February 23, 2013 marks that 68th Anniversary of the Flag Raising over Mount Suribachi on the small Pacific island of Iwo Jima during World War II. Days like today are often overlooked but represent some of the most important in shaping the history of our Country.
Whether you realize it or not, you are most likely familiar with the iconic image immortalizing the event taken by Joe Rosenthal. The photograph was extremely popular, being reprinted in thousands of publications. Later, it became the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year as its publication, and ultimately came to be regarded as one of the most significant and recognizable images of the war, and possibly the most reproduced photograph of all time.
The photograph shows six Marines (Sgt. Michael Strank, Cpl. Harlon H. Block, Pfc. Franklin R. Sousley, Pfc. Rene A. Gagnon, Pfc. Ira Hayes) and a US Navy Corpsman (Petty Officer 2nd Class John H. Bradley) raising the United States flag over Mt. Suribachi on the fourth day of the battle (February 23).
For Marines, this event, the battle it symbolizes, and the men that participated in it, hold a near mythical place in the history of the Marine Corps and for good reason. The Battle of Iwo Jima was a strategic and psychological victory for America. It was a turning point in the Pacific Campaign and the first time in Japan’s 5,000 year history that invaders prevailed on Japanese soil.
The United States Marine Corps, with it fiercely proud tradition of excellence in combat, its hallowed rituals, and its unbending code of honor, is part of the fabric of American myth.
– Thomas E. Ricks; Making the Corps, 1997
The invasion of Iwo Jima began on February 19, 1945, and continued to March 26, 1945. The battle was a major initiative of the Pacific Campaign of World War II. The Marine invasion was marked by some of the fiercest fighting of World War II. The Imperial Japanese Army positions on the island were heavily fortified, and the battle marked the first US attack on the Japanese Home Islands. The 36-day assault resulted in more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 dead. Of the 21,000 Japanese soldiers present at the beginning of the battle, over 19,000 were killed and only 1,083 taken prisoner. Of the six men depicted in the picture, three (Sousley, Block, and Strank) were killed during the battle.
Ten years after the flag-raising, Rosenthal wrote, “Out of the corner of my eye, I had seen the men start the flag up. I swung my camera and shot the scene. That is how the picture was taken, and when you take a picture like that, you don’t come away saying you got a great shot. You don’t know.”
The photo has since inspired generations of new Marines, contributed to the architectural design of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, and became the embodiment of the Marine Corps War Memorial located adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington, D.C.
There are events in history that are so profound that the whole world recognizes the importance they have. The Battle of Iwo Jima is such a battle. I think it is important for us to value our history and those who have gone before us. The Battle of Iwo Jima shows who we are, what we are, what we do and the quality of the men and women it takes to do it.
Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.
– Ronald Reagan, U.S. President; 1985
The Marine Corps has a long and storied history from its humble beginning in Tun Tavern, to the Halls of Montezuma, the Shores of Tripoli, the sands of the South Pacific, the frozen landscape of the Korean Peninsula, the steamy jungles of Vietnam, scorching deserts of Iraq, and the imposing mountains of Afghanistan. Marines have “fought our country’s battles.” But it is the men and women who serve that we owe the true debt to.
As the last members of America’s greatest generation, those who forged that mental image pass into memory and lore and leave us with the fading legacy of their selfless sacrifice on that tiny island so long ago. We must commit ourselves to forever honoring their service.
“Freedom isn’t free, but the United States Marine Corps will pay most of your share.”
– President Barack Obama
Whether you find the current conflicts we are embroiled in to be right, wrong, or indifferent is beside the point. Our Veterans, both past and present, not only deserve our respect, but they should have our love and adulation as well. On a daily basis, they willingly and without complaint run towards danger, risking life and limb, to secure our freedom. To these, my brethren and sisters, I salute you and all that you do. Finally, to my fellow warrior Brothers and Sisters of the Corps, I say Semper Fidelis!
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