At the site of perhaps the most famous flag-raising in modern history, an East Carolina University alumnus got to fly a flag of his own.
When Navy Petty Officer First Class William Beamer ’06 learned he would be visiting Iwo Jima on Memorial Day as part of his duties, he saw it as a chance to reflect on everything that had brought him to that point, from the sacrifices of those who served before him to his own education at ECU.
Bearing a purple and gold flag with the letters of his fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Beamer reached the summit of Mount Suribachi, where Marines raised the U.S. flag on February 23, 1945 while taking the island from Japan in one of the bloodiest and most significant battles of World War II.
“Saving the details of the mission that took me there, I will say it was awe-inspiring,” said Beamer, who works as an aviation electronics technician with Strike Fighter Squadron 115, based in Atsugi, Japan, near Tokyo. “Unfortunately, I did not have my favorite ECU flag (the No Quarter Flag), so I made do with my treasured SAE flag. Walking Invasion Beach 70 years after this historic battle leaves you feeling small, but enormous at the same time. There are certainly members of our esteemed alumni network who fought in that battle and I hope the freedoms our university enjoys are seen as a result of these colleagues’ sacrifices.”
This tiny island, just eight square miles and located around 760 miles south-southeast of Tokyo, was of immense strategic and symbolic importance to the allies. It was a vital refueling and repair stop for planes crossing the vast expanse of the Pacific. It was also the first part of Japan itself to fall to the allies and represented a major turning point in the war. The iconic flag raising was captured by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, whose shot went on to win a Pulitzer prize and become the most reproduced photo in history.
Bringing his fraternity flag to this historic site was natural for Beamer, who attributes his success in the military to lessons learned in SAE at ECU. “I can credit SAE with honing leadership skills I use today,” he said. “SAE teaches 18-year-olds how to manage programs within the fraternity that sailors with 15 years active duty manage in the fleet. I enjoyed being involved with SAE immensely. Ten years later and my first thought when told I was going to Iwo Jima was to pack my flag.”
The island was returned to Japan in 1968 and its original name of Iwo To or Ioto, depending on the translation, was reinstated in 2007. Now a Japanese military base closed to outsiders, the otherwise uninhabited island is only open to veterans and their families on one day a year.
When Beamer came back to his base in Atsugi, he met a new sailor who also graduated from ECU.
“Some would call ECU a regional school, but to have two out of 12 people in a workshop on a small Navy base both be ECU alumni — that shows our broad reach,” he said.
Beamer is able to bond with young sailors from all over the world thanks to his experience at ECU.
“When I was student body treasurer I worked underneath a president who was intent on bringing to light the need for increased diversity efforts,” he said. “I probably did not know it at the time, but this prepared me for the role I currently play.”
Beamer will be returning stateside in a couple weeks and transferring to Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, IL to be a recruit division commander (equivalent to a drill sergeant).
“I look forward to my return stateside in July, after three years abroad in Japan, and hope we have even further successes as a Pirate Nation in the year to come. With a hearty ARRRRRRGH and Hooyah from Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, I wanted to say GO PIRATES!!!”
By Jackie Drake