On this day, seventy-two years ago, six U.S. Marines raised the flag of their country on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. There’s a good chance you’re familiar with the photo below, which took the United States by storm shortly after it was taken.
The island Iwo Jima was in a strategic location for the U.S.; taking control of it meant they would have an airbase for fighter aircraft and bombers. This was important for aerial attacks on the main land of Japan. From the beginning, the battle of Iwo Jima was a bloody one; the Americans faced heavy fire and attacks from Japanese soldiers that could usually not be seen. Prior to the battle, General Kuribayashi had instructed that underground tunnels and fortifications be built. These offered protection to the Japanese while Americans were targets out in the open. Still, the Americans fought on, slowly making progress across the island.
On February 23, 1945, the crest of Mount Suribachi was taken and a flag was raised. Shortly after, Marines were ordered to raise a second, larger flag and take the first one down. During the second raising, the infamous photo was taken. Two days later, it was first published in newspapers and offered hope and encouragement to those on the home front. Eventually, the photo served as inspiration for citizens to purchase war bonds and further support the war effort.
It’s possible that one of the reasons this particular photo created such a reaction was that it seems like the Marines were struggling in the thick of a battle, which they had been previously, but at that moment, they weren’t under fire. They were struggling because the pole they were raising was so heavy. Although the photo symbolizes the effort and sacrifice the Americans had made, the Marines that raised the flag didn’t appreciate the attention. They felt the true heroes were those who didn’t come home.
I read Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers, which goes into great detail about each of the men, the battle, and raising the flag. It also discusses what life was like for them afterwards. I would highly recommend this book – it was awe-inspiring to read what these young men did for each other and for their country. And, I’ll admit, this book made me cry at a few points – and I never cry! Of course, in 2006 it was also made into a movie under the same title, although you know what they say: the book is always better!
Let us never forget the great sacrifices others have made for our country.