Iwo Jima: Raising the Flag in Victory

United States Marine Corps War Memorial by Felix de Weldon at night. By Catie Drew - http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/photos/63476, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=671374
United States Marine Corps War Memorial by Felix de Weldon at night. (Photo by Catie Drew via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1945, five United States Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman raised the American flag atop Mount Suribachi in the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.

Here are some things you may not have known about the battle, the moment and the iconic photograph.

Iwo Jima is located halfway between Japan and the Mariana Islands. It served as an early-warning station to let the Japanese know if American bombers were on the way.

On Feb. 19, 1945, at 8:59 a.m., one minute ahead of schedule, American forces invaded the island.

The Marines found conditions that didn’t match what they were told to expect. What were described as “excellent” beaches, turned out to be 15-foot high hills of volcanic ash. The equipment weighed down the Marines, making it even more difficult to cross the beach. The American forces continued to pile onto the beach, unable to make much headway and creating a huge human traffic jam. The Japanese gradually reduced their response, lulling the Americans into thinking that the defenses had been beaten. All the while, more Marines arrived on the beach.

About an hour after the first Marines hit the beach, the Japanese opened fire with everything they had; machine guns, mortars and heavy artillery rained down on the crowded beach.

Eventually, the Naval Construction Battalions, better known as Seabees, were able to create passages for men and equipment to get off the beaches.

After three more days filled with extensive casualties, the Americans made their way to the highest point on the island, called Mount Suribachi, capturing it on the morning of February 23.

Lieutenant Colonel Chandler Johnson of the 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division, ordered a platoon to take the mountain and raise a flag if they made it to the top. The platoon, led by 1st Lieutenant Harold Schrier made it to the top and raised a relatively small American flag. The Secretary of the Navy, who was present at the time, decided he wanted that flag as a souvenir. Johnson ordered that flag removed and returned to him, and not the Secretary of the Navy. Johnson sent another Marine up the mountain with a different, larger flag.

The new flag arrived at the summit and was raised by Ira Hayes, Franklin Sousley, Michael Strank, Rene Gagnon, Harlon Block and John Bradley. The moment was photographed by Joe Rosenthal of The Associated Press.

Rosenthal had arrived on the summit just as the group was getting ready to raise the flag. He was busy trying to set up for the shot, when he noticed that the men were lifting the flag into place. He grabbed his camera and took the photo without using the viewfinder. Long before instant photography, Rosenthal couldn’t be sure what, if anything, he had captured.

The film was sent to Guam for processing. The Associated Press photo editor sent it on to AP headquarters in New York, which sent the photo out to its member newspapers less than 18 hours after the event.

Of the six men who raised the flag, only three of them survived the battle. Strank and Block were killed six days after the raising, while Sousley was killed on March 21.

The battle continued until the island was declared secure on March 26. Of the more than 18,000 Japanese fighters stationed on the island, only 216 were taken prisoner, the rest were killed in combat. 19,217 Americans were wounded and 6,821 were killed. 27 U.S. servicemen were awarded the Medal of Honor for actions during the battle. Hershel Williams, is the only one of those Medal of Honor winners alive today. He is 92 years old.

Rosenthal won the Pulitzer Prize for his photograph, and it was used as the inspiration for the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.

The United States occupied Iwo Jima until 1968, when it was returned to Japan.

Our question: How many civilians live on Iwo Jima today?

Today is Republic Day in Guyana, National Day in Brunei and Defender of the Fatherland Day in Russia. It’s unofficially Diesel Engine Day, National Banana Bread Day and Play Tennis Day.

It’s the birthday of composer George Handel, civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, and actor Peter Fonda.

This week in 1968, the top song in the U.S. was “Love is Blue” by Paul Mariat and His Orchestra.

The No. 1 movie was “Planet of the Apes,” while “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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