Traditions Are Important

As most parks and rec professionals probably know, the National Park Service (NPS) celebrates its Centennial next August--100 years of protecting and preserving on behalf of the American public.

This has special meaning to me because one of the many iconic features that the NPS preserves is the Marine Corps War Memorial, aka. the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Va.  Arguably the most recognizable statue in America, what many people don’t realize is that it resides on NPS park land.

I was nearly two years old when the Iwo Jima Memorial was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on Nov. 10, 1954--the 179th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps. WWII was still a vivid memory for people and the open-ended Korean War had just ended with a perpetual armistice.

But for me, growing up in the seclusion of a Wisconsin farm, the Iwo Jima Memorial was an unknown--until I saw and read about it in a history book early in my education. Who knows, maybe that’s when the seed was planted; or maybe it was hearing about my Uncle Johnny’s exploits as a Marine in WWII.

Little did I or anyone else in my family realize that years later I would be guided to joining the Marine Corps, leading to a successful and eventful 20-year career. After that, I was guided to another career with a municipal parks department.

All because the NPS saw the value of preserving a tradition in the form of that Iwo Jima Memorial, and still does. In April, businessman and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein donated $5.37 million to restore the Iwo Jima Memorial.

“Since their beginning, national parks have been the fortunate beneficiaries of visionary and generous people who devoted their time, talent and treasure to creating and preserving them, but these acts of love for one’s country and bequests to future generations didn’t have a name until David Rubenstein,” Jonathan Jarvis, National Park Service director, said. “Not only has David coined the term ‘patriotic philanthropy,’ he is its epitome. We are grateful for his continued support of America’s national parks and the stories they preserve and share.” 

I think it is fitting that these two American institutions--the Marine Corps and the NPS--are talked about in the same breath. After all, they are two of a very few American institutions that have remained true to their roots and have stuck to their original visions and mission even in the face of a changing world that constantly demanded they change with the times.

“It is a privilege to honor our fellow Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice to attain and preserve the freedoms we enjoy. I hope this gift enables visitors to the Iwo Jima Memorial to better appreciate the beauty and significance of this iconic sculpture, and inspires other Americans to support critical needs facing our national park system,” David Rubenstein said.

I am not sure what critical needs Mr. Rubenstein refers to, but I can only imagine it has to do with budget cuts, “right-sizing,” staff reductions, belt tightening and all the other catch phrases with which we’ve all become all too familiar.

“The Marine Corps War Memorial stands as a symbol of this grateful Nation’s esteem for the honored dead of the U.S. Marine Corps. While the statue depicts one of the most iconic photos of World War II, the memorial is dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives in the defense of the United States, since 1775. We are grateful for Mr. Rubenstein’s patriotism and generous donation to the National Park Foundation that will ensure this significant memorial continues to honor our fallen and inform public understanding of the cost and nature of their nation's expeditionary force in readiness,” Marine Major General Michael R. Regner said.

Thirty-two foot high figures are shown raising a 60-foot bronze flagpole. The flag at the top of the pole flies at full mast 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by presidential proclamation.

The figures in the statue occupy the same positions as in Joe Rosenthal's historic photograph. Ira Hayes is the figure farthest from the flagpole with both hands reaching up. Franklin Sousley is in front of Hayes, to the right. Navy Corpsman John Bradley is in front of Sousley. Michael Strank is in front of Hayes, to the left. Rene Gagnon is in front of Strank. Harlon Block is at the foot of the flagpole.

Thanks to the NPS, the Marine Corps tradition of facing and defeating America’s foes is perpetuated. There may be some Americans who naively say that’s a bad thing; that we shouldn’t fight in wars. 

However, the tradition the Marines have upheld for 240 years this November 10 is that nobody wants to fight, but somebody has to know how. The time-tested tradition Marines have held on to is to be the nation’s Force In Readiness, America’s 9-1-1 call, to be most ready when the nation is least ready.

Like it or not, there are very bad people in this world who have vowed forceful and violent change; this change would be to destroy the American and western ideology and tradition and replace it with theirs. That is their tradition; that is what they have been taught for generations.

There is no negotiation; there is no reasoning; there is no peaceful dialog. All they understand and all they practice is violent overthrow.

So, in the shadow of the Iwo Jima Memorial, today’s Marines carry on a tradition of preparation, training, readiness and the will to stand between aggressors and the American public--even those who don’t agree or understand.

So I’d like to extend a personal thanks to the 20,000 NPS employees who care for America’s 407 national parks, and especially those who oversee the Iwo Jima park land. Thank you for helping to preserve local and national history and creating recreational opportunities for Americans.

Semper Fi NPS!         

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Bay Minette, AL; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email