Jerry Yellin was a P-51 fighter pilot who had turned 22 years-old a few weeks before he touched down on the island March 7, 1945, amid some of the bloodiest fighting of World War II’s Pacific campaign. Yellin was back on the island on March 3 for the first time since 1945 to attend a ceremony commemorating the battle’s 65th anniversary, reported CNN. About 22,000 Japanese soldiers died defending the island, along with more than 6,000 Americans, in a battle that was memorialized in the iconic photograph of soldiers raising the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi, the island’s dormant volcano. The Americans secured the island on March 26, 1945, marking the U.S. military’s most significant advance in its strategy to reach Japan. But the U.S. abandoned its plan to invade the mainland and turned to the atomic bomb to end the war. Since 1995, the Japanese and American associations of Iwo Jima have met on the 8-square-mile island, now known as Iwo To, to commemorate the 35-day battle with a “Reunion of Honor.”

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