On February 23, 1945, four days after landing on Iwo Jima, a historical WWII moment was captured as six soldiers – five Marines and one Navy corpsman – raised the American Flag on the top of Mount Suribachi. The photograph has become one of the most recognized moments captured in history. The events leading up to this are in and of themselves incredible. Despite the odds and devastating losses, US Marines persevered constantly evaluating tactics and weapons and making changes accordingly.
The United States had a plan to invade various South Pacific islands in an effort to defeat Japan. Originally, this plan did not include Iwo Jima. However, once the plan was in the motion, the somewhat quick fall of the Philippines left a lull before their next scheduled invasion. It was then they turned their eyes on the Japanese Island of Iwo Jima.
The Japanese used Iwo Jima to spot incoming US bombers to warn their Japanese homeland. Iwo Jima was heavily guarded by the Japanese and the US invasion resulted in a high number of casualties. Mount Suribachi - a dormant volcano from which the island was formed – sits at the southern tip of the island. It was the main vantage point on the island as it allowed the Japanese to remain basically undetectable in their underground bunkers and allowed them to spot and accurately fire upon incoming targets. These bunkers were connected through a tunneling system that allowed a new troop to move in swiftly even once the initial crew was detected and hit.
The initial invasion began on February 19, 1945. What ensued was some of the most brutal fighting to occur in the Pacific Theater resulting in the only battle where Marine casualties would outnumber those suffered by the Japanese. While the American’s had extensive naval and air support, the Japanese were strong in number and safe guarded by the sheer number of bunkers, underground tunnels and concealed artillery.
The American’s landed on the beach at Iwo Jima just before 9 AM. This group was not initially hit by the Japanese giving them the false security that previous US artillery and air bombardment had killed the Japanese troops present on the island. Hostile fire was held off by the Japanese until the US troops reached close proximity to the first of the hidden bunkers which resulted in devastating loss.
Once armored units arrived and they received the support of heavy naval artillery and air units, the Marines were able to move beyond the beaches. As the US Marine Corps troops marched forward, terrain was difficult. But by evening, they were able to cut Suribachi off from the rest of the island.
Over the next few days, the American’s would be stalled by a number of tactics. They also began to realize that normal arms were not going to be sufficient. They began utilizing flamethrowers and grenades, which proved to be far more successful. Eight WWII Sherman M4A3R3 medium tanks played a vital role once they arrived. They not only assisted with heavy artillery, but the Japanese troops would attempt to disable these tanks out in the open allowing the US Marine Corps to move in and successfully attack. Tactics changed once the Japanese began to run out of both water and food. Desperate, they began nighttime attacks but were met with machine gun fire and additional artillery support. Hand to hand combat also ensued.
Two groups of four men each were sent up to the summit, meeting an occasional resistance. Once they returned to base and reported the lack of Japanese forces up the summit, Colonel Chandler Johnson ordered a group of Marines to climb Suribachi, sending with them a small American flag. This patrol group met no resistance. Once at the top, they proudly raise the US flag using a pipe they found amongst the rubble. This flag was the first foreign flag to be flown on Japanese soil. Various legends surround the fate of this original flag, which was in fact removed and a second American flag put in its place. It was during the second raising the infamous moment was captured by Joe Rosenthal. This WWII photograph taken on the Island of Iwo Jima captured an incredible moment of history which would not only be known but would forever recognized as “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima”.