Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley is joining around a dozen World War Two veterans on a trip to Iwo Jima, Japan.
The trip, organized by the nonprofit Greatest Generations Foundation, will mark the veterans’ return to the island for the first time since the famous Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.
Braley’s late father, Byard Braley, was a Marine who fought on Iwo Jima. “My dad enlisted in the Marines in 1943 when he was 17-years-old. He had to get his parents’ permission to enlist because he was underage,” Braley said.
“When he left San Diego to head toward Iwo Jima, he was an 18-year-old Iowa farm boy.” The Battle of Iwo Jima was immortalized in a picture of Marines raising a U.S. flag on a mountain on the island.
Braley and the veterans will also travel to Guam, where Braley’s father spent an entire year following Iwo Jima. The congressman from Waterloo is taking several items with him on the trip, including a picture of a coconut, which Braley still possesses.
The coconut was sent by his father from Guam back to his parents in Iowa. “It’s one of those things that’s a big part of what his service was about, making sure that his parents back home were able to stay in touch with him,” Braley said of his father. “I have a letter from my grandmother that talks about what he was doing during that period of time that I’ll also be taking with me.”
Braley has never visited Iwo Jima or Guam and said he’s “honored” to be going with veterans who were there 67 years ago. “I’m sure it will be an emotional trip for me being able to share it. I’ll be landing on Guam on the 31st anniversary of my father’s death,” Braley said.
Byard Braley died in 1981 at age 55 after suffering a heart attack. In addition to Congressman Braley, one other Iowan is taking part in the trip. Marine Corps veteran David Greene of Waterloo spent a month fighting at the Battle of Iwo Jima.
A class of students from Ohio State University is following the veterans and will document their stories. The group left for Iwo Jima on Friday and will return to the U.S. next Thursday (March 15).
Audio: Bruce Braley talks about trip to Iowa Jima. 4:05
Braley wrote a “tribute” to his father a couple years ago – read that letter here.