Mockler is in Iwo Jima to commemorate 78th anniversary of battle

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Private First Class Nils Edward Mockler, a U.S. Marine, acknowledged the crowd gathered at Crossgates Mall in 2019 as Albany County veterans. Mockler joined the Marines at age 18, in 1944, serving as an intelligence scout and fighting on both Iwo Jima and Saipan. He talked about the grueling Battle of Iwo Jima and how he saw the American flag raised atop Mount Suribachi, a scene made famous by Joe Rosenthal’s photograph. Mockler became a teacher.

To the Editor:

In February of 1945, when the United States Marine Corps arrived, Iwo Jima, an eight-square-mile volcanic island in the Pacific, was a well fortified home to 22,000 Japanese soldiers. Unbeknownst to U.S. military strategists at the time, it also had miles of interconnecting, multi-level tunnels, caves, and deadly accurate artillery emplacements.

After months of naval and air bombardment, it was determined that American landing forces would be undertaking a three-day “mop-up operation” of the island, an assessment that couldn’t have been more wrong.

The tenacity and determination of the Japanese defenders had been grossly underestimated. They, and the island’s infrastructure, were virtually unscathed.

The Marines began landing on Feb. 19 — thirty-six days later, the bloodiest battle in Marine Corps history ended. Nearly 7,000 Americans and more than 20,000 Japanese lay dead. Another 19,000 Marines were wounded.

The survivors were numbed by the sights, sounds, and smells in which they had been immersed for the previous five weeks. They were still wearing the same clothes they had on when they waded ashore; they were exhausted; they were filthy, hungry, thirsty.

The air they breathed was thick with the combination of sulfur venting from the volcano, burning fuel, gunpowder, and rotting corpses — and the smell permeated everything.

Former Altamont resident Nils Mockler, also known as Marine 563708, is one of those survivors. He was a Combat Intelligence Scout with the 4th Marine Division’s Tank Battalion. Nils is one of the youngest ones, having been only 18 years old in February 1945.

For anyone who would like to hear Nils speak about his time in the USMC, here are links to a couple Youtube videos:

Don’t ever make the mistake of calling Nils a hero. He will tell you he was just one of the lucky ones that “didn’t get hit.” The heroes are the ones who never came home.

It might seem that, after surviving the battle, no one would ever want to return to Iwo Jima. But survivors, and surviving family members, have done just that for many years.

Nils, who turns 97 next month, made the pilgrimage in 1995. And on March 25, 2023, he will again walk on those “black sands.”

Recently, Nils made a phone call to the Iwo Jima Association of America to inquire about an upcoming forum where historians and Iwo Jima survivors were gathering to discuss the battle. Nils asked if he might be able to livestream, and possibly participate in the meeting.

What came next was something Nils was not expecting. Once they realized he was an Iwo Jima survivor, they asked him if he would be interested in attending the 2023 Reunion of Honor, a commemoration ceremony marking the 78th anniversary of the iconic battle.

This is a formal joint U.S. - Japan ceremony, held annually on the island, and attended by military personnel, government officials and other dignitaries, surviving family members, and survivors of the battle.

This past Saturday, March 18, Nils, along with his provided travel companion, boarded a jet, was seated in first class, and took off on the first leg of his journey — his “final mission.”

Mark Yingling

Clifton Park

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