War in the Pacific

Traveling in the footsteps of history

By: Mark Edward Harris

This is the first Image
Former U.S. Marine James Ware atop Mt.
Surabachi on Iwo Jima where the famous
flag-raising photograph was taken.
The late Stephen Ambrose, one of the greatest historians and storytellers of our time, left us with award-winning books and documentaries ... as well as a unique set of travel itineraries.

Ambrose believed that the best way to understand history was to study the places where it was made. In 1979, he began tours to places that he deemed important for Americans to learn about the heritage of their own nation. This belief soon evolved into Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours (SAHT). For instance, the research for Ambrose’s book, “Undaunted Courage,” about the travels of Lewis and Clark, is the basis for a SAHT tour that follows the path of the famous duo through Montana and Idaho. Likewise, Ambrose’s best-selling books about World War II are the basis for several European tour itineraries.

Along the same lines, I recently joined SAHT’s War in the Pacific tour, which included visits to Pearl Harbor, Saipan, Tinian, Guam and Iwo Jima. Tour members are given rare access to areas on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, adjacent to Battleship Row. The trip also includes visits to the Utah Memorial, the Pacific Aviation Museum, and the USS Missouri. The group also visits the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and the Honolulu Memorial in Puowaina Crater which loosely translates as “Hill of Sacrifice.”

The capture of Saipan was a major turning point for the war in the Pacific. In Saipan, the group visits the invaded beaches and battle sites of Operation Forager. The island took 24 days of bitter fighting to secure in places with appropriate names such as Death Valley, Purple Heart Ridge and Harakiri Gulch.

The tiny island of Tinian is famous for being the departure site for the Enola Gay, the airplane carrying the atomic bombs that ended World War II. The bomb-loading pits at the North Field and adjoining runway stand as silent testimony to the day when that B-29 ascended into the sky toward Japan and changed the world forever.

From there, the tour continued to Guam a particularly poignant place for me since my uncle fought there and then on to the volcanic island of Iwo Jima via a Continental Airlines charter flight.

SAHT joined forces with Military History Tours (MHT) for the Iwo Jima part of the tour. MHT has coordinated this once yearly trip for U.S. veterans since the 50th anniversary of the battle. The company’s founder and president, Colonel Warren Wiedhahn (USMC, Ret.), a Korean and Vietnam War veteran, designed the concept for MHT from his vision to enable fellow veterans, their families and friends, historians, educators and students the opportunity to visit the battlefields of past conflicts. Like Stephen Ambrose tours, MHT’s tours are designed to cultivate an understanding of the events that transpired and how they connect to both American and world history.

Among the tour members to the Pacific was former Marine James Ware who had last stepped foot in these islands 62 years ago during WWII. It was incredible to hear him recount his experiences in the very places where the battles he fought took place. This was truly living history.

As a photographer, one of the most memorable moments of the trip for me came on Iwo Jima when I stood with Ware atop Mt. Surabachi, the place where the U.S. flag was raised by six soldiers an iconic image that was frozen in time by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, an in-person experience like this coming face to face with history is worth a million.


Military Historical Tours

Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours

The next offering of the tour “Iwo Jima: War in the Pacific” will be March 3-14.