Ira Rigger was a carpenter’s mate in the Seabees during World War II. Rigger served alongside Marines on a little-known island named Iwo Jima. Fast forward to 2020 where he was on hand to honor the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Rigger joined two other World War II Veterans and dozens of others during a ceremony at the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. Feb. 19.
“Never could I envision being recognized in this way,” Rigger said. “There was a whole mess of us there together. To be here representing them is a thrill.”
Among those was Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Milley’s father, Alexander, served with the 4th Marine Division at the Battle of Iwo Jima as a Navy corpsman. Milley visited Iwo Jima last year with his Japanese counterpart. He said it was an “incredibly humbling experience” tracing his father’s footsteps. He said Americans should be thankful for World War II Veterans and their service, which has led to 75 years without another worldwide conflict.
“That is what my mother, my father, that’s what these three Veterans, that is what your family members fought for,” Milley said.
Milley said he attended the 75th reunion at Normandy in France in June. At the ceremony, he leaned over to a Veteran in wheelchair and asked what his great lesson was from World War II.
“He looked up at me and tears came to his eyes,” Milley said. “He said, ‘General, never let it happen again. Never let it happen again.’ So, for those of us here today on the 75th anniversary of hitting the beach at Iwo Jima, let us resolve once again to never let it happen again.”
Iwo Jima, 10 square miles in area, was a Japanese stronghold halfway between Saipan and Tokyo. The Iwo Jima assault started Feb. 19, 1945, with three Marine divisions and more than 80,000 men. Four days later, Marines took control of Mount Suribachi and raised the American flag. Joe Rosenthal’s iconic image capturing the flag raising is the model for the Marine Corps War Memorial and the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
The battle lasted 36 days, killing 5,931 Marines. Additionally, 209 Navy corpsmen and surgeons assigned to the Marines died, as well as Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen from other units. More than 110,000 Marines, Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen served, with more than 26,000 killed or wounded.