Though her father and grandfather were veterans, she doesn't have Marines in her family. She has decided instead to "adopt" them.
"I have an incredible amount of respect and admiration for what they do, how they do it, and the sacrifices that their families make to keep the home fires burning and the kids happy," Dietz said.
She admires the Marines' dedication, she said.
"They never give up. If they're still breathing they will be there, so the most important issue for me is to get this project done by the end of next year because we're losing these Iwo Jima veterans all the time," she said.
Earlier this year, the organization held a luncheon for surviving Iwo Jima veterans to mark the 70th anniversary of the battle. It was held on Feb. 23, the date the famous photo was taken.
"That was the most reprinted photograph in all of World War II, so it has become an American icon. So with that, I like to say, even icons have duties, and this one in particular," Dietz said.
To help, Legionnaires can donate, hold events to fundraise for the monument or raise awareness for the battle of Iwo Jima, the Marines and the second flag-raising, Dietz said.
For more information, or to donate, visit the new Iwo Jima Monument West website here: http://www.marinesoniwojima.com/memorial.htm.
All donors will be listed at a kiosk at the memorial site.