I was tied up with work and family matters and so didn’t to the post I promised yesterday.
Continuing on with the Battle of Iwo Jima, yesterday marked the 72nd anniversary of one of the most iconic moments in World War II. It might be one of the most iconic moment in Marine Corps history as well.
On February 23, a platoon of Marines captured the summit of Mount Suribachi. Depriving the Japanese of the summit eliminated the observation posts that the Japanese had used to attack the Marines.
The Lieutenant commanding the platoon had brought the battalions American flag with him and ordered it raised by platoon members. A photo was taken by a USMC photographer, but what photograph was not released until sometime in 1947.
The story goes that Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal wanted the flag and said so orders were given to retrieve the original flag and replace it with a larger one.
An alternative suggestion is that the original flag was too small to be clearly scene by Marines down on the lower parts of the island.
Either way, a second flag was dispatched and Marines were directed to raise it. Using a piece of pipe that was part of the battle debris five Marines and a Navy Corpsman raised the flag. Photographer Joe Rosenthal was on the island photographing the battle for the Associated Press and caught the raising on camera.
The photograph was flashed around the world by wire services and published in much of the world on Sunday, February 25.
Almost instantly, it became one of the most famous photographs in United States history. The picture became the model for the United States Marine Corps War Memorial, which was erected in 1954. Rosenthal went on to a long career as a news photographer and editor, dying in 2006.
Three of the six men identified in the picture died during the subsequent fighting on the island. The three remaining men were returned to the United States and engaged in a series of war bond sales rallies.
In subsequent years, it was determined that John Bradley, a Navy Corpsman, was not one of the six raisers of the flag. That determination was made after Bradley and Rosenthal had died and it’s unclear if anyone ever asked them while they were alive who the actual six were.
That aside, the photograph remains as an enduring image of the war in the Pacific and of the determination of the Marines in battle.