Commentary: What do Haiti, the Super Bowl and Iwo Jima have in common?

U.S. Marine CorpsFebruary 2, 2010 

On Iwo Jima 65 years ago, the battle for that Japanese-held island began with Marines landing and U.S. Navy ships supporting them with a lifeline of supplies from the sea. There is a link between those events in February 1945 and the suffering, loss and relief efforts that are under way in the island nation of Haiti today.

The USNS Jack Lummus, sits offshore of the Jewel of the Caribbean, packed with engineering and humanitarian aid and desalinating and pumping fresh water ashore for the Haitian people. She's a floating sea base and part of the nation's planned flotilla of supply ships positioned, waiting and ready in the world's sea lanes to respond to natural disasters such as the massive earthquake that hit Haiti.

Amidst the horror they endured on the black sands of Iwo Jima, Marines learned two logistics lessons that endure today: A mountain of supplies must be close at hand to support combat ashore; and the enemy will deny the use of airfields and ports to deliver the supplies.

What does this have to do with Haiti?

Instead of armed defenders on the beaches, ports and airfields in Port au Prince, the enemy is the passage of time and the geologic whim of Mother Nature. The Lummus is part of the solution to the challenge posed by Nature that is afflicting the Haitian people now.

The ship is part of the U.S. "Maritime Prepositioning Force," a flotilla of supply ships circling the oceans in anticipation of crises that range from combat to natural disaster. By chance, the Lummus was in Florida restocking her magazines when the earthquake hit Haiti last month. Agile sailors and Marines filled her armories with humanitarian relief supplies, and she sailed to the calamity in Haiti within four days.

The methodical supply plan and a support ship manned by sailors and Marines was why help arrived in Haiti within four days of the quake. Who knows how many lives the Lummus and her crew may have saved. Tens of thousands? More?

In a twist of irony, the Lummus is named for an ordinary American whose extraordinary drive and courage as a Marine platoon leader on Iwo Jima almost exactly 65 years ago broke the back of the Japanese defense of the northern part of that island.

The irony doesn't stop there this Super Bowl weekend in Miami: Jack Lummus also played both offense and defense in the National Football League for the New York Giants in the 1941 championship game, the precursor to today's Super Bowl.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor that year, he left a promising NFL career out of a sense of patriotism and enlisted in the Marines. For extraordinary heroism in combat, Lt. Lummus was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, and a ship was named in his honor.

So as you watch the Super Bowl this year, recall the service of a fine American and football great; remember the Haitian people in their time of need; and know that the Jack Lummus and her crew are still on duty, night and day, aiding them on behalf of America.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Col. Salas is the Director of Marine Corps Public Affairs at the Pentagon.

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