Raising the First Flag on Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima
Photo by SSgt. Louis R. Lowery, USMC
February 23, 1945
Five U.S. Marines and a Navy Corpsman Raise the American Flag
The dominant geographical feature of the island of Iwo Jima
U.S. Navy Photo
On February 19, 1945, the United States invaded Iwo Jima as part of its strategy to defeat Japan. Although not originally a target, the relatively swift fall of the Philippines provided a tactical opportunity prior to the planned invasion of Okinawa. Iwo Jima, used by the Japanese to alert the homeland of incoming American planes, was located between Japan and the Mariana Islands, a base used for long-range American bombers. Following capture of the island, America would weaken the Japanese early warning system and provide an emergency landing strip for damaged bombers.
A volcanic island, Iwo Jima was heavily fortified and the invading U.S. Marines suffered high casualties. The elevation of Mount Suribachi’s 546-foot dormant cone was a tremendous artillery vantage point for the Japanese in underground bunkers and pill boxes against our forces – particularly its landing beaches. As a necessity, American effort concentrated on isolating and capturing Suribachi, a goal achieved on February 23, 1945 with the raising of the American flag just four days following the commencement of battle. A larger second flag would soon replace the former and three Marines depicted in the flag raising would be killed in action over the next few days.
As the first Japanese homeland soil secured by Americans, it had been a matter of honor for the Japanese to prevent its capture. Despite our success in reaching Suribachi, the battle continued to rage for 31 days until the 26th of March. The 35-day assault would ultimately result in more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 deaths.
The first and second flag raisings are conserved in the National Museum of Marine Corps.
The second flag, pictured here, was damaged by high winds at the peak of Suribachi
(American flags during World War II had 48 stars, as Alaska and Hawaii were not yet U.S. states).
Photo: Creative Commons
A National Monument
Marine Corps War Memorial
Regarded as one of the most significant and recognizable images of WWII, the photo by Joe Rosenthal for the Associated Press, depicting marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima, was later used by Felix de Weldon to sculpt the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. Dedicated in 1954, the monument honors the memory of all Marines who have given their lives in service for their country.
Commissioned to design the memorial in 1951, it would take three years and hundreds of assistants to complete the iconic image. The flag-raising survivors would pose for de Weldon who would then sculpt from photographs the marines killed in action.
“Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue”