National Iwo Jima Memorial, Newington & New Britain
We all have “those things” that we live near that we just never check out. Be it a museum or a hike or restaurant or whatever. I think the unconscious thinking is, “I live nearby, so it’s easy to get to, so I’ll make the effort someday.”
The National Iwo Jima Memorial, just off of Route 9 near its northern terminus, is one of “those things” for me.
Except it no longer is, because I’ve finally made the effort – an effort consisting of a very short detour from my drive to do something else nearby. And straight up: I’m glad I did it. This monument and memorial is much more than it appears to be when speeding by on the highway.
Firstly, for me geo/border nerds, the entrance to the parking area is in New Britain. However, the entire memorial and all the sub-memorials and plaques and the eternal flame… all that stuff… is in Newington. I mention this because New Britain always gets credit for the memorial by virtue of the entrance and exit. I just want to give Newington some credit here. After all, it’s Newington.
They’ll take what they can get.
The little pocket park has grown to be a destination for what few WWII veterans remain. The main monument is recognizable to pretty much every American as the famous flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi on the tiny volcanic island of Iwo Jima. The original photograph was taken by Associated Press Combat Photographer Joe Rosenthal on the fifth day of the battle. On the other side of the world, this signaled the first victory over a part of Japan.
That was rather premature, as the battle for Iwo Jima lasted another horrifying month, wherein 6,821 Americans died, including three of the men in Rosenthal’s photo (as did the Marine who shot the video of the flag-raising). Still, the Marines raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi is one of the most famous and enduring news photos of all time. The local monument depicts the photograph and is not a replica of the monument of the same event in Washington DC.
Additionally, sculptor Joseph Petrovics of Sculpture House Castings, Inc. of New York City, created this unique bronze sculpture using advice from Iwo Jima Survivors. Let’s go back to see how this whole thing came to be…
In 1987, the Iwo Jima Survivors Association was founded by Dr. George Gentile to perpetuate the memory of those who served in the Battle for Iwo Jima and those who were killed in action. Dr. Gentile, a dentist, was also instrumental in creating the National Iwo Jima Memorial Monument & Park in central Connecticut. He spearheaded the effort to raise the $250,000 needed and sought counsel and insight from fellow Iwo Jima survivors. At some point, Central Connecticut State University donated the plot of land along Route 175 next to Route 9 and the project got going.
Along with a few fellow Iwo Jima survivors, Gentile set up the Iwo Jima Memorial Historical Foundation to honor all who served on the Japanese atoll. He later learned that included 100 Connecticut residents who died there.
Almost a decade after the initial idea was formulated, the memorial was dedicated on February 23, 1995 – the 50th anniversary of the original flag raising. The fact that it happened on that date is just one of many symbolic – and literal – touches here that really make it special.
Some excerpts from the USMC website:
A group of about 15 eager 60- and 70-year-old vets labored at the site to clear trees and undergrowth. An Eagle Scout volunteered to build wood benches. Contractors donated time and equipment to prepare the site for the concrete base and bronze statue. Donors paid to have bricks for the walkways engraved with their names.
Sculptor Joseph Petrovics crafted this monument to the likeness of the World War II flag-raising. To ensure the Connecticut statues’ authenticity, the men brought in helmets, canteens, weapons and other gear for the artist to copy exactly. When the 9-feet tall bronze Marines seemed too clean cut, the vets had the artist add beard stubble to make them look battle weary.
Cool. What else?
Gentile and his supporters also wanted to ensure the memorial included sand and rocks of Iwo Jima. It took months of coordination and more than $2,000 to have 750 pounds of volcanic sand and rock shipped to New Britain. The sand is inside the concrete base and the rocks rest near the Marines’ feet. This makes this monument one-of-a-kind. It’s the only Iwo Jima memorial in the world that contains, well, Iwo Jima. (Others monuments include the original in Arlington, casts of the original at Quantico at the Marine Corps Base, and at some random park in Florida. The Marine Military Academy displays the original working scale model in Harlingen, Texas,.)
The sculpture is beautifully made and powerful. But there are a bunch of other memorials and things here as well. The granite column nearby holds the Eternal Flame. The stunning monuments to the right honor the Navy Corpsmen (medical personnel) and Navy Chaplains assigned to Marine Corps Units. The laser etched artwork is incredible – I just hope it lasts forever and that no idiots deface this place.
Yet another cool little thing here is a paisley-shaped rock vaguely resembling Iwo Jima, unearthed by a bulldozer during construction. Good ol’ Dr. George Gentile, recognizing the contours of the bloody beachhead, ordered that it be placed at the park entrance with a map of the island engraved on it. I love that.