The Fifth Marine Division Association was established in 1949 by Gen. K. E. Rockey, Division Commander, in order to honor those who fought and died in the Battle of Iwo Jima. It has, in its annual Reunions, given these men and their families an opportunity to reconnect and to commemorate those who did not come back. New friendships are also formed, particularly among the legacy (family) members.
Original members of the Association were primarily the surviving Iwo Jima veterans of the 5th Division and their families, including parents, wives, sons, daughters, and other relatives of those lost in that horrific battle. Also included were men and families of attached units of the Navy and Army, and Marines attached to the Fifth Amphibious Corps. Former Seabees, corpsmen, and Army Air Corps pilots have joined the ranks of the Gyrenes they fought alongside.
Later, the men of 5th Marine Division regiments activated for Vietnam were invited to join the Association. However, many of these men connect more closely with the Divisions to which they were attached. The 26th and 27th Marines and elements of the 13th Marines (artillery) were activated and sent to Vietnam but did not fight as units of the 5th Division. The 26th and part of the 13th were initially attached to the 3rd Division, and the 27th was attached to the 1st Division. Nevertheless, the spirit of Iwo Jima lived on at Khe Sanh and DaNang.
Association Membership has also been available to those with interest or connections to the 5th Marine Division or Iwo Jima, such as journalist, historians, and other service members that served on Iwo Jima in other branches of the military, but were not attached to a Marine Division. We also have some veterans of Iwo Jima from other Divisions whose associations have been disbanded. Today the Association has just under a thousand members, and is a mixture of veterans of Iwo Jima, of 5th Division Regiments that were activated in Vietnam, and of legacy members, associate members, and honorary members.
A number of 5th Marine veterans and their families are also members of the Iwo Jima Association of America and attend the yearly symposiums in Washington, D.C. Some FMDA members and their families have made at least one return to Iwo Jima for the joint Reunions of Honor with the Japanese, established in 1985, and held annually with the Japanese since 1995.
However, the first post-war meeting on the island of the former Japanese and American enemies came 15 years earlier, in 1970. A former PFC rifleman gravely wounded in the battle spearheaded the peace ceremony and reunion held on the 25th anniversary of the landing. This event was attended by the Commanding General of the 3rd Division stationed in Okinawa who represented the CMC, by the head of NBC’s Far East bureau who covered the news for both countries, and Japanese dignitaries, including the head of the Iwo Jima Association of Japan.
Survivors and their families have been able to meet to renew old friendships, share memories, and support one another through the venue of the annual FMDA Reunions. Increasingly sons and daughters, and other family members of Iwo vets, join the association, looking for more details of their loved ones’ time on Iwo, and hoping to meet other Marines who knew them. These Legacy Members are taking an increased leadership role in the Association and in keeping the history of Iwo Jima alive.