Every year on February 23, we recall the anniversary of U.S. military service members raising the American flag on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima during World War II. The U.S. military sought occupation of Iwo Jima because it was strategically located about 750 miles southeast of the main island of Japan and could be used as an aircraft base for launching air raids on Japan’s main island.
Early in 1945, U.S. military forces began their attack on Iwo Jima from both the air and the sea. Then, on February 19, 1945, U.S. Marines launched their land assault on Iwo Jima as more than 30,000 U.S. troops invaded the island from its southeastern shore.
Japanese forces had been expecting the U.S. military attack, and they had prepared in advance by stationing 22,000 soldiers on the small, eight-square-mile island. The Japanese used their soldiers to build an intricate, underground maze of tunnels and stockpiled their bunkers with artillery and supplies.
Amid heavy and fierce fighting from the well-hidden and well-hunkered-down Japanese, the U.S. Marines made slow and steady progress gaining ground in Iwo Jima. Four days after the American boots-on-the-ground battle began, the Marines gained control of Mount Suribachi, the island’s highest peak, and raised an American flag. Because the first American flag raised on Mount Suribachi was quite small, it was unable to be seen at a distance by U.S. troops. Plans were quickly made to raise a larger American flag.
The second American flag-raising mission on Iwo Jima took place only hours after the first successful mission. As part of the second mission, a Marine photographer, a videographer and Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal accompanied six U.S. military service members who carried the second, larger American flag and its flagpole. It was during this second mission that Rosenthal snapped his iconic photograph of the American flag being raised on Iwo Jima. Rosenthal’s photo captured six U.S. military heroes, one sailor and five Marines, using every bit of their collective, physical might to raise the second, larger American flag and its hefty flagpole. Rosenthal later won a Pulitzer Prize for his photo, and it has since become the inspiration for similar paintings and monuments throughout the U.S.
Despite the early joy of the two American flag-raising missions on Iwo Jima, an intense battle on the small island raged for a total of 36 days. After beginning in the southern part of the island, the battle inched northward. By March 3, 1945, American troops had seized the island’s three airfields. Then, on March 25, 1945, the U.S. declared that it had overtaken and seized possession of Iwo Jima. Yet, weeks later, U.S. troops continued to confront random Japanese soldiers who emerged from their jungle bunkers and clung to their original orders to fight.
By the end of World War II, the battle for control of Iwo Jima resulted in approximately 17,000 wounded U.S. service members and almost 7,000 American casualties. From the Japanese perspective, 200 soldiers were captured and almost 22,000 died during the battle. Tragically, the U.S. casualties in Iwo Jima included three of the six U.S. military heroes who Rosenthal captured in his iconic American flag-raising photo.
On February 23, fly your American flag in honor and remembrance of all U.S. military service members who lost their lives or who were wounded in battle as they fought for our freedom at Iwo Jima.
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