On the morning of Feb. 19, 1945, American troops invaded the island of Iwo Jima. Cameron Hunt, a student working toward his second bachelor’s degree, had a family member on that island.
Cameron’s great-great-granduncle, James Archie Howard, lost his life on Iwo Jima. Peggy Hunt, Cameron’s grandmother
“From the first time she told me about Iwo Jima and the flag raising, I knew I was going to join the military,” Cameron said.
He had always wanted to be a marine, but hearing about his past and the sacrifices his family had paid sealed the deal for him. With the anniversary of Iwo Jima approaching on Feb. 23, Cameron’s thoughts point to his uncle’s time in the service. He grew curious about the battle his uncle fought in and his family history.
Peggy put him in contact with Archie’s younger brother, Ted Howard, who was in the U.S. Coast Guard. Ted sent photos, told him stories over the phone and Cameron’s passion grew.
He graduated from Auburn High School and moved on to Auburn University where he received his first Bachelor’s degree. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps right after and his first deployment was to Europe, but soon after he landed in Japan.
Iwo Jima was the first island invaded by American troops and the Japanese fought for to defend the island because of it’s cultural importance.
“Iwo Jima is in the middle of nowhere,” Hunt said. “It’s about 5 miles long and 2 and a half miles wide. It’s just a volcanic island in the middle of the ocean.”
Having lost a family member in that battle, Hunt had dreamed of the day he would land on the island. The history he had read about and the stories he listened to Ted tell were just enough for him to yearn for a trip.
Six trips were planned and every single one was tanked. One of the trips was canceled because the Japanese found remains from the battle. Cameron said the Japanese view Iwo Jima as an open grave because so many bodies were sealed off in caves and never recovered.
Cameron said it was the same for many of the marines. His uncle’s wife was notified of his death through a telegram. Cameron pointed the photo of the telegram that Ted had sent him with wonder in his eyes.
“I spent about a year in Japan,” Hunt said. “Every year, there is a handful of C1-30s that fly out there to do trips. It’s a pretty common trend that in the last few minutes, something happens and it gets canceled.”
On July 25, 2017, Cameron caught a break and left for Iwo Jima. They landed on the small airstrip that is maintained by the Japanese forces and 75 Marines took off toward Mt. Suribachi, the iconic scene of where approximately 40 Marines ran up to plant the flag.
Only about a half of a dozen raised a small flag where Cameron stood now.
“We had enough time to make the length of the island, summit Mt. Suribachi, see where the flag was raised, making it down to the landing beached and then try to make it back to the bird before it was time to leave.”
Cameron passed equipment of all type while walking up the dirt path toward the mountain. Tanks, anti-aircraft guns, landing vehicles, shrapnel and shell castings lie scattered below the Marines as the hustle up the mountain.
“It was an experience unlike any other,” Hunt said. “It is making my hair stand up just thinking about it right now.”
Cameron said the journey up the mountain was extremely steep and a rough mission overall. He said battling the heat and the altitude took everything out of him. He thought about the Marines fighting the battle of the land while under constant attack and was humbled.
He believes most of the Marines with him on the trip were there for the history — to honor the 5,900 Marines who sacrificed their lives. Cameron said he had read, dreamed and thought about Iwo Jima his whole life and being there was inspirational in ways he couldn’t explain.
“There’s one thing that really drives me crazy,” Hunt said. “It seems like people don’t appreciate history the way they should — all the sacrifices it took to get us where we are. It’s not just text in