Jewish soldiers fight for freedom at Iwo Jima

We should never forget the sacrifices that members of our armed forces make, past, present or future.
Now, so many years later. I can still remember sitting in that movie theater as a 12 year old, watching the news film footage of our Marine’s invasion of the Japanese island of Iwo Jima.
The island’s importance lay in its closeness to the Japanese mainland. Its airstrip would allow our planes to better carry out bombing missions before the probable invasion of Japan itself.
Bodies floating near the beach, many more on the beach, so many wounded. The enemy lay hidden, in caves, tunnels, behind rocks and trees, just waiting for our boys to show themselves.
It was gruesome to watch our flame-throwers forcing the burning enemy out of their hiding places, images I will never forget.
For over a month the battle waged on, almost incessant firing until all bombing, shelling and shooting finally ended. American casualties were high. This had been the only battle of WWII where more Marines were killed than enemy soldiers.
Of the approximately 1,500 marines who were Jewish, 150 had been killed and 400 were wounded. One of the Jewish marines was Rabbi R.B. Gittelsohn, the first Jewish chaplain ever assigned to the Fifth Marine Division.
Chaplain Gittelsohn was one of the many courageous marines, but unlike the other soldiers firing at the enemy, he ministered to many needing emotional support and faith during the “hell” of battle.
He comforted every soldier he could find, no matter what their skin color or faith. In recognition of his exemplary courage, he received three battle ribbons.
No matter how Hollywood glamorizes war, reality must be frightening. The fear of pending death as bullets whiz by while the dead and dying lay all around can never be enjoyable to experience in real life.
After the fighting ended, the new Fifth Marine Division Cemetery was to be dedicated. In recognition of the rabbi’s outstanding courage and battlefield service, he was asked by the supervisory chaplain to present the memorial sermon at a combined religious service of all faiths.
All fallen Marines; black, brown, white, Catholic, Jew, Protestant, were to be honored in one nondenominational service.
Because of the objections of some of the other chaplains to having a non-Christian deliver the sermon over mostly Christian graves, they would not attend, but instead hold their own services.
Racial and religious prejudice still prevailed in American society, which was reflected in the military as well.
In order to prevent any further disharmony, Rabbi Gittlesohn decided to change his plans by holding a separate religious service for Jewish personnel instead of the originally planed unified one.
To their credit, a few Protestant chaplains chose to attend the Jewish service to show their solidarity with the rabbi and their disdain for the prejudice expressed by the other chaplains.
This was Passover, 1945 on Iwo Jima and we were fighting for freedom.

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