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Last American flag on Iwo Jima flies over Buckley

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Marine Cpl. Kevin Ennet and Senior Airmen Michael Skaggs and John Stacy fold an American flag after flying it on the flagpole here. In 1968, the flag was lowered on Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima for the last time as the island returned to the Japanese government. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jim Randall)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Marine Cpl. Kevin Ennet and Senior Airmen Michael Skaggs and John Stacy fold an American flag after flying it on the flagpole here. In 1968, the flag was lowered on Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima for the last time as the island returned to the Japanese government. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jim Randall)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFPN) -- In 1968, Old Glory was lowered on the island of Iwo Jima for the last time as the island returned to the Japanese government.

A flag had flown day and night on Mount Suribachi since U.S. Marines famously raised on there during the battle for Iwo Jima.

On March 27, that last flag flew here as part of a ceremony commemorating the 58th anniversary of the battle in 1945.

Buckley is the first Air Force base to fly the Iwo Jima flag. The flag has previously flown above Puerto Rico and 20 state capitols and recently was raised above the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Santa Fe, N.M., and Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver. Retired Senior Master Sgt. Paul Bockman, a member of the Black Pearl Veterans of Iwo Jima, provided the flag on behalf of the organization. The group has 266 members who are dedicated to flying the Iwo Jima flag in as many places as possible, including over all 50 state capitols.

Bockman, who served in the Air Force from 1952 to 1972, arrived on Iwo Jima in 1958 for a one-year tour. He was a communications maintenance technician in charge of the control tower. He said it is important this flag is flown as much as possible so everyone remembers its "historical importance" and the story behind it.

"You sort of bond to the place with all the historical background," he said. "I thought, my God, I'm standing here where Lord knows how many of my people died."

The Battle of Iwo Jima is forever preserved in the minds of Americans because of the prize-winning Joe Rosenthal photograph of Marines hoisting the American flag atop Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945.

Iwo Jima was the first native soil in the Japanese empire invaded by Americans in World War II. During the 36-day assault, nearly 7,000 Americans were killed in action. More than 25,000 Americans were wounded. Virtually all of the 22,000 Japanese soldiers involved in the battle were killed.

Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded to sailors and Marines in the battle, more than in any other battle in American history.

"Raising the last flag to fly over the island of Iwo Jima reminds us of the high price those who serve our country pay in its defense," said Chief Master Sgt. Dave Seaman, 460th Air Base Wing command chief. "It also ties this generation of warriors with those who've served previously."

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