At 9:00am on February 19, 1945 Marines of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions landed on the volcanic Pacific island of Iwo Jima. Despite having grown accustomed to ferocious Japanese resistance as they island-hopped from one battle to the next, the Marines landing that day had no idea of the Hell they were about to enter. The Japanese General in charge of the island’s defenses, rather than meet the invading Marines on the beaches, had decided to marshal his forces further inland. As a result, Marines who landed that morning were unable to move forward, pinned down by heavy machine gun, mortar and artillery fire while sustaining heavy casualties. At the same time, the US Navy was taking fire at a rate unseen since the Battle of the Coral Sea nearly three years earlier. Before the battle was over, the Navy would suffer over 850 casualties and lose 18 ships, including the escort carrier USS Bismarck Sea and the heavy carrier USS Saratoga.
Still, the Marines pressed on. By the morning of February 23, the Marines of “E” 2/28 (E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment) had taken the summit of the island’s most prominent height, Mount Suribachi. Led by 1st Lt. Harold Schrier, the 40 Marine strong patrol arrived at the volcanic crater and raised a small American flag at 10:20 that morning – the first time a foreign flag ever flew over Japanese soil. Marine Sergeant Lou Lowery captured the flag raising on film, despite having to dodge a Japanese grenade attack.
The immediate lift to the morale of the Marines fighting all over the island was resounding and noticed by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, who immediately ordered a larger flag be flown in the original’s place. That flag raising, forever immortalized by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal, became one of the iconic images in American history. Today, the photo is immortalized in the Iwo Jima Memorial, a giant bronze statue at Arlington National Cemetery that stands as a tribute to all Marines who died in battle.
The Battle for Iwo Jima continued for another month, becoming the bloodiest battle in US history. The Marines suffered over 26,000 casualties; of the over 20,000 Japanese defenders, fewer than 1100 survived. 27 Marines were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor at Iwo Jima, more than any other battle in history. Marines who fought on that small volcanic rock 67 years ago can still regale you with stories that leave even modern Marines incredulous at their sacrifice and determination. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz summed up the horror endured and gallantry of the men who lived and died on “sulfur island” when he said:
“By their victory, the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions and other units of the Fifth Amphibious Corps have made an accounting to their country which only history will be able to value fully. Among the Americans serving on Iwo island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
On today, the 67th anniversary of the Flag raising on Suribachi, this Marine is proud to stand and salute those men still alive and give a heartfelt, “Semper Fi! Job well done!”