TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Marine Lt. Gen. Lawrence F. Snowden, who fought in the battle of Iwo Jima and led reconciliation reunions to the Pacific island in retirement, died Saturday — a day before the 72nd anniversary of the famous fight’s opening salvos.
At age 95, Snowden was thought to be the oldest survivor of the five-week struggle for the volcanic island. More than 6,000 Americans died and 19,200 casualties were counted — including Snowden, who was wounded twice but persuaded commanders to let him return to the fighting after his first evacuation.
Bevis Funeral Home confirmed that Snowden died at Big Bend Hospice House.
Although he rose to three-star rank and was assistant commandant of the Marine Corps before his retirement in 1979, Snowden was best known for his participation in “Reunion of Honor” missions to meet with Japanese veterans on the island, starting in 1985. He was instrumental in setting up another reunion in 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of the battle.
Snowden always emphasized that the reunions were not a celebration of the bitterly fought American victory, but a solemn recognition of the sacrifice by combatants on both sides — and a reaffirmation of the friendship between the countries.
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“General Snowden was a very highly respected leader and mentor,” said Claude Shipley, a retired Army colonel who heads the Tallahassee chapter of the Military Officers Association of America. “He was highly admired for his work post-World War II in helping to heal the wounds of Japan and the United States, and also for his service to our nation as a Marine Corps officer.”
Born in Charlottesville, Va., on April 14, 1921, Snowden joined the Marines shortly after Pearl Harbor and served in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. His many decorations include the Navy Distinguished Service Medal and Legion of Merit.
Last year, he published a memoir, Snowden’s Story, recounting military adventures and family memories, ranging from how he volunteered to help then-Gov. Lawton Chiles set up the state Department of Elder Affairs in the early 1990s to the 22 years he sang with the choir at Celebration Baptist Church.
He also wrote of the death of his wife, Martha, in 2006 after 63 years of marriage.
The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, came to Tallahassee in March to present Snowden two special awards from the Department of Defense and the Navy for public service.
Snowden was a 23-year-old captain when he led a company of 230 Marines ashore at Iwo Jima. More than half of them would be killed in the 36-day battle. In an interview last month, Snowden said he felt hostile and embittered toward the Japanese after the war — but his thinking began to change during the Korean War.
He was assigned to a logistics conference in Japan and got to know some of that nation’s military officers and business and government leaders. He decided they were not to blame for the war, but were honorably doing their duty at Iwo Jima.
“It was a slow transition and I’ll admit that,” Snowden said. “Suddenly, it occurred to me that I was free of this burden of hate. I never really hated anybody — I don’t like to use that word — but I’d listened to the propaganda after Pearl Harbor and wanted to get revenge ... but I realized that all those young men were doing just what I was doing. They were there fighting because their national leaders sent us there to do what they wanted us to do. They were no different than I was.”