Dedication of the 3d Marine Division Cemetery


Title: Dedication of the 3d Marine Division Cemetery

Category: Speech

Author/Presenter: Major General Graves B. Erskine, USMC

Date: February 1945

Event/Occurrence: Pausing during the last stages of the battle at Iwo Jima, MajGen Erskine, Commanding General, 3d Marine Division, voiced the sentiments of all Iwo Jima survivors

“There is nothing I can say which is wholly adequate to this occasion.  Only the accumulated praise of time will pay proper tribute to our valiant dead.  Long after those who lament their immediate loss are themselves dead, these men will be mourned by the Nation.  They are the Nation’s loss.  There is talk of great history, of the greatest fight in our history, of unheard sacrifice and unheard of courage.

These phrases are correct, but they are prematurely employed.  The evidence has not sufficiently been examined.  Even the words and phrases used by historians to describe the fight for Iwo Jima, when the piecemeal story of our dead comes to light, will still be inadequate.

Victory was never in doubt.  Its cost was.  The enemy could have displaced every cubic inch of volcanic ash on this fortress with concrete pillboxes and blockhouses, which he nearly did, and still victory would not have been in doubt.

What was in doubt, in all our minds, was whether there would be any of us left to dedicate our cemetery at the end, or whether the last Marine would die knocking out the last Japanese gun and gunner.

Let the world count our crosses!  Let them count them over and over. Then when they understand the significance of the fighting for Iwo Jima, let them wonder at how few there are.  We understand and we wonder, who are separated from our dead by a few feet of earth, from death by inches and fractions of an inch. 

Of the cost to us in quality!  No one will ever understand that, who did not fight side by side with those who fell.  Let us do away with names, with ranks and rates and unit designations, here.  Do away with terms, regular, reserve, veteran, boot, old timer, replacement.  They are empty, categorizing words which belong only in the adjutant’s dull vocabulary.  Here lie only – MARINES.”

Marine Corps University