This photograph, which was taken 70 years ago today, is instantly recognizeable by any American.
On February 19, 1945, United States Marines landed on the rocky volcanic island of Iwo Jima in the western Pacific Ocean. The plan was to capture this island, build air bases on it, then use those bases to bomb mainland Japan, beating it into submission.
18,000 dug-in Japanese soldiers defended this 8-square mile island. 70,000 Marines took responsibility for rooting them out. It took almost a month to do so. It was only on March 16 that it was finally secured. That victory cost the lives of 7,000 Americans with 20,000 wounded.
Before that time, the Americans had the opportunity to announce that they intended to stay. On the fifth day of the battle, the Marines took Mount Suribachi, a high point on the southwestern tip of the island. They raised the stars and stripes on a staff over the top. Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press was there to photograph it. They are, from left to right, Cpl. Ira Hayes, PFC Franklin Sousley, Sgt. Michael Strank, Cpl. Rene Gagnon, Pharmacist’s Mate John Bradley (USN), and Cpl. Harlon Block.
(Photo: Beverly & Pack)
This moment of their lives would live on in the historical memory of generations of Americans. It would also form the basis of the design of the US Marine Corps War Memorial outside of Washington, D.C.