For the United States Marine Corps, February 23 is a hallowed day. On that date in 1945, Marines in two separate actions raised the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi on a desolate little Pacific island called Iwo Jima.
The first flag-raising was captured by Marine photographer Lou Lowery. It’s a gritty, stark image that shows a rifleman guarding the detail and conveys a sense of the desperate danger that hung over the battle which had begun on 19 February and would last more than another month.
But this flag was too small to see well from below where it could be worth your life to raise your head, so a second detail was sent up the peak to raise a larger flag.
The second flag raising was photographed by Joe Rosenthal, and it gave the Corps an icon for the ages, and a thrill of hope to America and a war-weary world. The photo showed five Marines and a Navy Corpsman struggling to drive the flagpole into the stony ground.
Soon, the image flashed around the world; it won the Pulitzer Prize and has become one of the most reproduced photos of all time and was the basis for the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, VA.
For Marines, the image is a solemn reminder of all Leathernecks who have fought and died, from the American Revolution to Marjah in Afghanistan. Those WWII battles in the Pacific were all bloody, vicious affairs but Iwo Jima still ranks as the bloodiest in the Corps’ proud history.
The March-April issue of Semper Fi Magazine which we produce for the Marine Corps League salutes League members who fought on those black sand beaches. Now in their 80s and even 90s, they are becoming an increasingly rare national treasure.
If you know an Iwo Jima survivor, perhaps he will tell you something of his experience there. Many do not choose to recall those days, however, and their silence in itself speaks volumes. In any event, thank him.