Iwo Jima Victory Came at a Steep Price

Six men are hoisting a large flag on a heavy pipe from the ground to an upright position.

They didn’t stop to pose for a photo.

Photographer Joe Rosenthal snapped his shutter one time, set at 1/400thof a second.

He had no idea what that image would look like.

It appears that the five Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman were holding the flag at that angle, in the most famous photograph in history.

But Rosenthal, an Associated Press photographer who had covered many prior battles, just happened to capture this image at the exact right moment, when the makeshift flagpole was at a perfect 45-degree angle.

Why did that photograph become so famous?

Why was a statue built based on this image, which stands adjacent to the Arlington National Cemetery?

Why are there plaques commemorating this image in government buildings and veteran memorials throughout the nation, as well as on a postage stamp and reproductions in countless books, magazines and newspapers?

When the Imperial Japanese armed forces attacked the U.S. military installment at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, the brutal Axis Powers – mainly Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany – were busy taking over the entire world.

America had just begun rebuilding its military and drafting soldiers. The U.S. armed forces were in dismal shape. Its Pacific fleet was largely decimated by the Pearl Harbor attack.

But just three years and two months later, American troops had helped defeat the Nazis in Europe and were closing in on a victory over Japan.

Iwo Jima was a Japanese island, part of the Tokyo district – a crucial air base used against Americans. U.S. Generals were determined to take it, to use as their own base for the final assault on the mainland.

On Feb. 19, 1945, ships carrying three Marine divisions arrived offshore. After many of the first wave of 30,000 Marines – many of them teenagers – arrived safely on the black volcanic soil, Japanese soldiers hidden in caves and tunnels opened fire on them.

Thousands of young Marines were slaughtered that day.

Just four days later, six members of the Fifth Marine Division were tasked with carrying a large flag to the top of Mount Suribachi, to replace a smaller flag that had been previously raised there.

The flag-raising was a morale-boosting symbol of the taking of the high ground, which had been used effectively to rain fire on the Marines.

The battle for the island would rage on for 36 days, with a cost of about 6,800 Marines killed in action.

Six months later, the pilot flying the Enola Gay, the B-29 carrying the atomic bomb to mainland Japan, tipped a wing over Iwo Jima as a tribute to the Marines who fought and died to take that island.

The battle of Iwo Jima became synonymous with extreme valor under fire. Marines and sailors were awarded 27 Medals of Honor – the most of any campaign in history.

Iwo Jima Marines were among almost 300,000 U.S. military fatalities in World War II.

The Iwo invasion date, Feb. 19, is not remembered prominently like the anniversaries of D-Day, or other mileposts of the war, fought to retain our liberty and liberate much of the world.

Because I have known several Iwo veterans, including my father, this day holds a special place in my heart. The men who willingly invaded that heavily fortified island must always be remembered – especially at a time so many Americans have forgotten we are a free country worth fighting for.


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